Oxford’s Randolph Hotel plays a significant role in the annals of fictional crime for figuring in episodes of ITV’s Inspector Morse and its sequels, and moreover as a place of refreshment for their stars.

It was also a favourite watering hole – though water was rather off the agenda – for the detective’s creator Colin Dexter. I drank with him on a number of occasions in the bar – the Morse Bar – that celebrates the connection.

Did we ever discuss – I don’t think we did – the hotel’s association with a real life murder case of the 1930s, that involving the middle-aged songwriter Alma Rattenbury and her 18-year-old chauffeur and lover George Stoner who was sentenced to death for the murder of her husband? Did Colin know of it?

In fact, it was at the Randolph that Mrs R. and George first discovered and expressed their mutual attraction, though it is uncertain whether they actually made the beast with two backs there, as we shall see.

But their stay at the hotel can certainly be said to have set in train the sequence of events that led to the death of the eminent architect Francis Rattenbury, of dreadful head injuries from a mallet wielded either by his wife or Stoner. Which one of them has always been the great mystery of the case, both at the time of the Old Bailey trial and in the years since.

At 68, Rattenbury was even more senior to his wife than Alma, at 42, was to her lover. But the age discrepancy of the latter pair featured most prominently in the sensational story that the case became, a story that has continued to have ‘legs’ – as we journalists say – in the years since.

It has been the basis of a number of books, including one partly written by the former Lord Chancellor Sir Michael Havers and another by barrister Sir David Napley, famous for getting Jeremy Thorpe off the hook for the attempted murder of Norman Scott.

Reading his 1988 study Murder at the Villa Madeira (the name of the Rattenbury’s Bournemouth home) first made me aware of the Randolph connection.

Most famously perhaps the story became the basis of Terence Rattigan’s final play Cause Célèbre, first heard on BBC Radio 4 in 1975 and often seen since on stage, most memorably perhaps in a 2011 revival, which I saw at the Old Vic, starring the brilliant Anne-Marie Duff as Alma.

The play takes a rather more sympathetic attitude to Mrs Rattenbury than was shown by the public during her and Stoner’s trial.

Now the case is examined again, with all its surprising twists and turns, in an excellent new book, The Fatal Passion of Alma Rattenbury (Simon & Schuster, £20) by Sean O’Connor, a writer, director and producer responsible for, among much else, the feature film version of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.

It is not my intention today to supply a review of the book, though certainly to commend it for the sympathy and understanding it shows to all involved in the case.

These include the Rattenburys’ son John (himself to become an architect), who was six at the time of the murder, and left an orphan in its aftermath. Though acquitted of the killing, Alma stabbed herself to death beside the River Avon at Christchurch, seemingly out of remorse that Stoner, with whom she remained besotted, was to hang.

The great theatre critic James Agate, hired by the Daily Express to cover the trial, thought the news of her death as startling as anything since the sinking of the Titanic.

In fact, Stoner was spared the noose at the last moment after a massive public campaign – his appeal having failed – on the say-so of the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, a long-time fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

He served seven years of his sentence, went on to marry and have a daughter, living out the rest of his life, rather unwisely perhaps, in Bournemouth. Periodic irruptions to his placid existence arose from occasional revivals of interest in his trial.

When Anglia Television filmed Cause Célèbre in 1987, with Helen Mirren as Alma, he gave a rare interview, telling a local journalist: “The whole crime was committed on an emotional basis. Both I and the lady concerned were in a highly emotional state. Our emotions were completely out of control.”

How often, I wonder, did Stoner think back on that first tryst at the Randolph (while Alma’s deceived husband thought she was visiting people in Leeds)?

Though Sean O’Connor makes no claim for there having been intimacy here, merely that its possibility was countenanced, Sir David Napley was less circumspect.

He wrote: “History does not record the fashion in which Alma succeeded in seducing George Stoner at Oxford. Whether she made her first advances in the car . . . whether she contrived to find herself in his bedroom . . . or whether she induced him to join her in her own room, may never be known. [For ‘may’ read ‘will’.]

“However it began, it was destined to continue . . . “