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Murder, Miss Marple and English

Cream teas, village fetes and jolly bad eggs are to be used to teach inner-city pupils about violent crime.

Agatha Christie's murder-mystery novels, where quintessentially English characters plot gruesome crimes over tea and crumpets, are to be discussed and analysed in the classroom.

A new resource for English and drama teachers has been developed by the Christie estate, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the creation of her fictional detective, Miss Marple. Actress Tara Fitzgerald, star of Brassed Off and I Capture the Castle, is among those who would like to see pupils answering questions on the finer points of strychnine poisoning.

Ms Fitzgerald, who will appear in a new adaptation of Christie's novel And Then There Were None in London's West End, said: "People are snooty about Agatha Christie. But for young people, the idea of solving crime is exciting. It's the perfect bridge to help get kids to read."

Agatha Christie wrote 80 novels and short-story collections before her death in 1976. Her best-known stories recount the sleuthing adventures of moustachioed Belgian Hercule Poirot, and aged busybody Miss Marple.

Many are set in rural villages, with clues revealed over Victoria sponges at the church fete.

"Over the past few years, we've shunned all things English," said Ms Fitzgerald. "But with the interest in the cricket, things like the village green and high tea are coming back. We should be proud of our heritage."

Agatha Christie is not among the must-reads for children proposed by some of Britain's best-known authors (above).

But Nicholas James, who manages the Christie estate, said: "She deals with society and human nature. It's no different from doing Shakespeare. If it's a universal story, it will transcend its time."

Ms Fitzgerald took part in a workshop at Pimlico secondary, in south London, to launch the resource, reciting from And Then There Were None.

Brigid Larmour, the play's producer, then asked pupils to examine its theme of punishment and retribution, drawing religious analogies. Listening pupils shuffled and looked at one another cynically. Sazhiel Holness, 14, said: "People on grim estates, who ain't got much to do, commit murders.

"I can't imagine murders happening in villages. I don't think I'd like to read about people going for cream teas. A village fete? What does that mean?"

John Harris, Pimlico drama teacher, said: "A lot of these kids grew up in very rough areas. Murder is part of community life. So we can certainly look at the whodunnit genre. But I'm not going to spend a huge amount of time on it."

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