Agatha and Poirot’s 1ooth anniversary tale

Monday: Agatha & Poirot: Partners in Crime; (ITV, 9pm)

Sunday, 4th April 2021, 5:00 pm
The documentary is presented by Richard E Grant

She’s known as the First Lady of Crime, but what was Agatha Christie really like?

Despite writing an autobiography, which was published posthumously in 1977, she left surprisingly little evidence of her true personality. In fact, some aspects of her life are shrouded in almost as much mystery as the plots of her best-selling novels.

Publicly, she cultivated an image similar to that of one of her most famous creations, Miss Marple. But far from being a dowdy spinster like the ageing female detective, Christie had an exciting life, which included globe-trotting and becoming one of Britain’s first female surfers.

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Born in Devon in 1890, she was the daughter of Frederick Alvah Miller, an American with a private income, and his wife Clarissa. Her father died when she was a little girl, and her mother encouraged her daughter’s writing.

Despite this, at 16, Agatha went to Paris to study singing and piano; unfortunately her original intention to become a professional musician was scuppered by severe stage fright. Later, during a trip to Cairo with her mother, she wrote a novel and, on her return home, had her first literary success via several short stories.

In 1914, she married her first husband, Archibald Christie, with whom she had her only child, a daughter. Archibald became a First World War hero, and during the conflict, Agatha worked as a nurse which enabled her to learn all about poisons – something that came in handy when she began penning detective novels.

Her first to be published, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, appeared in 1920 and introduced Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. He went on to feature in 32 more novels. Miss Marple didn’t appear until 1930 in The Sleeping Murder – the same year she married her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan – and she only plied her trade in a total of 12 tomes. Agatha also created the lesser-known detective duo Tommy and Tuppence, as well as Harley Quin, a semi-supernatural figure who solved mysteries alongside the more conventional Satterthwaite.

But it’s Poirot who is undoubtedly her most enduring creation, an instantly recognisable chap thanks to his odd appearance: “He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity,” said his friend Captain Hastings. “His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.”

This documentary was produced to mark the 100th anniversary of Poirot’s first literary appearance, but is a year overdue. Nevertheless fans and newcomers will be fascinated by insights into Agatha’s life and the way in which various events inspired her beloved sleuth’s cases.

Richard E Grant is our host, and he also catches up with some of the writer’s celebrity enthusiasts (including Zoe Wanamaker and Hugh Fraser, who both starred in ITV’s Poirot alongside David Suchet) while delving deep into some of her most famous works, including Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.

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