Agatha Christie Wiki

Actress Anna Massey as Miss Pebmarsh

In the novel The Clocks, Miss Millicent Pebmarsh is the inhabitant of 19 Wilbraham Crescent. Miss Pebmarsh is a former school teacher and, now blind, is currently teaching Braille at the Aaronberg Institute for Blind and Handicapped children. Her involvement in the plot begins when Miss Martindale from the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau tells one of her employees Sheila Webb that Miss Pebmarsh had called the agency and asked for a secretary, and specifically asked for Sheila. Sheila dutifully goes to the house. Miss Pebmarsh is not yet home but Sheila finds a dead body in Miss Pebmarsh's parlour.

For most of the plot, it is her address, 19 Wilbraham Crescent, her neighbours, and the identity of the mysterious dead man which becomes the focus of attention of the police. Miss Pebmarsh was never considered a plausible suspect and in any case she had an alibi.

However, Colin Lamb the counter-espionage agent was also investigating a spy network which had brought him to Wilbraham Crescent in the first place. Through his efforts, and with the help of Poirot, Miss Pebmarsh is finally unmasked as a Soviet spy and the brains behind the agent network which smuggled stolen secrets to behind the Iron Curtain. At the same time, Lamb had also surmised that Miss Pebmarsh might be the real mother of the orphan Sheila Webb whom he had fallen in love with. They had the same "eyes" he told her. When he comes to denounce her, he gives her the chance to escape before his Special Branch colleagues come to take her into custody. He explains that this is because she might be his mother-in-law. She turns down the offer and instead tries to draw a knife. Lamb is alert enough to avoid this and she settles down to await her fate, dedicated to her cause to the end.


In ITV's 2011 film adaptation of The Clocks, Miss Pebmarsh is portrayed by Anna Massey in what would be her last screen appearance. Her role in the plot is largely similar but her backstory is slightly changed. Here she works as a receptionist at "Mr Wright's Photography Studio" on the high street, next to the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau. The spy network here is not spying for the Russians. In the adaptation's late 1930s setting, they are spying for Nazi Germany. Miss Pebmarsh has different motives which are not ideological. When arrested, she does not resist but calmly asserts that in fact she is being patriotic. She had lost two sons during the First World War. She hoped, by spying for Germany, to render Britain too weak to resist Hitler and thus avoid another World War. She considers that if she could save even one young man's life by preventing the coming war, what she had done would be worth it. Poirot disagrees and says that he has seen his own country overrun by invaders and that the weak liberal British society which Miss Pebmarsh and her co-conspirators despise so much is very well worth fighting for. Miss Pebmarsh gives as good as she gets and rebuts that he may be right, but he would not have to do the fighting. It would be another generation of young men who would have to fight and die.