One of the most famous fictional characters of all time, the inimitable Belgian private detective is synonymous with waxed moustaches, perfectionism and little grey cells. Poirot would be the first to call himself a great man - he has never been known for his modesty - but with such success in his career, it is difficult to argue with him.
Why not make my detective a Belgian?...I could see him as a tidy little man, always arranging things, liking things in pairs, liking things square instead of round. And he should be brainy – he should have little grey cells of the mind
About Hercule Poirot
Hercule Poirot came into existence during World War I. Agatha Christie was working as a VAD in Torquay, and encountered on a daily basis Belgian refugees arriving in England from the continent. Searching for a detective for her first novel, she set upon the idea of creating a Belgian detective who had been "a former shining light of the Belgian police force", before being forced out of his country.
Christie completed The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1916, but it wasn’t published until four years later. In the novel, Poirot is called upon by his old friend Lieutenant Hastings, who would come to be the Watson to Poirot's Holmes. Christie later wrote that Poirot's introduction to detective fiction was not at all how he himself would have liked. "Hercule Poirot first," he would have said, "and then a plot to display his remarkable talents to their best advantage."
A Great Man
Poirot would be the first to call himself a great man - he has never been known for his modesty - but with such success in his career, it is difficult to argue with him. He finishes each case with a dramatic dénouement, satisfying his own ego and confirming to all that he is truly "the greatest mind in Europe." His love of elegance, beauty, and precision, as well as his eccentric mannerisms are often ridiculed by the local bumbling policemen, but it is always Poirot who has the last word.
My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.
Hercule Poirot, The Mystery of the Blue Train
Agatha Christie never imagined how popular Poirot would become, nor how many stories she would write about him. He stars in 33 novels and 54 short stories, including some of Christie's most successful such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.
Poirot and Christie
One of Christie’s later regrets was that Hercule Poirot began his literary life too mature: "the result is that my fictional detective is well over a hundred by now." And it is no secret that character and author did not always see eye to eye.
“There are moments when I have felt: ‘Why-why-why did I ever invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature?’…. But now, I must confess it, Hercule Poirot has won. A reluctant affection has sprung up for him…” Agatha Christie’s introduction to the serialisation of Appointment With Death in the Daily Mail, 1938.
Christie grew tired of Poirot's idiosyncrasies so much so that she wrote Curtain: Poirot's Last Case in the 1940s. It was locked in a safe until 1974 when it was finally published, earning Poirot a well-deserved obituary in The New York Times; he is the only fictional character to have received such an honour.
The first actor to take on the role of the little Belgian was Charles Laughton in 1928 in the theatrical debut of Alibi. Austin Trevor was the first Poirot on screen in 1931, and went on to star in three films. There was Tony Randall in 1965 and Academy Award nominee Albert Finney in the all-star classic Murder on the Orient Express in 1974. The great Peter Ustinov, winner of two Academy Awards, played Poirot in six films and despite not physically resembling the character is still much loved worldwide. There was even a Japanese animé version of Poirot, broadcast in 2004.
Perhaps, however, the actor most synonymous with Hercule Poirot is David Suchet, who first took on the role in 1989. Christie never saw David Suchet's portrayal but her grandson, Mathew Prichard, thinks that she would have approved; Suchet balances “just enough of the irritation that we always associate with the perfectionist, to be convincing!” Suchet's final series finished filming in 2013 and marked 25 years of being Poirot.
Friends and Partners
Christie wrote in an article in 1938 that Hercule Poirot's favourite cases included The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Lord Edgware Dies, whereas he regards Three Act Tragedy as "one of his failures. Although most people do not agree with him." She concluded that while they have had their difficulties, "We are friends and partners. I am beholden to him financially. On the other hand he owes his very existence to me." A sentiment which Poirot himself would surely deny.