Murder at the Manor – Synopsis and Characters.
Murder at the Manor – Chris McDermott (1996) 8,011 words.
Approximate running time: 47 minutes in total.
The original script is set in 1995 in a manor house somewhere in the south of England. Sir Marcus, the victim, is a middle aged, conceited and bad-tempered aristocrat who is frustrated with himself and the rest of the world. His wife, the long-suffering Cynthia, spends a good deal of her time trying to pacify the old man. Unbeknownst to Marcus, she seeks solace in the arms of Nigel Hetherington-Smyth, Marcus’s younger brother, a Conservative MP who shows as much respect for the north of England as does Marcus. This is emphasised by the contempt Marcus shows for his butler, ‘The Hero from Heckmondwyke’ who appears, at first, to be no more than a downtrodden lackey whose chief purpose in life is to avoid yet further humiliation by his master. But is Arnold really as simple and unassuming as he portrays himself? Perhaps Briony Hetherington-Smyth could help us to answer that question. She is a bright young lady, studying English at Cambridge, who returns on the fateful weekend to attend her father’s forty-fifth birthday party. But will she be inviting her boyfriend to the party? Not if her father has anything to do with it. Poor man, if only he knew that the daughter of whom he is so very proud isn’t, in fact……… But that would be telling the whole story. And perhaps we should leave that to Caroline Shepherd, family friend, Chief Inspector and former mistress to Sir Marcus. Surely she would not have murdered her former lover. After all don’t all good murder mysteries need a reliable detective to sort out the mess? Don’t be too sure. The audience won’t be.
(IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)
Sir Marcus Hetherington-Smyth: Lord of the Manor. An overbearing character who is middle-aged. Suffered by all who know him. Generally ill tempered, shows little patience with the rest of the world.
Arnold Rowbottom: Butler at Trumpington Manor. Like everyone else, suffers Marcus, but has to put up with more than most. As the play progresses, we come to learn that perhaps there is more to Arnold than his bluff exterior would lead us to believe.
Cynthia Hetherington-Smyth: Wife of Sir Marcus and Lady of the Manor. She has to spend a good deal of her time pacifying her irascible husband. Does this mean she is completely dedicated to him, or is she tempted to wander?
Nigel Hetherington-Smyth: Younger brother of Sir Marcus and Conservative Member of Parliament. Perhaps the term ‘sleazy’ was invented for Sir Nigel. Has previously had an affair with Lady Cynthia and has been forgiven by Sir Marcus, an achievement in itself.
Briony Hetherington-Smyth: Daughter of Marcus and Lady Cynthia and at present reading English at Cambridge. Briony has come down at the end of the summer term and is looking forward to seeing something of her boyfriend, Stephen Goodridge, again.
Caroline Shepherd: Former mistress of Sir Marcus. She has recently been promoted to the post of Chief Inspector in the local police force. As a single person, Caroline spends a good deal of her free time with the local amateur dramatic group. She has never quite forgiven Marcus for the way he has treated her in the past and has a formally polite, but fairly icy, relationship with Lady Cynthia.
Bumped Off! – Synopsis and Characters
Bumped Off! – John McDermott (2003) (8,410 words).
Approximate running time: 44 minutes in total.
Colonel Sir Rodney Gung-Ho, a retired army officer dedicated to huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ and his good lady wife, the inimitable Lady Phyllis Gung-Ho decide to invite some friends round to their country home. The Colonel, who is not fond of visitors at the best of times, faces the prospect with a stalwart acceptance born of years of years under his wife’s cultured but insistent thumb. His one ally in this life is Stanley Binge, the family butler and his former batman from army days. On the guest list we have an unlikely threesome: Winnie Miller, a very American friend of Lady Phyllis’s, her daughter, the tearful and sincere Sadie Miller, and Sadie’s fiancé, the untrustworthy and oily Oliver Smooche, local bookmaker and latter-day Lothario. Caroline Gung-Ho, daughter to the Colonel and Lady Gung-Ho, and her fiancé, the well-meaning but rather dim minister of the church, Reverend Claude Smithers, make up the cast list. Oliver proves to be everyone’s favourite person to hate for a variety of reasons, Rodney because he owes the wretch a good deal of money, Caroline and her mother because Oliver threatens to reveal the truth of an old romance from university days and Binge because Smooche ill treated his daughter a number of years ago. Sadie and her mother, in their turn, discover that ‘Our Ollie’ is about to end his relationship with fiancée Sadie so they too have their motive. Perhaps the only character without a death wish for poor Oliver (aren’t you beginning to feel sorry for him now?) is the ineffectual and ineffective Reverend Claude Smithers. Or is he? Make up your own minds.
Colonel Sir Rodney Gung-Ho: Retired army officer. A bluff huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ type who uses his love of the outdoors as an excuse to keep out of the way of his assertive wife. He is fond of betting on the horses and finds it irksome that he can’t do more because of his wife’s tight hold on household expenditure.
Lady Phyllis Gung-Ho: Strong minded and snobbish soldier’s wife who has spent a lifetime in army accommodation and now enjoys living in their large country house and showing it off whenever she can. She is ambitious for her daughter and anxious for her to marry ‘well’.
Caroline Gung-Ho: Daughter of Sir Rodney and Lady Phyllis. She is a successful accountant but wants to give it all up to live in a rural community as a vicar’s wife. Is engaged to the Reverend Smithers.
The Revered Claude Smithers: The son of a bishop, is Caroline’s fiancé. This well meaning but rather dim minister, is awkward at finding the right words for the occasion. As a result, he tends to talk pedantically and ‘by the book’.
Winnie Miller: An American and friend of Lady Phyllis from their days at university. After leaving university she married in California, divorced and returned to England to marry again. She had one daughter before divorcing for a second time.
Sadie Miller: Winnie’s daughter by her second husband. She is engaged to Oliver Smooche. A highly emotional young woman.
Oliver Smooche: The local bookmaker and Lothario, he is currently engaged to Sadie. He was once employed as a driver on the campus of a university where he had an affair with Caroline, who was a student there. One of his more recent affairs was with the daughter of Binge, the colonel’s butler.
Stanley Binge: One time batman and now butler to the colonel. He is a widower with one daughter who was badly treated by Oliver Smooche. He is fond of whisky, particularly the colonel’s.
Death at the Granby Arms – Synopsis and Characters.
‘Death at the Granby Arms’ – John McDermott (1999) 8,931 words.
Approximate running time: 49 minutes in total.
Set in an old coaching inn in the town of Leddington, this mystery features Aubrey Fox, a local businessman who has seemingly set his heart on taking over the whole town. Part of his empire is to be the recently acquired Granby Arms which hitherto had been run as a pub, but which is to be converted into a hotel. Profit is the sole purpose behind the purchase, so the threat to the livelihood of the two sisters working there is of no concern to Foxy. Beattie Cable and her sister Margaret are both employed behind the bar at the pub. Beattie has worked there for 18 years and Margaret, ten years her junior, just two. Beattie helped to bring Margaret up after their mother had walked out on the family when Margaret was just a few months old. Despite the strong bond between the two sisters, they are quite different in character, Beattie being serious-minded and Margaret the more relaxed, with a dry sense of humour. Others who have a motive for murdering Foxy are Denis Johnson and his fiancée Carol Marshall. Denis is owed over £8,000 by Foxy for all the electrical work he has done at the Granby. Foxy’s initial ‘take it or leave it’ offer of a paltry £500 merely fuels Denis’s anger; could it be that Aubrey is deliberately trying to put Denis out of business so that he can make yet another profitable acquisition? Or could it be that Foxy intends to harm Denis in another way, by revealing that he is the father of fiancée Carol’s three-year old son Robbie, and that he intends to take a very active role in the decision-making process connected with the child’s upbringing? Carol has always told Denis that Robbie’s father died in a road traffic accident. Could she bear him to discover the truth just when they had made plans for their nuptials? But, of course, the cast would not be complete without the presence of a member of the constabulary, or, at least, an ex-policeman in the form of George Walmsley, now working for Leddington Security, a firm which is now part of the burgeoning Fox empire. And we all know, by now, that Foxy would not think twice about making the ex-copper redundant. In fact, nothing would give him greater pleasure. Sadly for him, and happily for the rest of us, he never gets the chance.
Beattie Cable: Licensee of The Granby Arms for the past eighteen years. She is not married, but after bringing up Margaret (her younger sister) from a baby, she looks upon her almost as a daughter. She is a serious-minded lady and her interest in life is the running of The Granby.
Margaret Cable: Has helped to run The Granby Arms for the past two years. She was previously employed by a law firm, but left to help Beattie when her sister was having staff problems. She is very fond of her sister but is a different personality. She has a relaxed approach and a dry sense of humour.
Aubrey Fox (aka Foxy Aubrey): A ruthless local businessman who has recently acquired The Granby. He is having it altered with a view to turning it into a profitable residential hotel.
Denis Johnson: Runs a small electrical business and is currently rewiring The Granby. He has a girlfriend, Carol, who is leaving her present job to help with the business. They plan to marry soon.
George Walmsley: Is an ex-policeman, now working for Leddington Security. He has been engaged to advise on security at The Granby.
Carol Marshall: Denis’s fiancée. She has a small child by a previous liaison, though has not revealed the father’s true identity to Denis.
Murder Backstage – Synopsis and Characters.
Murder Backstage – Chris McDermott (1998) 7,622 words.
Approximate running time: 40 minutes in total.
The drama is set backstage at the West Griddlington Amateur Dramatic Society. Rehearsals are underway for the latest offering from the society’s leading light, Alex Mitchel. Alex is the author and director of “The Diary of An Urban Tree Dweller, a modern Robin Hood” a pretentious self-indulgent piece written to convince the townspeople of West Griddlington of the importance of conservation. There are many references to the nurturing qualities of Gaia, or Mother Earth, and the importance of preserving the forest. Alex’s girlfriend, Heather Ronson, and her daughter, Sarah Ronson, play the parts of two hippy tree dwellers who are determined to save the forest from the evil road company, represented by the Sir Douglas, played by Alex, and his sidekick, played by Jo Mablethorpe. The ridiculous dialogue for “The Urban Tree Dweller” is complemented by the tree dwellers’ costumes, which are green and/or brown, pinned with paper leaves a la primary school play trees. In reality, Heather is becoming tired of Alex’s pretension, but is still somehow under his spell. Sarah has had an abiding hatred of Alex, someone she had previously admired, following the unwanted attentions she had received from Alex years previously. She cannot understand why her mother still lives with Alex, and would be delighted if Heather returned to her former husband, Sarah’s father, Brian Ronson. Brian still carries a candle for Heather, despite being Jo Mablethorpe’s partner. Jo realises this, and finds the situation very threatening. She has already been upset by the West Griddlington Amateur Dramatic Society’s rejection of her script in favour of Alex’s. She is perhaps the only woman in the western world who could find Brian remotely interesting and, in truth, she has nothing to fear from Brian’s continuing interest in his estranged spouse. The cast is completed by Rodrigo Castello, a stereotypically error-prone foreigner in the Manuel (Fawlty Towers) mode. His English, like that of Manuel, leaves a lot to be desired. He too plays the part of ‘an urban tree dweller’ as does Brian (N.B. Rodrigo is taller than Brian).The majority of the action takes place ‘backstage’, in rehearsal. In Act Two of the murder mystery the characters are backstage, going through their final preparations, waiting to perform. In turn, they leave the stage to ‘go on stage’. Unfortunately, one of them leaves never to return. You can probably guess who the victim is, but can you guess who his murderer is? Let us all ‘worship at the temple of Gaia.’
Alex Mitchel: The Director and author of the play being rehearsed, “The Diary of an Urban Tree Dweller”. He takes his work very seriously. He is living with Heather Ronson, legally still the wife of Brian Ronson. Alex is self-centred and domineering.
Heather Ronson: Alex’s girlfriend and the wife of Brian Ronson. She is tired of Alex’s self-centred pretension, but is somehow still under his spell. Husband Brian still holds out a candle for her; she does not discourage this interest because, despite her lack of reciprocity, she finds the interest flattering
Brian Ronson: A dependable, if boring, soul. He is Heather’s husband, although they have been separated for a number of years. His current partner is Jo Mablethorpe, and despite the fact that they have been together for eighteen months, they still live separately. Brian hankers after his wife. He is physically smaller than Rodrigo.
Sarah Ronson: Daughter of Brian and Heather. According to her, Alex showed an unreciprocated interest in her when she was a younger woman; Alex is in denial about this. She had previously admired Alex, but his unsolicited interest in her brought her to the realisation of Alex’s self-centredness. She now holds Alex in something like contempt. Sarah does not like the fact that her mother is living with Alex.
Jo Mablethorpe: She is Brian’s girlfriend. Jo is an anxious character whose lack of self-confidence leads her to doubt her relationship with Brian, her acting abilities and almost every aspect of her life. She is suspicious that the Committee of the West Griddlington Amateur Dramatic Society chose Alex’s script over hers because of his clout with the committee.
Rodrigo Castello: Spanish teacher who hails from Oviedo in northern Spain. Constantly criticised by Alex, he earns a living through some part-time Spanish teaching and various menial jobs. He is hoping to pass his English examinations so that he has a greater chance of obtaining employment as a full-time English teacher. Physically bigger than Brian. N.B. Rodrigo is meant to speak in a pseudo-Spanish accent (comical). An attempt has been made to represent this in the script.
The play is set backstage at the West Griddlington Amateur Dramatic Society’s theatre. The play opens when rehearsals of Alex Mitchel’s new creation, “The Diary of an Urban Tree Dweller – a Modern Robin Hood” are in full flood.