Saturday 29 June 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Million Dollar Bond Robbery

(c) ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'The Million Dollar Bond Robbery', first published in 1923 in The Sketch. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus short story
The original story that served as a basis for this episode is very slight, so it obviously needed some embellishment to work as an adaptation. It is a testament to Horowitz, then, that most additions seem perfectly natural, as if they had been part of the original story in the first place. Not surprising, really, when you take into account that Horowitz went on to write for Midsomer Murders, the brilliant Foyle's War as well as a bunch of other crime series - in addition to novels for young adults, and new Sherlock Holmes novels. A scriptwriter genius in the making, one could perhaps say. Now, back to the adaptation. First, he adds an opening scene in Threadneedle Street (the exact location mentioned in the short story), in which Mr. Shaw is nearly run over by a sports car. Second, Horowitz changes the Olympia into the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary (in keeping with the series' inclusion of real-life 1930s events), and Poirot and Hastings join Ridgeway on the journey. Third, Mr. Shaw and Mr. Vavasour consult Poirot, not Esmee, and they do so before the robbery. Fourth, Mr. Shaw is himself supposed to be travelling with the bonds, but he is almost killed by strychnine poisoning (this is the third episode in a row with a death or near-death from strychnine!). Fifth, Inspector McNeil becomes McNeil, Head of Security at the bank, and Esmee becomes a secretary of Mr. Vavasour (but remains Ridgeway's girlfriend, too). Sixth, a second culprit is introduced; Nurse Long aka Miranda Brooks. She nurses the (apparently) ill Mr. Shaw, but she also drives the sports car, travels on the Queen Mary (instead of Shaw), breaks into the box and throws the package over board. She also serves as a love interest for poor Hastings, but is in fact Shaw's wife-to-be. In the end, it's a habit that blows her cover; she grasps for her nurse uniform watch when Poirot asks for the time. Seventh, Ridgeway is in money trouble from all his gambling (in the short story he has never had debts in his life), thus providing him with a potential motive. Most of Horowitz's changes are admirable. He broadens the list of suspects, creates possible motives and makes use of classic Christie plot elements like strychnine poisoning and the well-used no-one-looks-at-a-servant/nurse/maid-trick.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Grieve's direction is a delight to watch. For instance, in the opening scene at Threadneedle Street station, he is showcasing the routine-like life of bank clerks on the tube (that will eventually become part of the motive - "Prison can't be much worse than 25 years at the London and Scottish Bank"). Moreover, there's a nice shot of the coffee cup on a trolley, indirectly alluding to the sea voyage to come, and a subsequent miniature toy cruise ship on a pond in the park. Also, he makes good use of the newsreel footage of the Queen Mary and the set, almost convincing the viewer that it's the real thing. The production design is, as always, top-notch. I haven't been able to track down any locations for this one, apart from the Threadneedle Street entrance, but I have a feeling that parts of the bank interiors are from the Freemason's Hall in London, a location used for several Poirot episodes. The soundtrack is effective, but not much more. It has not been released.

Actors and characters
Thankfully, Horowitz alludes to Poirot's seasickness. Having Poirot on a cruise ship for a crossing as long as this is almost entirely out of character, but he has travelled by boat in previous episodes, so it's passable. He even explains the source of this dislike of the sea; it is apparently a result of the journey from Belgium twenty years ago (love that little reference to Poirot's back story). Miss Lemon is added to the plot, of course, but her role hardly seems intrusive - she remains firmly in the background. Hastings gets to recognise the car that attempts to kill Mr. Shaw (a reference to his car enthusiasm). Of the guest actors, there are no real standouts, but Lizzy McInnerny (Nurse/Brooks) managed to fool me the first time I watched this episode, I seem to recall.


  1. Not sure if this is true, but I thought they may have used the actual Queen Mary, which is permanently moored at Long Beach, CA.

    1. I'm fairly sure I've seen a behind-the-scenes photo from the set, and that seemed to suggest they had made a set that resembled the Queen Mary. So I don't think they went to Long Beach to shoot the episode, but I could be wrong.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. They did a great job with the sets, especially the exterior shots of the ship. I spent some time at the docks near the Queen Mary as a child, and this episode always takes me back to my childhood for this reason.

  2. Stuart Farquhar2 June 2015 at 16:49

    Seems unlikely they'd have gone to America to film that, but I don't know for sure.

  3. I was watching this episode this morning for the first time (although a long-time Poirot fan, I'm admittedly late to the party when it comes to this series!) and noticed that when the bank officers were loading the Liberty bonds into the special transit case, they were in $50 denomination. Those bonds were meant for purchase by the general public - they were meant to be affordable. However, it would take 20,000 $50 bonds to total a million dollars - 20,000 bonds wouldn't fit into a steamer trunk, never mind a small handcarried case like the special one of McNeil's! Bonds were issued in denominations up to $100,000 - the Bank would almost certainly have purchased their bonds in denominations of $10,000 (or more.) This is admittedly nitpicking, and probably due to the fact that larger denomination bonds weren't available to the props people for duplication, but the series is normally so accurate in detail that I just thought it worthy of mention. Certainly didn't ruin the episode for me!

  4. Wow great explination. I love this series so much.I re watch it daily.

  5. The Queen Mary wasn't a cruise ship, she was an ocean liner for point-to-point crossings. People sailed on board to get to New York rather than just for pleasure.


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I'm a passionate fan of Poirot, Agatha Christie and the ITV series. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests, please e-mail me at, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)