IF you’re going to attend a murder mystery night, which we have for the first time, there may be no more appropriate crime scene than the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate.

It was there in December 1926 that the great novelist Agatha Christie was recognised after being missing – presumed goodness knows what – for 11 days. The nationwide hunt had involved 1,000 police officers, plus Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L Sayers an’ all.

Old, old story, Archie Christie was playing away, announced that he wanted a divorce and left their Surrey home for a dirty weekend. His wronged wife’s Morris Cowley was found crashed down a nearby embankment, the only clue a letter to her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire.

She’d booked into the Swan, then known as the Harrogate Hydropathic, as Mrs Neele – a curious move, since that was the name of the floozy.

It’s a grand old hotel, comfortably creaky as these places tend to be. In the foyer, a facsimile front page of the Daily Sketch (“incorporating the Daily Graphic”) announces that Mrs Christie has been found alive.

The bedroom’s huge, impressive, towels folded into the shape of swans. The lady thought, a little churlishly, that their time might have been better spent fixing the leaky radiator in the bathroom.

On the walls, framed posters promote Agatha, the film starring Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave which told the story of Christie’s vanishing act – “more suspenseful than anything she ever wrote".

The entertainment’s produced by Murder 57, a company said to have 1,000 actors, 100 plots and bookings at 14 other venues – a sort of three-course Cluedo – that same night.

Mass murderers, they’ve so far resisted the temptation to put on a breakfast show – in which case they’d be cereal killers, instead.

A lesser mystery, perhaps, is why the hotel demands a month’s notice of menu choice from a very short table d’hote.

About 70 dine, some fully immersed and others, like us, dipping a tentative toe in the mysterious water. To the former it’s a re-enactment of Death in Paradise, to the latter I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clouseau.

There are those, indeed, who appear to believe a forensic scientist to be someone who makes headache powders.

The bumph had talked of “standard party dress”. Some wear black tie. Clearly standard party dress is different in Harrogate from that pertaining in Shildon.

The play’s about a marriage bureau. By way of appetiser, guests are invited to nominate an improbable couple for matrimony. The winner pairs Whoopi Goldberg with Peter Cushing, thus producing a Whoopi Cushing.

The meal’s very enjoyable – a canny bit bait, as they may never have said in The Mousetrap. The lady starts with mackerel, though that may have been a red herring.

The plot unravels (or otherwise) as the evening progresses. Hopelessly myopic, I’m seated next to an 84-year-old lady whose eyesight’s fine but who’s almost stone deaf. It could make a great detective series: Jack Spratt investigates.

It wouldn’t do to say whodunnit, but it wasn’t Professor Plum.

HEADED to Harrogate, we take a dander around the delightful old village of Kirkby Malzeard, population 881, between Masham and Ripon.

In the news in the 1970s when Bing Crosby was in a shooting party that way and gave £1,250 towards the village playing field. It also made headlines in 2011 after being at the epicentre of an earthquake. It was still just 3.6 on the Richter. Not many dead, as Private Eye used to suppose.

Though the market for which Edward II granted a charter in 1307 no longer sets out its stall, Kirkby Malzeard may be the best served small village in Britain.

There’s a general store, a butcher’s – good pies, world class black pudding – a fish and chip shop, a hairdresser’s, an antique shop and, get this, even a paper girl.

There’s a Grade I-listed parish church, a Methodist chapel clearly cared for, a primary school, a nursery school, a regular bus service, a surgery covered by five GPs – are they reading this in the Trimdons? – and there’s a Mechanics Institute, founded in1852 “for the diffusion of knowledge” and which stages Cinderella next week.

There’s also a coal-fired pub, the Queens. A second pub, the Henry Jenkins – named after the chap said to have lived to be 169 on a diet of nettle stew and Swale water – stands forlorn and derelict after a community buy-out failed.

The name’s said to mean “The church in the poor clearing by the forest”, but has any comparable village greater riches than Kirkby Malzeard?

ST Andrew’s, Kirkby Malzeard, is part of the Fountains group of churches, covering several neighbouring villages, including Mickley.

The parish magazine, greatly informative, reports that the Mickley Boys’ next outing is to the Masham Distillery, a bibulous event to be followed by a “gin tasting experience” back in the village hall.

In Mickley, clearly, boys will be boys.

FORMER Archdeacon of York George Austin, who has died aged 87, had a reputation as an outspoken cleric, a lover of good food and drink and as a man who liked a good joke.

When we met 30 years ago – over coffee and biscuits – he told the one about Moses coming down from the mountain after thrashing out the commandments.

“The good news is that I’ve knocked Him down to ten,” he tells the Israelites. “The bad news is that adultery’s still in.”

Archdeacon Austin’s obituary in The Times supposes it to have been one of his favourites – and all these years, I thought it was just for me.

AT Shildon Football Club tomorrow evening – a venue with which these columns are greatly familiar – an appeal will be launched to raise £7,000 for the restoration of the Shildon Wagon Works banner, now in a pretty parlous state.

When the works contentiously closed in 1984, the works employed around 2,500 people, almost all men, on a 55-acre site.

Locomotive construction was started by Timothy Hackworth in the 1820s, around 40 locos built at Shildon before the move to wagon building and repair in the 1860s.

The hand-painted banner, made around 1920 and depicting the hammer-and-tongs works on one side and “socialist imagery” on the other, is said to have been victim of “unfavourable storage and the ravages of time” but to be capable of restoration by experts,

The appeal has been launched by the Auckland Railways Group, £1,000 already donated by the RMT trade union.

All are welcome at the7pm meeting, at which Auckland Railways Group chairman Gerald Slack will take about the history of the works and of the railways around Shildon. On-line donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/shildon-shildon-wagon-works-banner-appeal

Much more on that next week.