Dress Down Sunday: N or M? by Agatha Christie

published 1941 chapter 2


[Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are working undercover and discussing their noms de guerre]

[Tommy said] ‘But why Blenkensop?’

‘Why not?’

‘It seems such an odd name to choose.’

‘It was the first one I thought of and it’s handy for underclothes.’

‘What do you mean, Tuppence?’

‘B, you idiot. B for Beresford. B for Blenkensop. Embroidered on my camiknickers. Patricia Blenkensop. Prudence Beresford. Why did you choose Meadowes? It’s a silly name.’

‘To begin with,’ said Tommy, ‘I don’t have large B’s embroidered on my pants. And to continue, I didn’t choose it. I was told to call myself Meadowes. Mr Meadowes is a gentleman with a respectable past–all of which I’ve learnt by heart.’

‘Very nice,’ said Tuppence. ‘Are you married or single?’

‘I’m a widower,’ said Tommy with dignity. ‘My wife died ten years ago at Singapore.’

observations: Last week Clothes in Books was wondering about step ins - ‘as opposed to what?’ we wondered. One of the blog’s favourite followers, the knowledgeable costume expert Ken Nye (contributed to Anne Boleyn, Shepperton Babylon, Nijinsky, and Doris Keane…) spoke up: as opposed to camiknickers, ‘which would have dropped over the head and buttoned between the legs.’ It’s obvious when it’s pointed out.

Robert Barnard rightly describes Tommy and Tuppence as everyone’s least-favourite Christie sleuths (at one point Tuppence says ‘Sometimes I feel that we never were any use,’ and the reader nods sagely). Here they are looking for spies in a seaside resort during the Second World War – see this earlier entry for the strange story of how the book brought Christie under suspicion herself.

Tuppence is described as having ‘twittered’ in the book, though this means her annoying talking – she would no doubt claim she has put it on for cover, but the reader knows better. She does, however, tell someone

Cut out the compliments…I’m admiring myself a good deal, so there’s no need for you to chime in.

---and her daughter at one point is nervous that her mother is going to be unfaithful to the dreary Tommy, doing something described as ‘off weekending with someone’. If only.

At one point she is threatened with torture by dental instruments, just like Marathon Man, only 30 years earlier.

It is interesting and surprising that her underwear is monogrammed – books of the time often mention laundry marks, but this is something more fancy. The American etiquette writer Miss Manners says that if you are a housemaid who marries a Duke then you can have his crest embroidered on your underwear.

Links on the blog: Anne Boleyn wore a B round her neck. In an entry on Death on the Nile, we commented on Christie’s use of a Biblical story – this time there is David’s son Solomon, and a very reasonable conclusion for Tuppence to draw, eventually….

With thanks to JS (again) for language detail.

The young woman is from the Clover Vintage Tumblr, the other picture is the Royal monogram of Princess Beatrice of Battenburg, a daughter of Queen Victoria.


  1. Moira - There is something about having one's monogram on one's underwear, I must say...I have to confess that I like Tommy and Tuppence. I know they don't have the following that Christie's other sleuths do and I'm trying to figure out why I like them. Perhaps it's because we get the chance to see them as parents and spouses as well as sleuths. I wouldn't say this series is Christie's absolute finest writing by any means. But there's something about the Beresfords that appeals to me.

  2. I'm glad someone likes them! Maybe I'll re-read another of the books and see if I can take a kinder view.

  3. Unlike Margot, I've never really got into Tommy and Tuppence and I don't reread these books. But maybe I should pick one up again and see if it appeals now.

  4. I liked the first Tommy and Tuppence (read fairly recently) and remember liking them when I was younger. It will be interesting to see if I like this one. I love those images from the Clover Vintage Tumblr.

  5. I love them, I always have. I enjoy the way Christie always returned to them. They are the only sleuths of her creation who were allowed to grow up, really. Or to age at all.

    She created Poirot as a charicature and elderly--ditto Miss Marple. Her others were generally middle aged (Harley Quin, Mrs Oliver...).

    I was most annoyed when the people who have been writing the "Marple" series began to steal from other characters, and especially when they not only put Miss Marple in a Tommy and Tuppence, but made Tommy a cad and Tuppence a drunk!

    1. I absolutely agree. I've always loved them, possibly because of their banter. The way they are ruining the Miss Marple books is horrible. Why do they have to do that?

    2. I have mixed feelings about the TV adaptations, and some are better than others. But I absolutely agree: there is no reason to mix the sleuths up and put them in the wrong stories....

  6. "By the Pricking of My Thumbs" was a WONDERFUL mystery, I thought! It's set in the late 60s I believe, when the Beresfords were quite a bit older than when they were sleuthing it up for King and Country, and the novel focuses primarily on Tuppence who I find to be a very sympathetic character. Older, empty nester, husband still working and often off on his own, and wondering if she's still of much use to anyone- I think a LOT of women could identify with this! And the ending was bone chilling to me! Lovely, lovely "nighttime in the autumn by the fire" reading!

    1. Gretchen, I haven't read that one in years, and have only vague memories of the plot, but you're really encouraging me to get it off the shelf. Though maybe I should wait till autumn... Thanks for coming to comment.


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