Merde, She Wrote

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Potrait of the Artist as a Young Windowlicker.

“Oui, elle a fait.”
~ Noel Coward on Angela Lansbury

Merde, She Wrote is a long-running French television mystery series starring Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Feltcher. First shown on British and US TV during the 1987/88 season, the show was heavily influenced by the writings of both Henri Bergson and Spike Milligan.


Set in the villiage of Portmanteau, Jessica Feltcher is the matriarch of a huge family grouping, encompassing over 874 "cousins" and 2048 "nephews and nieces", to date. Each series begins with a traditional call for help from a family member, beseaching "Aunt" Jessica to come to their aid, in locating a killer/proving their innocence/etc.

Each episode followed a similar theme, in which Jessica Feltcher would stalk her victim, stab them to death with a biro, and then hypnotise one of their friends into believing they'd committed the crime in the first place. The episode would then end shortly before Mrs Feltcher could be seen devouring her victims with fava beans and a nice glass of sauerkraut.

Although some liberties were taken with the true story (for example, there was little to no cannibalism or kitten huffing in the series, and Jessica's weapon of choice in reality was in fact a knitting needle rather than a pen), the series proved popular for the 26 years that it ran on the BBC. Sadly, many classic episodes were lost or destroyed when the BBC mistook them for episodes of Doctor Who, and little remains of the classic "Barbara Eden" version of Merde, She Wrote.



From the opening titles....

The series was widely condemned by the critics of the time, due to the graphic nature of the murders shown on screen, and the laugh track that would accompany each slaughter. But at least it wasn't "Joanie Loves Chachi". Several telemovies were suggested, but those making the suggestions were promptly shot.

Due to its overwhelming Frenchness, the series was often accused of utilising too numerous sniglets within the storylines. Jessica was often called upon to personally wrestle virile young stabilators to the ground, despite her ancienticity, which critics and viewers alike found incredulous. That didn't stop it from picking up a number of Emmy and Golden Globe Awards.

Script for Action

The chief focus that many of the Writers for the series worked towards was the subtle interplay between key characters, maintaining a level of suspence right until the end of each episode. Viewers would often piece clues together, until the final revelation (usually around five minutes before the end credits) when the remaining clue would reveal the true culprit.

The following example is from "Merde, She Wrote: Someone is Dead";

Professor Bentini: I just came in and found him lying on the carpet there.
Feltcher: Oh, is he dead?
Professor Bentini: I think so.
Feltcher: Hadn't you better make sure?
Professor Bentini: All right. Just a minute.
[Sound of two gun shots]
Professor Bentini: Oui. He's dead.
For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia have an article very remotely related to Merde, She Wrote.

In many cases viewers would merely guess the identity of the Murderer by noting which B-List 70s "Star" was listed first in the opening credits. Other clues included "looking suspicious", "evil" background music and upperclass, often English or New England, accents.

Recurring Characters

Although Angela Lansbury insists on fresh meat a fresh cast for each episode, a small number of key characters have appeared in multiple episodes.

These include:

  • Cousin Vinny: Tough talking New Yorker, Vinny is a hard kid from the Bronx with a heart of gold.
  • Miriam du Flange: Jessica's niece, and a professional Horse Jumper.
  • Caspian Le Centrifuge: Jessica's pompous nephew, an antique dealer by day, a sleeping antique dealer by night.
  • Jasmine au Pair: A young foreign niece who lives with the family in return for doing light housework.
  • Lucretia Fellatio: An older niece of Jessica's, an expert opera singer with a penchant for drink, smoke and seedy men.
  • Brigantia Windsor-Smythe: Jessica's second cousin, anglophile Brigantia is a Boston native with a plummy accent and a fondness for gin.
  • Windsorgate DuPont Baggete: Jessica's old college roomate shows up in most episodes to provide comedy relief with her crazy hair-styles and saucy demeanor.
  • David Sedaris: Jessica's neighbor, a New York writer (stranded in France), with personality ticks; tosses witty solutions to crimes of the top of his head as one would normally shake off dandruff.

Complete Series Listing

  • Merde, She Wrote: Death in the Family (1988) - Given an entire houseful of suspects with a motive, Jessica has to solve a death in the family.
  • Merde, She Wrote: A Machete in the Groin (1988) - Jessica looks to investigate a murder. Lorena Bobbitt guest stars.
  • Merde, She Wrote: Murder Most Fatal (1989) - After a violent murder resulting in death, Jessica seeks the culprit.
  • Merde, She Wrote: Someone is Dead (1990) - A phone call from the electric company leads Jessica into a search for a murder to solve.
  • Merde, She Wrote: Mo' Better Murder (1990) - A death of a philandering sax player in a jazz club leaves a list of nearly 2500 jilted lovers, all suspects.
  • Merde, She Wrote: From Behind, With A Lead Pipe (1990) - After the death of her niece, Jessica looks for the cause of her unexplained death.
  • Merde, She Wrote: The Writing's on the Wall and it says "Murder" (1991) - Jessica is faced with a crime scene and mysterious Welsh runes on the wall. Who can read it?
  • Merde, She Wrote: Verde, the Coat (1991) - Jessica searches for a killer who left their coat behind. Who would order a green coat covered in question marks?
  • Merde, She Wrote: Redrum Crack'd the Mirror (1992) - 40 Year Old English Racehorse is found dead. Only Jessica can find the murderer.
  • Merde, She Wrote: Murder Most Fowl (1992) - Jessica seeks the killer of an elderly Colonel following a visit from PETA.
  • Merde, She Wrote: I Can't Believe It's Not Murder (1990) - Jessica investigates something that, at first, appears not to be a murder. It turns out to be a murder.
  • Merde, She Wrote: Le Balloon Rouge (1991) - Jessica tails a young Parisian boy when his red balloon leads him astray into prostitution, heroin addiction and Merde!.
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