Agatha Christie: Part Two

Over A Century Of Love (Which When She Was All About Murder Seems Weird…)

On the edge of a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, not too far from the River Thames’ meandering path towards London, lies St Mary’s Church; the graveyard overlooking the fields of the surrounding countryside. At the far end of the yard is a headstone on which are written the names Agatha Mary Clarissa Mallowan and Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan, for not far from this here, from 1934 to 1976 lived one of the most read writers in the world.

It was only on a trip to Vienna, where I just missed out on visiting the grave of Beethoven, that I realised the people who I admire from throughout history can still be respected by a visit to where they lie. I lived abroad for many years, but being English and therefore enwrapped in its culture to a large degree, the majority of the writer’s graves I’d like to visit were over here. On my return to Britain a few years ago I made a list of the places I wanted to go. Cholsey, Oxfordshire is not too far from where I lived so of course I wanted to visit Agatha Christie, (elsewhere I’ve discussed my visit to Jerome K Jerome who is buried not to far from the Mallowans, and so the day was a sad but literary one).

No one else was about the quiet spring day I arrived. To be honest I’d been before one cold January Saturday but had lost the pictures so on a warm afternoon in spring 2020, with lockdown easing and the need to finally get outside and be somewhere interesting, a return visit to Jerome and Agatha was made (as well as a trip to Wallingford which is lovely).

The fact is that Christie’s books have for over a century constantly and consistently been published, read, adapted, quoted, praised and loved more than we can accurately identify says a lot. In fact January this year, 2021, saw the one hundredth anniversary of her first published novel in the UK The Mysterious Affair at Styles and since then the appreciation has been non stop.

Even if someone has never read a Christie novel they know the short cuts her name means in cultural terms and conversations, they know the tropes, ‘I’ve brought you all together to this room…’, ‘In the library with the lead piping’ etc. (See my previous blog for a beginner’s guide if you want to get started and don’t know how.) I grew up knowing from a young age what it was all about although I was born a few years after her death, however it wasn’t until the mid eighties that I properly experienced one of her stories.

Elsewhere on here I’ve talked about my love of Doctor Who, when in the late eighties it was moved to week nights it would be followed by the BBC adaptions of Miss Marple. Don’t tell anyone but I used to tape Doctor Who off the telly to watch again, (I still have the tapes though I’ve not seen them in decades – I have the DVDs) and I’d start recording before the episode started so I wouldn’t miss a second of it, therefore I had the still and the announcement of the Miss Marple story that would follow, of course at the time I stayed and watched it even if I didn’t record that. However as some of them were the same format, a story split over a few weeks it all seemed natural to me this was the way to enjoy the story.

Joan Hickson as the definitive Miss Marple

I don’t care what anyone says – Joan Hickson IS Miss Marple, no one else will EVER be good enough. I’ve not watched the ITV versions for this reason (and also because apparently they mess with the plots too much and even put her into stories that Christie didn’t write for her). As a rule I don’t watch adaptions of books I’ve read so I’ve given a miss to the David Suchet Hercule Poirot ones despite the fact that from all accounts they are very good, however since I watched Joan Hickson before I read the books I can continue to enjoy watching these brilliant screen plays, yes I now have them on DVD.

When it comes to watching Christie’s works of course the one MUST is seeing The Mousetrap. When you feel it’s safe to do so I highly recommend you do. I was very pleased to make it until I actually saw the brilliant production in St Martin’s Theatre in London before I found out who the murderer is. Don’t leave it too long and take the risk, find out the way nature intended! The fact the ending is not general knowledge says to me the respect her work is given.

It’s a bizarre thing standing at the grave of one so famous from history and someone that I admire (I try not to use the word “hero”, it never means what I want it to), especially when you are there alone. Just me on a warm spring day looking at the last resting place of someone so brilliant. I don’t believe in any way she’d have heard me if I’d said anything, which I didn’t – to me she’s gone – but standing there I was still very very grateful to her for the hours and hours of joy she brought into my life and continues to do so.

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