Cordelia Gray
Created by P.D. James

A far cry fromt G.G. Fickling's Honey West or Carter Brown's Mavis Seidlitz. One of the Queens of Mystery Fiction, P.D. James should get at least some credit for creating the modern female P. I. when she unleashed CORDELIA GRAY upon an unsuspecting world. Cordelia's inherits a detective agency when her mentor, Bernie Pryde, commits suicide. Instead of selling it off, for a quick profit, she decides to keep it going, despite it being "an unsuitable job for a woman," the title of P.D. James 1972 novel (and a possible tip of the hat to James Rubel's No Business For a Lady, which also featured a female private eye?).

Shy, lacking in confidence, and unworldly, Cordelia at first makes an unlikely candidate for a private detective. But as the book progresses, and she learns the ropes and understand herself, it turns out Cordelia is exactly the right woman for the job.

Almost forgotten (at least until the recent TV series), Cordelia never-the-less paved the way for younger sisters Sharon McCone (1977), Anna Lee (1980), V.I. Warshawski (1982) and Kinsey Millhone (1982), among others.

The first novel even generated a 1982 offbeat, atmospheric British film adaptation that, while well-received, never really garned the audience it deserved, either in Britain or in the States. However, a more recent series of British and American-produced made-for-television films seems to have rejuvenated interest in Cordelia, and she may yet get the credit she deserves.

And in 1997, a new adaptation of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman appeared on PBS in the States, which served as a pilot for a string of further episodes, although these are based on original works by other writers, not on anything written by PD James.

One plot development that has attracted a lot of attention is the previously virginal Cordeilia's unexpected pregnancy, after a brief Italian fling. As well as coping with carrying a child, Cordelia now finds herself having to cope with her well-meaning, but overly-protective office assistant, Mrs. Sparshott, who insists on taking a more active role in the cases that come their way, due to her boss's "condition." I may be wrong, but it seems the last pregnant private eye (and possibly the genre's first) was Max Allan Collins Ms. Tree, but this is probably a first for television.

Author P.D. James is one of the mystery genre's most well-respected authors, and the creator of Adam Dalgliesh, the moody, book-loving police detective (and not a private eye, but we won't hold that against her.) She seems to have some spunk to her credit, too. James reportedly was so taken aback by the recent TV series she says she'll never write another book with the character, in case these cretins get a hand on it. That's no way to treat a Lady. Or a Dame.

UNDER OATH

  • "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman... begins with a dark, grim twist, seems to lighten up in the middle before returning to dark territory for its conclusion. Good P.I. characters and intelligent writing that is deceptively uncomplicated. A groundbreaking book, often imitated."
    -- Vince Emery,
    The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time (2012)

NOVELS

FILM

  • AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMEN
    (1982, Boyd's/Castle Hill)
    90 minutes
    Based on the novel by P.D. James
    Written by Elizabeth McKay, Brian Scobie, Christopher Petit
    Directed by Christopher Petit
    Starring Pippa Guard as CORDELIA GRAY
    Also starring
    Billie Whitelaw, Paul Freeman, Dominic Guard, Elizabeth Spriggs, David Horovitch, Bernadette Short

TELEVISION

  • AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMEN: SACRIFICE... Buy this DVD
    (1997, ITV/PBS)
    Originally aired on PBS's Mystery! April 23, 30, and May 7, 1998
    180 minutes
    Based on the novel "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman" by P.D. James
    Adapted by William Humble
    Directed by Ben Bolt
    An Ecosse Films/Harvest Entertainment/WGBH Boston production
    Producer: Colin Ludlow
    Executive producer: Douglas Rae (for Ecosse Films)
    Executive producer: Stephen Matthews (for HTV)
    Executive producer: Rebecca Eaton (for WGBH)
    Starring Helen Baxendale as CORDELIA GRAY
    Also starring
    Jeff Nuttall, Andrew Clover, Saskia Mulder, Annette Crosbie, Rosemary Leach, Phyllis Logan, Ian McDiarmid, Struan Rodger, Andrew Clover, Joel Beckett
    .
  • AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMEN: A LAST EMBRACE... Buy this DVD
    (1997, ITV/PBS)
    First aired: PBS's Mystery! May 21 and 28, 1998
    150 minutes
    Based on characters created by P.D. James
    Written by William Humble
    Directed by John Strickland
    An Ecosse Films/Harvest Entertainment/WGBH Boston production
    Producer: Colin Ludlow
    Executive producer: Douglas Rae (for Ecosse Films)
    Executive producer: Stephen Matthews (for HTV)
    Executive producer: Rebecca Eaton (for WGBH)
    Starring Helen Baxendale as CORDELIA GRAY
    Also starring
    Gemma Jones, Annette Crosbie, Leigh Lawson, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Andrew Bicknell, Phillipa Pric, Debbie Chazen, Emma Roberts, Matilda Ziegler
    .
  • AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMEN: LIVING ON RISK... Buy this DVD
    (October 14 , 21, 1999)
    Aired in two one-hour episodes
    Based on characters created by P.D. James
    Written by Christopher Russell
    Directed by David Evans
    Producer:
    Colin Ludlow
    Executive producer: Douglas Rae (for Ecosse Films)
    Executive producer: Rebecca Eaton (for WGBH)
    Starring Helen Baxendale as CORDELIA GRAY
    with Annette Crosbie as Mrs. Sparshott
    Also starring
    James Hillier, Gwyneth Strong, Ginny Holder, Silas Carson, Steve John Shepherd
    .
  • AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMEN: PLAYING GOD... Buy this DVD
    (October 28, November 4, 1999)
    Aired in two one-hour episodes
    Based on characters created by P.D. James
    Written by Barbara Machin
    Directed by Mary McMurray
    Producer:
    Colin Ludlow
    Executive producer: Douglas Rae (for Ecosse Films)
    Executive producer: Rebecca Eaton (for WGBH)
    Starring Helen Baxendale as CORDELIA GRAY
    with Annette Crosbie as Mrs. Sparshott
    Also starring
    Struan Rodger, Gerard Butler, Flora Montgomery, Catherine Russell, Jack Ellis

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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