Commander Adam Dagliesh was the invention of crime novelist PD James, who died at the age of 94 this past Thanksgiving Day, November 27th. The detective was named after James' English Teacher at Cambridge High School; Miss Dagliesh. Years later James discovered that by coincidence the teacher's father had also been called Adam.
The first actor to bring the poet detective to life on screen was Roy Marsden, but the actor almost turned the part down. When he was offered the role in 1982 he was skeptical that a character such as the one James had written could actually exist. A visit to Scotland Yard soon changed Marsden's mind. There he came across all sorts of policemen who were just like Dagliesh; poets, lovers, painters, pianists, all dressed in three-piece English suits. Marsden's portrayal became a blend of several of the men he met at Scotland Yard. He also took it upon himself to make Dagliesh a much more openly sensitive person, which was a concern at first to James, but then she got used to it and eventually adapted her writing to incorporate Marsden's characterization.
"She said that she could no longer remember the character which she created, but only the character as I played the part, that I had gradually corrupted her image," Marsden said.
It came as a surprise to many, therefore, when after 15 years of playing Dagliesh, Marsden was replaced by actor Martin Shaw. The change came about in 2003, when the rights to the series, which had previously aired on the commercial station Anglia television, were taken over by the BBC. Marsden's memories of filming the series though remain positive.
"PD James was such a wonderful writer - it was always a privilege to make the programs", said Marsden, who also delighted in working in Norfolk, where the series was filmed, having moved there with his parents when he was a boy. In fact, Marsden still considers himself a Norfolk boy through and through and continues to think of Gunthorpe where he grew up as home.
"It's the most perfect place on God's earth", said Marsden. "There is nowhere like this in the world. It is just heaven and I love it. I will never leave it. It is my spiritual home and the place where I shall die, and will finish up in the cemetery along with the rest of the family,” he added.
Marsden now divides his time between the family home in north Norfolk and Hackney in London's East End, where he lives with deputy British Academy of Film & Television chairwoman Hilary Bevan Jones. Marsden's first wife was Polly Hemingway, whom he met in 1970 when they were both appearing at a theatre in Exeter. The couple had two boys, Billy and Joe who were 15 and 17 respectively when Marsden left the 20 odd year marriage. After the break-up, Marsden became somewhat of a recluse...not unlike the fictional character he portrayed.
Workwise, Marsden has enjoyed great success in recent years as a director. His stage appearances though have been limited. This may be because in 2004 he had the unfortunate experience of having to pull out of a play two weeks before it opened owing to a bout of stage fright. Since then the actor has only ventured on the boards very infrequently. One of his most recent appearances was when Marsden took to the stage for a series of staged Agatha Christie radio dramas. Performed script in hand, the shows featured live sound effects and an ambiance of a 1930s BBC radio show.
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