Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time. She has sold over two billion books worldwide and has been translated into over 45 languages. In a writing career that spanned more than half a century, Agatha Christie wrote eighty novels and short story collections. She also wrote over a dozen plays, including The Mousetrap, which is now the longest running play in theatrical history.
Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was the first to feature her eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. One of the most famous fictional creations of all time, Poirot’s ‘little grey cells’ triumphed over some of the most devious criminal minds ever created in crime fiction. Christie’s last published novel, Sleeping Murder, featured her other world-famous sleuth, the shrewdly inquisitive Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead. Miss Marple appears in twelve novels, and twenty short stories; the first novel to feature her was The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930. The Poirot and Marple novels have been widely dramatized in feature films and television movies. Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), And Then There Were None (1945), and Death on the Nile (1978) are a few of the successful films based on her works. Agatha Christie also wrote six romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She also wrote non-fiction; one book Come Tell Me How you Live, describes her archeological travels with her husband Max and the other two are collections of poems, stories and verses, some with a religious theme. She also wrote her Autobiography which she completed in 1976. Although synonymous with crime fiction, the breadth of themes in her novels is quite extraordinary and she deserves her place as one of the best-loved writers of all time.
Some Christie Fast Facts (that might come in handy for a pub quiz or two!)
1. In her early years Agatha Christie didn’t go to school but was educated at home by her mother and a succession of governesses.
2. She wrote her first book as the result of a challenge from her sister Madge.
3. In her late teens she studied to be a classical musician but was too nervous to perform.
4. She is the only crime writer to have created 2 equally famous and much loved characters – Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.
5. She is the only female dramatist ever to have had 3 plays running simultaneously in London’s West End.
6. Endless Night is narrated by a young working-class male – and she wrote it when she was 76.
7. In 1922 she travelled around the world.
8. Her first book waited 5 years before publication having been rejected by 6 publishers.
9. She wrote 6 romantic novels under the name Mary Westmacott.
10. She wrote an entire book over one weekend: Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott.
11. When she adapted four of her Poirot novels for the stage she dropped Poirot completely.
12. Hallowe’en Party is dedicated to P.G.Wodehouse whom she admired.
13. She dedicated The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side to Margaret Rutherford – the first cinema Miss Marple.
14. She was a dog lover.
15. She described The Mystery of the Blue Train as ‘easily the worst book I ever wrote’.
16. When he died, Hercule Poirot was given a full-page obituary in The New York Times.
17. Her favourite colour was green.
18. She never said, ‘An archaeologist is the best husband a woman canhave because the older she gets the more interested he becomes in her’.
19. Her home in Torquay, Greenway House, was requisitioned by the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.
20. She has a rose named after her.
21. She is the only crime novelist to achieve equal and international fame as a dramatist.
22. For many years she was the President of the local amateur drama Society in Wallingford.
23. She was a teetotaller and non-smoker.
24. For many years she set and corrected an essay competition for the pupils of the local school.
25. On the day she died the West End theatres dimmed their lights for one hour.
26. Miss Marple was modelled on her maternal grandmother.
27. Two of her pet hates were marmalade pudding and cockroaches.
28. Her favourite writers were Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene.
29. When she wrote the part of Clarissa in Spider’s Web for the film star Margaret Lockwood, she also, unasked, created a role for Lockwood’s daughter.
30. The first stage Poirot was Charles Laughton.
31. On 13th April 1917 she qualified as a dispenser thus acquiring her knowledge of poisons.
32. Twice in her life she ‘saw’ Hercule Poirot – once lunching in the Savoy and once on a boat in the Canary Islands.
33. In her 1942 Miss Marple novel The Body in the Library she mentions herself by name.
34. Her last public appearance was at the 1974 premiere of Murder on the Orient Express.
35. After seeing Joan Hickson in Murder on the Nile in 1946 she wrote to her hoping that ‘one day you will play my Miss Marple’.
36. She has a classroom called after her in the local school in Torquay.
37. One of her life’s passions was music, especially the operas of Wagner.
38. In 1931 she read one of her own stories on BBC radio.
39. The Mousetrap began life as a 20 minute radio play.
40. There are at least 2 ‘unknown’ Agatha Christies – unpublished radioplays: Butter in a Lordly Dish (1948) and Personal Call (1960).
41. She was the first crime writer to have 100,000 copies of 10 of her titles published by Penguin on the same day in 1948 – A Penguin Million.
42. Her work on archaeological digs led to her becoming an expert photographer.
43. The Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul has an Agatha Christie Room where, it claims, she wrote Murder on the Orient Express.
45. A musical version of Hickory Dickory Dock, ‘Death Beat’, was planned in the early 60s.
46. She wrote a film script for Dickens Bleak House in 1962.
47. When Penguin paperbacks were launched in 1935 The Mysterious Affair at Styles was one of the first 10 titles.
48. The first TV Miss Marple in 1956 was Gracie Fields in A Murder is Announced.
49. Her favourite composers were Elgar, Sibelius and Wagner.
50. She accepted the Presidency of the famous Detection Club in 1958 on the strict understanding that she would never have to make a speech.
51. Her 1927 title The Big Four was, in reality, a series of short stories reworked into a novel.
52. The Murder at the Vicarage was one of the first titles in Collins famous Crime Club series.
53. The first ever screen version of a Christie novel was a German one: Die Abenteuer G.M.B.H. (The Secret Adversary).
54. A pile of all of the US editions of Peril at End House would stretch to the moon.
55. The Mary Westmacott pseudonym remained a secret for almost 20 years.
56. The original programme for The Mousetrap had no title on the cover – just a mousetrap on a splash of red.
57. Agatha Christie’s name has appeared every day for the last 53 years in every newspaper with a West End theatre listing.
58. In 1954 she was the recipient of the first ever Grandmaster Award from the Mystery Writers of America.
59. She never allowed any representation of Poirot to appear on book jackets.
60. In 1961 she was conferred with an honorary degree from Exeter University.
61. In 1993 a Christie play, Chimneys, received its premiere in Canada – over 60 years after it was written.
62. At the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in May 2000 she was named Mystery Writer of the Century and the Poirot books Mystery Series of the Century.
63. The typewriter on which she wrote many of her novels is on view in Torre Abbey in Torquay.
64. Of her own work her favourite play was Witness for the Prosecution.
65. Agatha Christie and her novels have been a ‘Mastermind’ subject on 3 occasions.
66. Her favourite flower was Lily of the Valley.
67. In 1955 Agatha Christie became a Limited Company.
68. There is a bronze bust of her on Carey Green in Torquay.
69. She wrote her Autobiography over a period of 15 years: 1950 – 1965.
70. In 1972 she was immortalised in Madame Tussauds.
71. She named her house Styles in 1924 after the success of her first novel.
72. Three Act Tragedy, in 1935, became her first title to sell 10,000 copies in its first year.
73. Two of the Margaret Rutherford films are based on Poirot books; a third has no connection with Agatha Christie at all. Only Murder, She Said is truly a Miss Marple story.
74. She wrote many of her novels while on archaeological digs, many of them in a specially built house called ‘Beit Agatha’.
75. The Malice Domestic Convention in U.S (devoted to ‘cosy’ crime fiction) presents an annual award – The Agatha.
(C) John Curran