Josephine Tey


Pamela J. Butler

On February 14, 1952, newspapers in England were dominated by stories about the life and death of King George VI, who had died February 6; massive crowds assembled to view the late King lying in state at Westminster Hall. The pomp and pageantry of the royal funeral overshadowed this notice in London’s The Times that day:


DAVIOT–On Feb. 13, 1952, in London, GORDON DAVIOT, Playwright and Novelist. Cremation at the South London Crematorium, Rowan Road, Streatham Vale, S.W. 16, on Monday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m. No flowers.

Gordon Daviot” was the favored penname of the woman who had grown up as “Elizabeth MacKintosh” in Scotland; she also used the name “Josephine Tey” to write her detective novels. She seemed to slip away almost invisibly during the royal funeral proceedings. Would she have resented being eclipsed? Probably not; according to the late Mairi A. MacDonald in her book By The Banks of the Ness, such a subdued funeral “would have been in accordance with her own wishes, and probably, even, her strict injunctions, for she loathed the panoply of mourning, considered its rites a barbaric survival, and had a strong personal dislike to flowers on graves.” At the crematorium in Streatham (located about 6.5 miles due south of Buckingham Palace), the service was attended by some of her theater friends, who wanted to pay their last respects to one who they had admired. Among these friends were Sir John Gielgud, actress Dame Edith Evans, and author Elizabeth Kyle, who wrote to Ms. MacDonald, “…I couldn’t bear the sight of the ‘little box’ she had so often spoken of, sliding quietly into a hole in the wall without one flower on it.” Gielgud wrote, in the following year, “Her sudden death…was a great surprise and shock to all her friends in London. I learned afterwards that she had known herself to be mortally ill for nearly a year, and had resolutely avoided seeing anyone she knew. This gallant behaviour was typical of her and curiously touching, if a little inhuman too.”

The next day, a more complete obituary was published on page 8 of The Times :


Miss Elizabeth Mackintosh, who under the pen-name “Gordon Daviot,” wrote a number of plays, the most successful of which was Richard of Bordeaux, died as already briefly reported, on Wednesday in London.

She was born and brought up at Inverness and was trained as a physical training instructress at the Anstey Physical Training College, Birmingham. She taught physical training at various schools in England and Scotland, but had not got very far in her chosen calling when she had to return home to look after her father. In the midst of her household duties she began to write and had some short stories accepted the English Review and other periodicals. Meanwhile she began seriously to study the theatre and, after writing a number of plays which she did not feel were up to the high standard she had set herself, she wrote Richard of Bordeaux, which was performed at the Arts Theatre in 1932.

The play was so favourably received by the critics that it was produced in the course of the ensuing year at the New Theatre, where it was played to enthusiastic audiences for a whole year and established her reputation as a playwright. Though she was always serious in purpose and displayed an uncommon insight into character, it cannot be said that even Richard of Bordeaux attained that depth of penetration that is the hall-mark of the best dramatic writing, yet it merited criticism on a higher plane than most of the plays of its period.

Miss Mackintosh never attained quite the same success with her later ventures in the theatre, though she came near it in Queen of Scots, which was produced in 1934 and re-established her title to serious consideration after the not undeserved failure of The Laughing Woman, a romanticized dramatization of the relations of the sculptor Henri Gaudier and Sophia Brzeska, though even this contained a more intelligent and persuasive study of an artist than is at all common on the modern stage. The Stars Bow Down, the story of Joseph and his brethren, was published in 1939, and had to wait some 10 years before it was produced at the Malvern Festival. Meanwhile another play on a Biblical subject, The Little Dry Thorn and a somewhat bloodless drama, having for its subject conditions in Roman Britain towards the end of the second century, was produced and received respectful attention from the critics but little public support.

Though she was best known as a playwright, she continued at intervals to publish novels and short stories, and under the pen-name “Josephine Tey,” wrote a number of detective stories in which a distinctive quality, usually historical, enhanced the ingenuity which is the main attraction of this kind of fiction. Her last work was a study of Morgan, the pirate, under the title of The Privateer.

Next to this obituary was a large aerial photo of Windsor Castle with a caption describing the funeral procession from Westminster Hall towards Paddington Station, where the coffin of King George VI would be placed on board and taken to its final resting place in St. George’s Chapel.

The New York Times published this obituary on February 14, 1952:


LONDON, Feb. 13 (AP)–Miss Elizabeth Mackintosh, playwright and author, died today. She was 55 years old. Under the pen name Gordon Daviot, Miss Mackintosh wrote a number of plays produced successfully in London during the last twenty years. She also wrote detective stories under the name Josephine Tey.

Among the plays by Gordon Daviot are “Richard of Bordeaux,” which ran for a year in London and a month in New York; “The Laughing Woman,” “Queen of Scots,” and “The Stars Bow Down.” The same author wrote the novels “Kif,” “The Expensive Halo,” and “The Man in the Queue.” She was born in Inverness, Scotland, a daughter of Colin Mackintosh and the former Josephine Horne.

The detective stories of Josephine Tey include “Miss Pym Disposes,” “The Daughter of Time,” “The Franchise Affair,” and “Brat Farrar.”

Elizabeth was born in 1896 and attended the Royal Academy in Inverness, where, as a schoolgirl, she was remembered to be happy, active, and fond of gymnastics. Mairi MacDonald describes her as “trim in her sailor suit with its braided collar; her light brown hair always smoothly brushed–and ever ready to break into a most attractive, lively smile. Lessons for her proved more or less unattractive–her one delight being to escape from the rigours and dullness of the schoolroom, and scamper off to the cloakroom, where, upon an old set of parallel bars–housed there for no apparent reason–she delighted herself and others by turning somersaults, and performing various other acrobatics in a highly expert manner.”

Ms. MacDonald reveals that her school chums referred to her as “Bessie MacK,” a girl who liked to play “noughts and crosses” and draw spectacles and moustaches on the pictures of the Kings and Queens of Scotland. On her flyleaf of each of her books, she wrote:

Elizabeth MacKintosh

Class II

Inverness Royal Academy





The World

The Universe

Tey reveals this bit of information about herself indirectly through nurse Ella Darroll in The Daughter of Time, who writes something similar about herself and her home in Gloucester. Fans seek insight into Tey’s character by inferring such information from her books. Gielgud related, “I know that all the work she published under the name of Gordon Daviot was particularlydear to her, while her novels and other books, some of them published with great success under the name Josephine Tey, she would refer to as her ‘yearly knitting’, as if they were of little account to her.” In The Daughter of Time, she makes a sly reference to a playwright working on “one of her awful detective stories.” Hereafter, she will be referred to as “Gordon Daviot”, or as “Josephine Tey” according to which name was used for publication. The name “Daviot” was chosen from the district of Daviot, near Inverness, a scenic locale where she had spent many happy holidays with her family. It is unknown how she chose the first name of Gordon. “Josephine Tey” is derived from her mother’s first name and the Tey surname of a distant grandmother in England. Gordon had two sisters who married, but she never did.

Gordon Daviot attended Anstey Physical Training College in Birmingham, England during the World War I years of 1915-1918. The curriculum included classes in medicine, gymnastics, dance, biology, and physical therapy. After she graduated, she spent 8 years as a physical training instructor in schools near Liverpool and Tunbridge Wells. When her mother died in 1926, she returned home to Inverness to care for her invalid father. Although she had a full array of household duties, she scheduled in time to write, an activity which had always diverted her. She viewed this as an opportunity to develop a second career. Her first short fiction was published in the English Review, the Westminster Gazette, and The Glasgow Herald in the late 1920’s.

One of her pastimes was studying psychology and trying to discern personality traits from facial characteristics, which she revealed indirectly through such characters as Alan Grant and Lucy Pym, who also analyzed faces. “Lucy had long prided herself on the analysis of facial characteristics,” wrote Tey in Miss Pym Disposes. One anecdotal observation was that long-nosed people tended to stay and listen to park orators, while short-nosed people walked away. Gordon Daviot could be described as an amateur psychologist who was fascinated by the destructiveness of vanity, the hazards of judging by appearance, and the misguided prejudices that drove people to make errors in judgment. She had an obsession with the disguises people used to conceal their identities, true personalities and motives, and the deceptions that such people employed to achieve their objectives. She felt graphology revealed important clues about the writer’s personality. ” ‘If I had seen Bothwell’s handwriting before writing Queen of Scots, by the way, I would have made him a very different man. The handwriting is a shock. Educated, clear-minded, constructive, controlled. The complete opposite of the man that we have been led to believe in.’ ” If Daviot were living today, she would probably relish debating modern psychological theories and diagnoses.

Although Gordon Daviot used every possible means to discover the psychological makeup of others, she was unwilling to reciprocate by sharing her deeper thoughts. She suffered from a certain shyness–an unwillingness to meet strangers which was described as almost pathological in its intensity. She termed herself “a lone wolf” and generally discouraged attempts at fraternization. She was seldom seen in London, shunned photographers and publicity of all kinds, and gave no interviews to the press. The sudden fame she achieved after Richard of Bordeaux didn’t appear to make her any more sociable than she had been before, and she disappointed many of her fans by not appearing at many of the social functions to which she was invited.

The friends she did make were generally people who worked in the theater, “especially among the lesser members of the companies who acted in her plays, and I would often hear how she had kept in touch with them in after years,” said Gielgud. When the cast members of Richard of Bordeaux made her a cushion from squares of cloth taken from their original costumes, she was very excited to receive it and treasured it all her life. Gielgud thought that she had some slight distrust of the leading players, fearing that they might become too autocratic and possessive in their friendships.

Perhaps for her, the issue wasn’t a lack of sociability as much as it was a desire to avoid wasting time. She was obsessed by the lack of time because she feared that there would be too little of it to produce her intended plays and novels; in retrospect, this proved prescient. One of her favorite pieces of advice to others was, “If there’s anything you want to do, do it now. We shall all be in little boxes soon enough.” She could write a “Josephine Tey” novel in about six weeks, plus the time required for research.

Gielgud, over the course of a 20-year friendship, probably knew Gordon Daviot as well as anyone could: “I first met Gordon Daviot in 1932, when I played the title role in Richard ofBordeaux. We were friends until her death last year–1952–and yet I cannot claim ever to have known her very intimately…She never spoke to me of her youth or her ambitions. It was hard to draw her out…It was difficult to tell what she really felt, since she did not readily give her confidence, even to her few intimate friends…She would rarely show her manuscripts to managers or actors, and she never read her plays to people…I think she became resolved to trust her own instincts for the future, and not to allow too much interference with her manuscripts from those who sought to bring them to the stage.”

She enjoyed the good things in life, including clothes, good food and wine, horse-racing, fishing, and the cinema. “She went to the cinema twice a week in Inverness, and preferred to discuss films–their acting and direction–rather than plays, which she very seldom had an opportunity of seeing,” Gielgud explained. Generally a recluse, Gordon Daviot rarely went to church; however she was a diligent student of the Bible and could expound on it at length.

Miss Pym Disposes reveals Daviot’s fascination by the fragile nature of justice, and how the official application of justice can result in injustice. “What could never be remedied was the injustice of it. It was Lucy’s private opinion that injustice was harder to bear than almost any other inflicted ill. She could remember yet the surprised hurt, the helpless rage, the despair that used to consume her when she was young and the victim of an injustice. It was the helpless rage that was the worst; it consumed one like a slow fire.” Lucy considers that once the machinery of man-made law was set into motion, it “would catch up in its gears and meshes, and maim and destroy, the innocent with the guilty.”

Gordon Daviot had a sparkling, biting wit, which she used ruthlessly on occasion. Once, when asked by the Rector of The Academy whether she could mention anything acquired during her schooldays which had proved helpful in her career, she replied, “…the four-leaved clovers I so often found, at interval-time, in the playground, were responsible for my great, good luck.” She had a great interest in history and strove to distinguish fact from legend by painstaking and detailed research. As Brent Carradine says in The Daughter of Time, “Give me research. After all, the truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time. An advertisement in a paper. The sale of a house. The price of a ring.”

Self-pity was an attribute to be scorned. She appeared to place a high value on women’s independence and autonomy. It may never be known for certain whether she lost someone dear to her in World War I. In Miss Pym Disposes, Miss Lucy Pym refers vaguely to “her Alan years.” Gielgud wrote of Daviot, “She spoke very bitterly of the first World War, in which I fancy she must have suffered some bereavement, and she was depressed and unhappy when I met her while I was touring in Edinburgh during 1942, though a few days spent with me and Gwen Ffrangcon Davies, to whom she was devoted, seemed to cheer her up, and when we left she appeared to be almost her old self again.”

Gielgud summed up her personality thus, “Gordon Daviot was a strange character, proud without being arrogant, and obstinate, though not conceited. She was distressed by her inability to write original plots, especially when, on two occasions, she was unfairly accused of plagiarism. On the first occasion she was sued by the author of an historical novel about Richard the Second, but the case was settled out of court. These episodes distressed her greatly and made her over-sensitive.”

Despite her struggles with plots, Tey(Daviot) had a very literate, stylish way of writing. It is often said that Tey is a mystery writer read by people who don’t mysteries. Two recurring themes in her work are the fallibility of evidence and persecution of the innocent. Her first two books were published in 1929 under the name Gordon Daviot. Later, she reserved the name Gordon Daviot for her stage plays and more serious works, while Josephine Tey was used for the mystery novels. Ironically, while she was more attached to the “Daviot” works, the public admired the novels and mysteries more.

“Gordon’s plays are comparatively light and delicate [compared to George Bernard Shaw’s]. They have great charm, humour, and delightful acting parts” observed Gielgud. “She is thoroughly at home with her simple people, peasants, servants, plain soldiers, and the like. Her ‘little scenes,’ in which such characters give background and colour to the main action, are admirably neat and act delightfully on the stage.”

He added, “The women in the Daviot plays are strongest in their mother-instincts …the characters are wives, mistresses and mothers more than they are lovers…I do not think Gordon understood either the intriguer or the harlot in Mary Stuart…Her heroes, too, are men who need to be protected, touching, romantic, boyish. These are the heroes she likes and understands. The villains and her older men are effective by contrast, but they are often sketchily drawn, and sometimes a little overdrawn. They are types rather than characters.”

Her strength in writing was portraying characterization and motivation. She was insightful in her observations of different personality types, which came across well in the printed medium. However, her stage plays were far less effective, primarily because conflict, through action or dialogue, is necessary to maintain interest, and Daviot had a tendency to either avoid scenes of conflict, or to mute or subdue them where they could not be avoided. A comparison of her book, The Daughter of Time, and her play, Dickon (Richard’s nickname) illustrates this.

The Daughter of Time (1951) brought the controversy surrounding Richard III and the Princes in the Tower to a wide public audience and is perhaps the most popular defense of Richard. This mystery novel addresses the issue of historical truth. Inspector Alan Grant, trapped in a hospital with a broken leg, is bored senseless. Because he fancies himself to be an expert on faces, his friend, Marta Hallard, a famous actress, gives him some portraits to study. In the portrait of Richard III, he sees power and suffering in the face of a man of conscience and integrity. Is it “a judge, a soldier, a prince? Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority. Someone too conscientious. A worrier, perhaps a perfectionist. A man at ease in large design but anxious over details. A candidate for a gastric ulcer.” Grant is dismayed to discover that it is the portrait of one of the most infamous villains in history, the “monster” said to have murdered his nephews to obtain the crown of England. How could he have misjudged? Grant decides that he will read everything he can find to discern the truth of the matter. With his detective skills and reasoning ability, he hopes to solve the mystery the missing princes.

Tey keeps the pace lively by the constant activities of contemporary characters, while Grant’s “flashbacks” to the past through the reading of historical sources guides the reader stepwise through the collection of evidence, such as it is, and the reasoning process. Grant’s research is very similar to a modern day criminal investigation, except that the witnesses are long dead and left behind little tangible evidence. Grant cross-compares facts from the various sources to try to forge a logical scenario. He discovers that once an erroneous account is published, it is often unquestioningly accepted as true. Historians subsequent to Sir Thomas More (in particular, Hall and Holinshed) appear to have accepted More’s account as indisputable, when in fact he could have only obtained his information secondhand (most likely from the highly-prejudiced Bishop Morton.) In today’s courtroom, such “evidence” would be inadmissible as “hearsay.” Josephine Tey/Gordon Daviot addresses the question, in this book and others: “How much of history is solidly grounded in fact, and how much is it malleable for the sake of political expediency?” In The Daughter of Time, Inspector Grant eventually tries to dig up sources contemporaneous with Richard III to eliminate the Tudor bias. In writingRichard III, Shakespeare’s goal was to write a compelling drama, and historical accuracy was sacrificed for the sake of plot. Because it was widely believed in those days that Richard III had had his nephews murdered, he was a logical villain; Shakespeare only needed to superimpose exaggerated physical deformities and a Machiavellian-inspired personality to create an unforgettable character.

In The Daughter of Time, Grant bounces ideas off of the other people in his life–nurses, doctors, and acquaintances to illustrate the reactions of varying personalities to the information he discovers; this gives him opportunities to expound on his findings and theories. The characters include the previously-mentioned Marta Hallard, the busy, efficient, no-nonsense Nurse Ingham (“The Midget”), the sympathetic and helpful Nurse Ella Darroll (“The Amazon”), and Brent Carradine, an American student who obtains research materials for Grant and discusses the issues with him at length. This mystery demonstrates that once an idea, right or wrong, becomes “fixed” in a culture, people resist changing their opinions on the matter, even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

It is unknown precisely when Daviot wrote the play Dickon, which was published posthumously in 1953. The play covers the life of Richard III from January, 1483 until the morning of August 22, 1485, just prior to the Battle of Bosworth Field. Judy Weinsoft, in Strutting and Fretting His Hour upon the Stage, says it may have been as early as 1944. [Ed. note: See interview with Laurence Olivier dating the play to the 1940s] She extensively compares Daviot’s Dickon to Shakespeare’s Richard III in a speech she wrote for the 1993 Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Weinsoft observed that “Some stage directions give the impression that Dickon was composed to be read rather than performed.” Since the audience was not privy to the information in the stage directions through action or dialogue, there was much less dramatic punch.

Weinsoft explained, “In Dickon and her other history plays, Daviot’s aim is to reinterpret and demythologize historical characters. Richard is thus characterized as fair, honorable, and capable. Critics contend, and I concur, that this depiction on stage of a good and much maligned king, does not provide enought dramatic contrast. Given the inevitable comparison to Shakespeare’s play, Dickon does not fare well…because excessive, energetic evil is more theatrically compelling than vapid virtue.”

Gielgud made a similar assessment: “In Dickon…Gordon does not succeed, to my mind, in making the character of Richard III sufficiently convincing as a hero, and her good Richard does not begin to be an adequate substitute for the thrilling monster of Shakespeare’s play. She was evidently obsessed by this idea, for she develops it at considerable length in her novel A Daughter of Time.” [sic]

Daviot never hesitated to write about controversial topics, but often she avoided controversial details about those topics. Weinsoft said, “But where Shakespeare rearranges the chronology of events to suit a dramatic purpose, Daviot simply eliminates events she deems unsuitable to her favorable portrayal of Richard. For example…some controversial events surrounding the usurpation and coronation are omitted.” Similarly, she omitted the Casket Letters with regard to Mary, Queen of Scots, and implemented a too-easy solution in TheExpensive Halo. In Miss Pym Disposes, Miss Pym decides to disappear for the day when she anticipates an unpleasant confrontation between two other parties. Is this another example of self-revelation? In the author’s opinion, while Daviot’s realistic characters appear to be drawn from actual individuals and are given clever dialogue, the conflict within the stories often seems muted or subdued, as if she had a “maternal instinct” to protect the characters. Perhaps she decided to write the story of Richard III as a mystery, The Daughter of Time, because she knew the message would reach a wider audience than Dickon. The “daughter of time” is truth, and this book is a relatively painless. way to be introduced to late medieval English history; most readers are inspired to learn more.

Although she was born and bred in the Scottish Highlands, Gordon Daviot loved England with all her soul. “To England…apart from a few personal bequests, she bequeathed practically all of her considerable fortune. In her last will and testament, she instructed that everything she possessed, whether money, goods, property, personal possessions, investments, play, book and film rights and royalties, and any other belongings, be devoted to furthering the work of the National Trust for England.” (MacDonald) To the Inverness Museum, she left the original script of Richard of Bordeaux, a collection of tartans and silver spoons, and an early Victorian gold ring set with emeralds and diamonds, which she had worn for the greater part of her life.

Her legacy to the world was a body of minutely-researched, cleverly-written works, although the books have long outlasted the plays for popularity. Gielgud gave her this tribute: ” It is sad to think Gordon will write no more. We are not so rich in dramatic authors in this country that, when they are as talented and original as Gordon Daviot, we can afford to lose them. The theatre is poorer for a unique talent, and I for a dearly valued friend.”

The following is a list of most of her major works:

Kif, An Unvarnished History
Historical Dramatic Story
Gordon Daviot
The Man in the Queue
Alan Grant Mystery
Gordon Daviot/Josephine Tey
The Expensive Halo
Gordon Daviot
Richard of Bordeaux
Historical Play
Gordon Daviot
Queen of Scots
Historical Play
Gordon Daviot
A Shilling for Candles
Alan Grant Mystery
Josephine Tey
The Laughing Woman
Historical Play
Gordon Daviot
Historical Novel
Gordon Daviot
The Stars Bow Down
Religious Play
Gordon Daviot
Miss Pym Disposes
Mystery Novel
Josephine Tey
Leith Sands, Etc.,
One-act Plays
Gordon Daviot
The Little Dry Thorn
Religious Play
Gordon Daviot
Historical Play
Gordon Daviot
The Franchise Affair
Alan Grant Mysterey
Josephine Tey
Brat Farrar
Josephine Tey
To Love and Be Wise
Alan Grant Mystery
Josephine Tey
The Daughter of Time
Alan Grant Mystery
Josephine Tey
The Singing Sands
Alan Grant Mystery
Josephine Tey
The Privateer
Historical Novel
Gordon Daviot
Historial Play
Gordon Daviot


Kif, An Unvarnished History, (1929) is about the life of Archibald Vicar (Kif) who, after surviving the trenches of World War I, returns to London and must resort to a life of crime to survive.Kif and The Man in the Queue, each provide a psychological study of modern life.

The Man in the Queue, (1929), a mystery originally written under the name Gordon Daviot, introduced the Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. It was said to have been written in two weeks for a competition sponsored by the publisher Methuen. Grant must first identify an anonymous victim who was killed in a crowd, where no one saw anything. His search eventually takes him to the Scottish Highlands. The real solution to this mystery appears to come out of the blue, to the dismay of many mystery aficionados. Tey’s stories tend to be slower in pace, but more descriptive of characters, than most mysteries.

The Expensive Halo, A Fable Without a Moral, (1931) is the story of a brother and sister, respectively named Gareth and Sara Ellis, living under straitened circumstances in the house of a tyrannical and sanctimonious father. Unknowingly, by coincidence, they each fall in love with someone from the upper classes who also turn out to be sister and brother. Eventually, one of them, for the sake of love, must make a sacrifice. The characters are realistically portrayed, and clever dialogue mercilessly lampoons the superficiality of “high society.”

Richard of Bordeaux is about King Richard II of England. The play begins in February, 1385 with Richard II already married to Anne of Bohemia, and covers such topics as Anne’s death, Robert de Vere, the Bolingbroke-Mowbray feud, and the Lords Appellant. It ends with Richard imprisoned in the Tower of London by his cousin, the future Henry IV (Bolingbroke), and about to be sent to “Pomfret Castle.” Daviot’s play opened on Broadway on February 14, 1934. “She improved on Shakespeare (from a commercial point of view at any rate) by giving Richard a sense of humour. This attractive quality, allied to a boyish charm in the scenes with his wife, and his gallant behaviour in standing up to the war-mongering nobles, helps to excuse, in Gordon’s play, the effeminacy of his character and to condone the essential shallowness of his nature.” (Sir John Gielgud.)

The Play Queen of Scots (1934) is about Mary, Queen of Scots, who married the Earl of Bothwell soon after the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley. The marriage was a major political blunder and Bothwell soon fled to Denmark. Mary, forced to abdicate in Scotland, sought refuge in England and was held captive for the rest of her life. She was executed in 1587 for plotting against Elizabeth I. Said Gielgud, “Queen of Scots was only a mild success, and I think Gordon felt it had been unluckily treated. Not that we ever openly disagreed, nor did she ever blame me for the comparative failure of the play.” In 1935, the character of Bothwell was first played by Ralph Richardson, who was later replaced by Laurence Olivier. The play ran for more than 100 performances, but failed to fulfill expectations. Gielgud suggested that her avoidance of the Casket Letters may have been part of the reason. “In Queen of Scots, Gordon tried to refute the accepted popular convention, refusing to depict the femme fatale that other writers have suggested in dramatising Mary’s story. Nor would she bring herself to make the character wholly sympathetic, the injured heroine and pawn of circumstance, who might have touched an audience by her distresses. She tried to take a middle way, neither praising nor blaming, and, though this treatment might have succeeded in a novel, I do not think she has given sufficiently powerful opportunities in her play for an actress, however brilliant, to carry off with complete success.” Gielgud expounded. Mairi MacDonald felt that the plays subsequent to Richard of Bordeaux tended to have drab settings, which may have alienated audiences.

A Shilling for Candles (1936) is was the first mystery in which Daviot used the name Josephine Tey. In this Alan Grant mystery, the body of a famous actress found dead on the beach of an English seacoast. An article found in her hair indicates that she was murdered, but the case is complicated because many people wanted her dead. In 1937, Alfred Hitchcock used this as a basis for Young and Innocent, his personal favorite of the British films he made.

The Laughing Woman opened in New York at the John Golden Theater on October 13, 1936 and ran for 23 performances. This play depicts the relationship of the sculptor Henri Gaudier (1891-1915) and Sophie Brzeska, a woman nearly 20 years his senior. Gaudier was killed in 1915 fighting with the French Army.

The Stars Bow Down. Written in 1939, it was not produced until 1949 and is about Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt.

Claverhouse: The Biography of John Graham of Claverhouse (1937). John Graham, later Viscount Dundee, is an historically controversial figure in Scottish history. The elder son of royalists, he grew up near Dundee, studied at St. Andrews University, and began his career as a soldier in France as a volunteer for Louis XIV. He joined William of Orange (of Holland, 1674) and is said to have saved William’s life in battle. Later, in England, he became the personal advisor to James, Duke of York, younger brother of King Charles II, and was assigned in 1678 to the duty of suppressing Covenanters in Scotland. (It is an oversimplification to merely say that Covenanters were Presbyterian rebels opposed to Anglicanism because the conflict was both religious and political). It was in this capacity that his name became associated with the Wigtown Martyrs, two Scottish women Covenanters who were reported to have been drowned on May 11, 1685 in Galloway by soldiers because, clinging to their faith, they refused to take the Abjuration Oath. Daviot argues that this is another misrepresentation of history and claims that Graham was a man who tried to do the right thing in difficult circumstances and that he tempered justice with mercy. Graham was married to Jean Cochrane, a member of a prominent Covenanter family, and he did eventually urge moderation. He died in July, 1689 at the Battle of Killiecrankie during the first Jacobite Rebellion. As Josephine Tey, Daviot makes a reference to the Wigtown Martyrs in The Daughter of Time, Chapter 11.

Leith Sands and Other Short Plays (1946) contains three modern plays, two Biblical plays, and some historical plays.

Miss Pym Disposes (1946) is a mystery which makes use of Daviot’s knowledge of the physical training schools were she was first a student and a later a teacher. The students at Leys Physical Training College are under intense pressure as final exams approach. The main character, Miss Lucy Pym, has been invited to the school to speak because she has become a best-selling author of a book about psychology. One student has a strange, fatal accident and Miss Pym puts her psychological theories into practice.

In 1947, The Little Dry Thorn, based on the story of Abraham, Sara, Hagar, and Ishmael, appeared at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. It tells of the migration from Ur in Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan.

In 1948, Valerius was presented at Saville Theatre, London. A centurion, C. Valerius Valena, struggles to maintain order at an infantry post on Hadrian’s Wall during the Roman occupation of Britain in A.D. 196. However, this play, as well as The Little Dry Thorn, though excellently written, did not attract audiences, ascribed to their lack of conflict and dramatic tension.

The Franchise Affair (1948) is an updated, fictionalized version of a real case centering around Elizabeth Canning which took place in the 18th Century England and became a cause célèbre. Elizabeth claimed to have been kidnapped, robbed, knocked unconscious, and locked in a loft to starve on January 1, 1753. She escaped after a month of confinement and told her story to the authorities. To this day, a debate continues about whether or not her story is true. In Tey’s story, a young woman named Betty Kane accuses Marion Sharpe and her mother, who live quietly at a run-down estate known as The Franchise, of brutally kidnapping her and holding her hostage for a month. Marion calls easygoing solicitor Robert Blair for help, denying that any such event occurred. Blair takes up the case, which disrupts his orderly and predictable life, and solves the mystery which has stumped even Alan Grant. Towards the end of the book, an outrageously funny witness appears at the trial, allowing Tey to demonstrate her sense of humor. This was made into a Hollywood movie in 1950.

Brat Farrar (1949) celebrates English country life. At Latchett’s, an estate in the English Midlands, an aunt is caring for the Ashby children who have been orphaned, twin brothers and three sisters. Patrick Ashby disappears at age 13 and is presumed drowned, but just as his twin brother Simon is on the verge of turning 21 and inheriting a fortune, Brat Farrar shows up. He has been carefully coached to impersonate the missing brother Patrick. Unexpected twists occur in this book, which culminates in a final, terrible confrontation.

To Love and Be Wise (1950) has many scenes which spoof the arts community, as well as excoriating popular novelists. When a handsome young American photographer named Leslie Searle disappears, Grant must determine whether he had an accident, was murdered, or simply chose to fade from sight. The solution is tied to past crimes and concealed identities; one of the characters is a woman masquerading as a man.

In The Singing Sands (1952), the final Tey mystery (found among her documents after her death), Alan Grant, on sick leave due to claustrophobia and being on the verge of a nervous breakdown, travels on a night train bound for the Scottish Highlands in order to recuperate. Grant accidentally carries off the newspaper of a young man, Charles Martin, who has been drinking heavily and is later found dead. A cryptic poem written beside the newsprint reads, “The beasts that talk, the stones that walk, the singing sands, that guard the way to paradise.” In deciphering the poem’s meaning, Grant makes an extensive “interior journey” into his psyche, an exterior journey to the Outer Hebrides, and uncovers the clues to a diabolical murder.

The Privateer (1952) is an historical novel is about a Welsh buccaneer, Henry Morgan, who wins a series of battles against the Spaniards in the Caribbean and eventually becomes Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica.


  • “Deaths,” The Times [London] 14 February, 1952. p. 1
  • “Obituary,” The Times [London] 15 February, 1952 p.8
  • Obituaries, “Gordon Daviot,” The New York Times, 14 February, 1952.
  • Daviot, Gordon. Richard of Bordeaux, A Play in Two Acts. from Famous Plays of 1933, pp.137-256. 1933. London, UK. Victor Gollancz, Ltd.
  • Daviot, Gordon. Claverhouse. The Biography of John Graham of Claverhouse. London. Collins.
  • Daviot, Gordon. The Privateer. 1952. New York, New York. The MacMillan Company.
  • Gielgud, Sir John. Foreword to Plays by Gordon Daviot. 1953. Bungay, Suffolk, UK. Peter Davies, Ltd.
  • Internet Broadway Database,
  • Internet Movie Database,
  • MacDonald, Mairi A. By the Banks of the Ness: Tales from the History of Inverness and District. 1982. Edinburgh. Paul Harris Publishing.
  • Tey, Josephine. The Daughter of Time. 1951. New York, New York. The MacMillan Company.
  • Tey, Josephine. Miss Pym Disposes. 1946. Paperback ed., Pan Books, Ltd. London, UK 5th printing 1969.
  • Tey, Josephine. The Expensive Halo: A Fable Without Moral. 1931. Reprinted 1969. London. Butler and Tanner, Ltd.
  • Tey, Josephine. The Man in the Queue. Paperback ed. 1953. London. Penguin Books. 1978.
  • Weinsoft, Judy R. Strutting and Fretting His Hour Upon the Stage: An Analysis of the Characterization of Richard in Shakespeare’s Richard III and Gordon Daviot’s Dickon.August 27, 1993. From a lecture presented at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2002 Ricardian Register