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Six by Agatha
Christie Close Up: In Words & Pictures

Mathew Prichard, the grandson of Agatha Christie, gives a rare glimpse into the life and work of Christie through words and images in this Masterpiece mystery! interview and slideshow.

Mathew Prichard became a director and later chairman of Agatha Christie Limited in 1970 after working for the book publisher Penguin in sales and marketing. He has three children and seven grandchildren, enjoys collecting mainly modern British pictures, sculpture and ceramics, golf, cricket, opera and walking his dog.

Select a topic from the list below to see Prichard's thoughts, or choose Show All to see the entire interview.

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Agatha Christie as a person

People often ask me what my grandmother was like as a person. To me, she was a perfectly ordinary grandmother who was very kind, generous, percipient with my friends, who read me stories when I was very young and was very good with my girlfriends when I was old enough to have them. The greatest emotion I have, these days, when I talk about my grandmother and her work and what she was like is how much I miss her, even more than 30 years after she died.

Summers at Greenway (Christie's holiday home)

I never lived at Greenway [Christie's holiday home in Devonshire, England] but spent most of my summers there when I was young. I grew up until I was about 5 or 6 without a father, so my mother brought me down to Greenway for the summer holidays, and we spent a happy six, seven or eight weeks with my grandparents there, enjoying the wonderful surroundings on the River Dart, walking down to the boathouse, and watching the pleasure steamships come up the river. We had the most wonderful time in postwar Britain just as it was beginning to emerge from the great sadness of the war. I will always have a very great affection for Greenway.

The inspiration for Christie's plots

My grandmother got her plots from all around her. When you read the books, you see that they reflect ordinary life because that's where they started. Sometimes it was only very small things that influenced her — for example, my stepfather had a habit of twirling his hair, and the "twirling of the hair" was a method used to identify a murderer in one of her famous plays. I don't think my grandmother ever purposefully created situations that later appeared in books, and I don't think she actually went out looking for ideas. She just saw or heard things around her.

How Christie wrote

I think the way that my grandmother wrote stories might have been very different by the time I was alive than when she started. I can only tell you what she did by the time I was around — she used to dictate her stories into a machine called a Dictaphone, and then a secretary typed this up into a script, which my grandmother would correct by hand. I think that before the war, before Dictaphones were invented, she probably used to write the stories out in longhand, and then somebody used to type them.

She wasn't very mechanical — she wrote in a very natural way, and she wrote very quickly. I think a book used to take her, in the 1950s, just a couple of months to write and then a month to revise before it was sent off to the publishers. Once the whole process of writing the book had finished, sometimes she used to read the stories to us after dinner, one chapter or two chapters at a time. I think we were used as her guinea pigs at that stage — to find out what the reaction of the general public would be. Of course, apart from my family, there were usually some other guests here, and reactions were very different. Only my mother always knew who the murderer was — the rest of us were sometimes successful and sometimes not in guessing. My grandfather was usually asleep for most of the time that these stories were read, but the rest of us were usually very attentive. It was a lovely family occasion, and then a couple of months later we would see these stories in the bookshops.

Real people in Christie's fictional stories

In none of my grandmother's stories are real people reproduced exactly as complete fictional characters. I suppose the nearest that any character came to being like my grandmother herself was Ariadne Oliver. Even she wasn't completely like her — there were a few things that were similar, my grandmother liked apples and liked cream, for example — but I don't think my grandmother was as chaotically dressed as Ariadne Oliver was. I think members of the family that read the Ariadne Oliver novels recognize a certain twinkle in her eye, a sense of humor, and a love of the ordinary things of life that reminded them of my grandmother.

Christie's favorite book

I think my grandmother's favorite book would probably have been one of the early Miss Marple titles. It was a triumph to have created one memorable character, Hercule Poirot, which was, of course, her first detective. I think that she was even more proud that she had successfully created a second detective, especially a detective who was so English. I think that the first two Miss Marple books, Murder at the Vicarage and The Body in the Library, were memorable because they were so very British and about the family life in small villages in England, which my grandmother loved so dearly. I think she was very proud of having created her type of story in her kind of ordinary but attractive surroundings.

Prichard's favorite Christie book

My own favorite book is a comparatively late book called Endless Night, which was written in the mid 1960s, when I was in my mid 20s. It's a book written primarily about three young people, who were about the same age that I was at that time, and it was written by somebody in their 70s. It is a remarkably perceptive book about how young people grow up and how they feel and how they fall in love or don't, as the case may be. I was absolutely astounded that somebody in her mid 70s could be so perceptive about how I, and my friends, felt at that age.

The character Hercule Poirot

The first character that my grandmother created was, of course, Hercule Poirot, who she thought of as one of a group of Belgian refugees just after the First World War in about 1918 or 1919. I think she decided to create a character that was foreign because nobody had done that before. His character also appealed to her because she was very good at French, and so he came very easily to her. She invented the "little grey cells" that Poirot used to solve crimes and that again was an original idea that she felt very happy with. I think she needed a British person for Poirot to work with, and that's where Captain Hastings came in. Hastings only really appeared in the first Poirot stories — later, once Poirot became more familiar to her readers, Captain Hastings disappeared.

David Suchet as Poirot

I think it was a great shame that my grandmother never saw David Suchet play Poirot. The last actor she saw as Poirot was Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express. She didn't see Peter Ustinov either, but I think David Suchet is the nearest in looks and is so meticulous in the way that he plays Poirot that it's a shame that she couldn't have seen him. I think she would have found, perhaps rather to her surprise, that somebody really could visually interpret what she had written in the books.

The character Miss Marple

Miss Marple was the second great character that my grandmother created — and she could almost have been invented, although I don't think this is true, as the complete opposite of Hercule Poirot. She is British, not foreign; female, not male; and works in completely different surroundings. She is based in an ordinary English village for most of the time, although occasionally she is in a hotel, or a hotel in the West Indies. Miss Marple has very ordinary, down-to-earth British surroundings, and my grandmother felt very much at home describing these. I think that by the time I knew my grandmother, she preferred writing Miss Marple stories to Poirot stories because she got a bit sick of Poirot. He became too tiresome, even for her! Miss Marple was a relaxation, and she liked writing stories about her because they came so naturally to her.

Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple

A long time ago, my grandmother took me to see King Lear at Stratford. I had the privilege of watching Paul Scofield play King Lear. I was told at the time he was the archetypal and definitive King Lear. I don't remember much about it but remember being impressed.

There have been many impressive and different Miss Marples. One of the definitions of a great literary character is that even if there is a memorable archetype like Joan Hickson, that doesn't mean there aren't other interpretations that give the audience real pleasure.

I think Julia McKenzie is a very different character than the other actresses who played Miss Marple recently, and more different than people who played her a long time ago. She is less acerbic than Joan Hickson but has the same sharpness and intelligence, and perhaps a little more humanity and patience. I think audiences will love her. She is a wonderful person too, and that comes through in her acting. We are very pleased to have her join the club!

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