The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Information

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was a television comedy-drama series, produced by the BBC in conjunction with HBO, and based on the novels of the same name by Alexander McCall Smith. The novels focus on the story of a detective agency opened by Mma Ramotswe and her courtship with the mechanic Mr. JLB Matekoni. The series was filmed on location in Botswana and was seen as one of the first major film or television productions to be undertaken in Botswana. (The Gods Must Be Crazy, a 1980 film set in Botswana was filmed mainly in South Africa.)

The programme began with a feature-length pilot episode on 23 March 2008. Executive producer, the late Anthony Minghella directed the episode and co-wrote the adaptation with fellow executive producer Richard Curtis. A six-episode series concluded in the UK on 19 April 2009. HBO began broadcasting the series on 29 March 2009. In 2010 the show won a Peabody Award for its 2009 season. It was cancelled due to poor ratings.

While HBO failed to renew the show after its first season, HBO announced in summer 2011 that the show may continue as two or more standalone films. The following year HBO revealed they had decided not to move forward with the project. Producers may look to resurrect the show on another network.



The production was initially envisaged as a film rather than a television adaptation. British director, the late Anthony Minghella was a known fan of the books and after optioning the film rights he worked with the publishers to write a blurb for the paperback edition. Minghella was committed to directing the project himself but it was several years before his schedule allowed pre-production to commence. Producer Amy J. Moore was a catalyst in the decision for an on location production in Botswana. Minghella, having filmed The English Patient in Africa, was concerned with the realities of importing equipment and housing the cast and crew for the production. Moore had travelled extensively in Africa including Botswana and had worked on promoting South African film and bringing African produced plays to an Off Broadway setting. A friend approached her with the novel in 2000 and she greatly enjoyed it. Once attached to the project she convinced Minghella to visit the country with her in 2004 and took him camping in the Makgadikgadi Pans. The promise of funding from the country's government convinced Minghella to shoot on location. Minghella also approached The Weinstein Company for funding and Harvey Weinstein has commented that he thought it was important to fund the production because it would be impossible to sell to a network or studio solely as a concept.

Production on the pilot began on 2 July 2007. At this stage the producers were Sydney Pollack and Minghella of Mirage Productions and Weinstein. Weinstein has commented on the project saying that "like all fans of Alexander McCall Smith's magisterial books, I became enchanted with the wonders and charms of Botswana." Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella helmed the pilot episode and co-wrote the teleplay with Oscar nominated writer Richard Curtis. Although McCall Smith declined to write the adaptation, he remained involved as an adviser and visited the set during production. While filming the pilot episode Minghella publicly expressed concerns about how the film might be received in cinemas because the story is far removed from crime genre conventions and has little action. Minghella raised the possibility of it appearing on television instead and he decided to offer the film as a feature length pilot.

Once the pilot was completed HBO and the BBC ordered a further six one-hour episodes. The collaboration marks the Weinstein Company's first foray into television and Harvey Weinstein commented that he is thrilled to be working with HBO on the project because he believes they are responsible for producing television that is often superior to films.


Anthony Minghella, Timothy Bricknell and Amy J. Moore produced the pilot episode, with Richard Curtis, Sydney Pollack and Harvey Weinstein as executive producers. Bricknell produced the series, with Curtis, Moore and Bob and Harvey Weinstein acting as executive producers. Minghella and Pollack also receive this credit, despite both passing away before the full series entered production. The project is filmed in Botswana and the majority of the crew are locals.

Cast and characters

Grammy Award-winning singer/actress Jill Scott stars as the titular detective Mma Ramotswe. Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose plays assistant detective Mma Grace Makutsi. London theatre actor Lucian Msamati plays car mechanic Mr. JLB Matekoni. Actor and comedian Desmond Dube plays BK, owner of the Last Chance Salon and friend to Mma Ramotswe.

British actors Colin Salmon, Idris Elba, and David Oyelowo also feature in the pilot. Elba plays Charlie Gotso, an adversary to Mma Ramotswe. Salmon plays Mma Ramotswe's abusive ex-husband and trumpet player Note Mokoti. Oyelowo plays cheating husband Kremlin Busang. Tony award winner John Kani also appears as 'dubious' Daddy Bapetsi. Nikki Amuka-Bird plays jealous wife Alice Busang. Oyelowo, Kani and Amuka Bird all receive star billing in the feature length pilot but will not continue as series regulars.

British actor Paterson Joseph will join the cast in a recurring role as Cephas Buthulezi, a rival detective. Tau Maseremule and Thabo Malema play Rra Matekoni's young apprentices, Fanwell and Charlie. Vusi Kunene has a recurring role as Dr. Gulubane.

The Right Rev. Musonda Trevor Selwyn Mwamba the Bishop of Botswana makes a cameo appearance as himself in the series' third episode.


Casting the roles of Mma Makutsi and Mr. JLB Matekoni was completed early in the project. However, casting Mma Ramotswe proved to be more of a challenge. Producer Timothy Bricknell states that the character's build and age excludes most well known actresses and that they initially began looking for an actress in Botswana before expanding their search throughout Africa and eventually on to London and Los Angeles. Jill Scott was shortlisted for the role but the producers were uncertain because of her relative lack of acting experience. Minghella decided to cast her after viewing clips of her poetry readings and musical performance and noting her rare screen presence. The decision was made just two weeks before production began.


The pilot episode was shot on location in Botswana. It is the first major production to be filmed in Botswana and the government reportedly provided five million dollars of funding for the project. The producers signed a 10-year-lease in 2007 for the area at the bottom of Kgale Hill in Gaborone locally known as "Kgaleview" where the detective agency set is located.


Bricknell has stated that the production showcases a modern, relatively prosperous African nation before a large television audience. He said that "People have talked about the responsibility of doing justice to Alexander McCall Smith's novel, but with this production, we also felt a strong sense of responsibility as white people making the first motion picture filmed entirely in Botswana, and presenting modern Botswana to the rest of the world."

Moore has commented that the story struck her with the idea "That leading a good life is possible; that being a good person is possible; that being a good neighbor is possible; that truth can exist alongside beauty. I thought, this African book can teach the Western world a lot."

Minghella called the experience of filming in Botswana an "amazing adventure" and noted the beauty of the country's landscapes. He said "Particularly fascinating to me was working and filming in an African country where old and new are currently coexisting, where traditional values have not yet been eroded by the demands and efficiencies and neuroses of the modern. It was a privilege to be working on a film which celebrates what we can learn from Africa, and not what we think we can teach it."


Pilot (2008)

# Title Writers Director Original air date UK Viewing figure

Aux4=6.87 million ShortSummary=Precious Ramotswe sells her late father's cows and moves to the city to become Botswana's finest " and only " female private detective. With the help of her friends, Mr JLB Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and Mma Makutsi, the fastest-typing secretary in Gaborone, she must solve the mysteries of a missing finger, a dubious Daddy, and a cheating husband. LineColor=660033 }}

TV series (2009)

# Title Writer Director Original air date UK Viewing figure

Aux4=5.84 million ShortSummary=Botswana's No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency is in desperate need of clients. To boost business, Mma Makutsi prints up flyers, which seem to do the trick. Mma Ramotswe soon finds herself hunting down an absconding apostolic, finding a disappearing dog, and checking up on a definitely disturbed dentist. LineColor=112266 }}

Aux4=3.92 million ShortSummary=Mma Ramotswe gets caught between a dangerous case of ivory smuggling and a feuding family when she is asked to investigate the unusual behaviour of Rra Lisindi, owner of Lisindi's curio shop, and the case of a possible poisoner. Meanwhile, Mma Makutsi is entrusted with the task of solving Tlokweng Hospital's spate of mysteriously regular deaths. LineColor=112266 }}

Aux4=3.71 million ShortSummary=Mma Ramotswe is helping Mrs Curtin to find her son who has been missing for 10 years. Unsure whether he is alive or dead, Mma Ramotswe digs up his past, only to uncover some shocking truths. Meanwhile, keen to prove her worth as an assistant detective rather than just a secretary, Mma Makutsi is left trying to solve the Kgale Hill break-ins. LineColor=112266 }}

Aux4=3.79 million ShortSummary=Mma Pekwane suspects her husband has bought a stolen car. Mma Ramotswe offers some creative advice, which involves a foray into auto theft. Mma Makutsi " complete with fabulous new Assistant Detective hairstyle " embarks on her first case, full of undercover operations, high speed car chases and quick getaways. LineColor=112266 }}

Aux4=3.42 million ShortSummary=Mma Makutsi investigates the behaviour of contestants in a local beauty pageant, while Mma Ramotswe has trouble solving the case of Nandira Patel's mystery boyfriend. To make things worse, the contemptible Cephas Buthelezi opens a rival agency and is intent on taking the ladies down. LineColor=112266 }}

Aux4=4.26 million ShortSummary=The No.1 Ladies are the latest victims of the Kgale Hill break-ins and Mma Ramotswe and JLB Matekoni's engagement is not going as smoothly as expected. Note Mokoti's return, fake diamonds and Cephas Buthelezei's ruthless attempt at blackmail, force Mma Ramotswe to face her demons before she can move on. LineColor=112266 }}



The BBC announced the pilot as the centrepiece of its 2008 winter schedule and broadcast the pilot in the prestigious Easter weekend slot at 21:00 on Easter Sunday on BBC One. The BBC promoted the series as a collaboration between acclaimed British filmmakers Anthony Minghella and Richard Curtis. The show has received 6.87 million viewers (27% share) in the UK, easily beating ITV1's He Kills Coppers.

Critical response

The series received generally positive reviews from most critics, based on an aggregate score of 71/100 from Metacritic. The List said that Jill Scott's performance "effortlessly captures the blend of wisdom, compassion and understated humour that has made Precious Ramotswe such a popular creation." Some mainstream press reviewers were less impressed. The Guardian's reviewer summed it up as "Heartbeat, basically, relocated to Botswana, a beautiful African country where smiley happy people, cardboard cut-out characters, go about their business with good humour, hard work, morality and diligence." The Times' reviewer said "The problem is that Precious Ramotswe does not really live in Africa but in a verbal universe that is McCall Smith's own. His dialogue, so natural on the page, turned out to be unutterable, at least by the actors assembled here, who struggled to attain end-of-term play standards." But in The Independent, the reviewer, remarking on the recent death of its director and co-adaptor, Anthony Minghella, said "its merits are distinctively Minghella's own, and that in adapting Alexander McCall Smith's hugely popular and arguably emollient stories for the screen, he and Richard Curtis have found a way to stiffen their representation of African life without losing the sweet moral clarity of the originals."

Impact on Botswana

The funding provided for the production allowed the country the economic benefits of hosting a major film production. It also laid the foundations for future productions by training local cast and crew members that officials hope will generate a local film industry. Botswana also expects a tourism benefit from the film and is preserving the set, "Kgalewood", as part of a tour of Gaborone aimed at fans of the story.

Cancellation and future

In August 2010, Michael Lombardo, HBO's director of programming, indicated that the show was not being renewed for a second season; however, two feature-length films continuing the series were in consideration. In January 2011, HBO president Sue Naegle stated the television movies for the series are still in script phase but there are full intentions to make the films. At the 2011 Television Critics Association summer press tour, HBO announced that the show would continue as two or more standalone films, with network executives reviewing the first script. Despite these announcements, no further information was released, and in August 2012 it was announced that HBO had decided not to move forward with production. The show's producers are believed to be looking for a new network for the project, but at this stage it remains cancelled.

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