|Intro||New Zealand writer|
|A.K.A.||Edith Ngaio Marsh, Dame Edith Ngaio Marsh|
|Was||Theater professional Actor Writer Theatre director Novelist Autobiographer Screenwriter Stage actor Film actor|
|Type||Arts Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature|
|Birth||23 April 1895, Christchurch|
|Death||18 February 1982, Christchurch (aged 86 years)|
Dame Ngaio Marsh DBE (/ˈnaɪ.oʊ/; 23 April 1895 – 18 February 1982), born Edith Ngaio Marsh, was a New Zealand crime writer and theatre director. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966.
Internationally Marsh is known primarily for her creation Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a gentleman detective who works for the Metropolitan Police (London). She is known as one of the "Queens of Crime" alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham.
Marsh was born in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where she also died. Her father neglected to register her birth until 1900 and there is some uncertainty about the date. She was the only child of Rose and bank clerk Henry Marsh, described by Marsh as "have-nots." Her mother's sister Ruth married the geologist, lecturer, and curator Robert Speight. Ngaio Marsh was educated at St Margaret's College in Christchurch, where she was one of the first students when the school was founded. She studied painting at the Canterbury College (NZ) School of Art before joining the Allan Wilkie company as an actress and touring New Zealand. From 1928 she divided her time between living in New Zealand and in the United Kingdom. From 1928 to 1932 she operated an interior decorating business in Knightsbridge, London.
Internationally she is best known for her 32 detective novels published between 1934 and 1982. Along with Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie, she has been classed as one of the four original "Queens of Crime"—female writers who dominated the crime fiction genre in the Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s.
All her novels feature British CID detective Roderick Alleyn. Several novels feature Marsh's other loves, the theatre and painting. A number are set around theatrical productions (Enter a Murderer, Vintage Murder, Overture to Death, Opening Night, Death at the Dolphin, and Light Thickens), and two others are about actors off stage (Final Curtain and False Scent). Her short story "'I Can Find My Way Out" is also set around a theatrical production and is the earlier "Jupiter case" referred to in Opening Night. Alleyn marries a painter, Agatha Troy, whom he meets during an investigation (Artists in Crime), and who features in several later novels.
Most of the novels are set in England, but four are set in New Zealand, with Alleyn either on secondment to the New Zealand police (Colour Scheme, and Died in the Wool), or on holiday (Vintage Murder and Photo Finish); Surfeit of Lampreys begins in New Zealand but continues in London.
Marsh's great passion was the theatre. In 1942 she produced a modern-dress Hamlet for the Canterbury University College Drama Society (now University of Canterbury Dramatic Society Incorporated or Dramasoc), the first of many Shakespearean productions with the society until 1969. In 1944, Hamlet and a production of Othello toured a theatre-starved New Zealand to rapturous acclaim. In 1949, assisted by entrepreneur Dan O'Connor, her student players toured Australia with a new version of Othello and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. In the 1950s she was involved with the New Zealand Players, a relatively short-lived national professional touring repertory company. In 1972 she was invited by the Christchurch City Council to direct Shakespeare's Henry V, the inaugural production for the opening of the newly constructed James Hay Theatre in Christchurch; she made the unusual choice of casting two male leads, who alternated on different nights.
She lived long enough to see New Zealand set up with a viable professional theatre industry with realistic Arts Council support, with many of her protégés to the forefront. The 430-seat Ngaio Marsh Theatre at the University of Canterbury is named in her honour. Her home on the Cashmere Hills is preserved as a museum.
Marsh never married and had no children. She enjoyed close companionships with women, including her lifelong friend Sylvia Fox, but denied being lesbian, according to biographer Joanne Drayton. "I think Ngaio Marsh wanted the freedom of being who she was in a world, especially in a New Zealand that was still very conformist in its judgments of what constituted ‘decent jokers, good Sheilas, and ‘weirdos'," Roy Vaughan wrote after meeting her on a P&O Liner. In 1965 she published an autobiography, Black Beech and Honeydew. British author and publisher Margaret Lewis wrote an authorized biography, Ngaio Marsh, A Life in 1991. New Zealand art historian Joanne Drayton's biography, Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime was published in 2008.
Having previously been awarded an OBE, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966, for "distinguished services in the arts, especially writing and theatre production".
She died in Christchurch, and was buried at the Church of the Holy Innocents, Mount Peel.
Four of the Alleyn novels were adapted for television in New Zealand and aired there in 1977 under the title Ngaio Marsh Theatre. Nine were adapted as The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries and aired by the BBC in 1993 and 1994 (the pilot originally in 1990).
In the 1990s the BBC made radio adaptations of Surfeit of Lampreys, A Man Lay Dead, Opening Night, and When in Rome starring Jeremy Clyde as Inspector Alleyn.