In the novel At Bertram's Hotel, Canon Pennyfather is an absentminded clergyman who stays at Bertram's Hotel, where he occupies Room 19. He lives at The Close, Chadminster. During the events of the novel, he is due to attend a conference in Lucerne.
Canon Pennyfather is 5 feet and 8 inches tall, has a large thatch of white hair, and stoops. According to Miss Marple, he is a great Hebrew and Aramaic scholar.
Canon Pennyfather is very absentminded, and has often had experiences of not knowing where he is, or how he came to be there. He has not always returned home when he was expected to, and has occasionally turned up to stay with friends on a day when they had not invited him, or failed to turn up on a day when they had invited him. Miss Marple mentions that she went to have tea with Canon Pennyfather in Chadminster once, and he was actually absent from home.
However, according to Miss Gorringe, Canon Pennyfather is much less vague in writing than in real life. Before the events of the novel, he wrote to Bertram's Hotel, to make arrangements for his stay, as he expected to be away in Lucerne for a few days, but wanted to keep the room at Bertram's until he returned. Miss Gorringe says that he explained his needs very clearly in his letter.
On the evening of 19th November, Canon Pennyfather takes a taxi from Bertram's Hotel to the Athenaeum Club, where he has an early dinner. He then goes to the air terminal in Kensington, to catch his flight to Lucerne. However, he discovers that his flight was on the 18th, and so he had missed both his flight and the Congress at Lucerne.
The Canon goes to see a film called Walls of Jericho, and then returns to Bertram's Hotel. When he returns to his room, someone strikes him on the head, knocking him out.
Canon Pennyfather is reported missing, and Chief Inspector Davy and Inspector Campbell investigate his disappearance. Miss Marple tells Chief Inspector Davy that Canon Pennyfather had left the hotel on the evening of the 19th, and she had been surprised to see him back again later. She had heard a sound at about 3 a.m., and had looked out of her room. She saw Canon Pennyfather going down the stairs, with his overcoat on.
Canon Pennyfather wakes up in the home of Emma Wheeling, in Milton St. John, unable to remember how he got there. Mrs Wheeling tells him that she and her husband found him by the side of the road. They called Dr Stokes to attend to him, but did not notify the police as they thought the Canon might not like that. Dr Stokes said that he had come to no real harm, and had a mild concussion.
Canon Pennyfather recovers, and is able to go home to Chadminster. Chief Inspector Davy and Inspector Campbell question him, but he is unable to remember anything that happened in between going to the air terminal and waking up in Mrs Wheeling's home.
Later in the novel, Canon Pennyfather returns to Bertram's Hotel to collect his luggage, and to help Chief Inspector Davy with an experiment. He asks Canon Pennyfather to walk down the stairs, while Miss Marple observes. Miss Marple then realises that the man she saw leaving the hotel at 3 a.m. was not the real Canon Pennyfather.
It is revealed that when Canon Pennyfather returned to the hotel after seeing Walls of Jericho, he saw someone dressed as himself. The real Canon Pennyfather was then knocked out, and driven to the home of Mrs Wheeling. The false Canon Pennyfather took part in a robbery of the Irish Mail.
In the BBC 1987 adaptation of the novel, Canon Pennyfather is portrayed by Preston Lockwood. His role is similar to that in the original novel and includes detailed scenes in the Athenaeum Club, an Indian Restaurant and the Kensington Air Terminal. However his interaction with Emma Wheeling is not dramatised, just mentioned.
In the ITV 2007 adaptation of the novel, the real Canon Pennyfather does not appear. Someone else, Herman Koch, impersonates him at Bertram's Hotel. It is not even clear if there is a real Canon Pennyfather who is away overseas or there is no such person.