Fashion & Beauty / Vintage Style

Jessica Fletcher: An Enduring Icon

As she receives an Oscar honouring her seventy years in show business, we celebrate the inimitable style of Angela Lansbury and her iconic alter ego Jessica Fletcher

Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher
Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher

This month controversy was ignited as TV executives mooted a remake of cult classic Murder She Wrote without its key player, widowed master-sleuth Jessica Fletcher, as played by Angela Lansbury. The Hollywood icon voiced concern over re-using the original title for the new show, referring to her own character as a “rare and very individual kind of person." Indeed, having played Fletcher for twelve years and 264 episodes, Lansbury has every right to feel protective over the show.

Lansbury’s portrayal of Fletcher, with her blend of efficiency, intelligence and glamour, made her and the show a national treasure during its twelve series stint between 1984 - 1996. The programme’s enduring charm now lies in how wonderfully dated it has become: a nostalgic reminder of the era’s trends, including trench coats, costume jewellery, shoulder pads and plaid suiting. Fletcher’s wardrobe has become a cult genre in itself, each episode making a fashion statement as she ventures undercover in multiple guises, from cowgirls and dancers to bejewelled heiresses and circus performers. Whether exploring the countryside wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and checkered shirt to gingerly handling a gun sporting a knitted sweater vest, she remained consistently immaculate.

More than a decade after it ended, Murder She Wrote’s affectionate stranglehold on our cultural memory has not wavered, with multiple websites dedicated to its star's style and dialogue. However Jessica is by no means her only cult role. Indeed, Lansbury was recently given an honoury Oscar in recognition of her 70 years in the entertainment business. Prior to her intuitive detective, she starred in Albert Lewin's The Picture of Dorian Grey, saved England as would-be witch Ms. Eglantine Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, wearing pussy-bow blouses and cardigan twinsets as well as providing the voice for the nation’s most loved teapot – Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast. Last year she gave Wes Anderson the push when she dropped out of his upcoming film The Grand Budapest Hotel in favour of stage production Driving Miss Daisy.

Lansbury staples include her faultlessly neat shingled bob, gold brooches and plethora of scarves. She epitomises the idea of ageing gracefully, now aged 86 and as relevant as she ever has been. “Here I am,” she muses “I still go on, you know, like the tides.”

Text by Mhairi Graham