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100 Facts About Agatha Christie

These facts were compiled by Agatha Christie experts John Curran and Chris Chan, alongside Agatha Christie Ltd

Writing

  • The first ever story that she wrote when she was younger was called The House of Beauty, and she wrote it to stave off boredom while in bed recovering from influenza.
  • She wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, after a bet with her sister, Madge.
  • It was some four years before The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published, having been rejected by six publishers.
  • When she published The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she was forced to use the spelling "coco" instead of "cocoa" due to the insistence of an editor. As an inexperienced novelist, she capitulated, but she received many letters from acquaintances noting the "coco" spelling and commenting that she was "never a good speller." Christie thought this was "most unfair."
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles earned her the princely sum of £25.
  • She is the only crime writer to have created two equally famous and much-loved characters - Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.
  • Twice in her life she ‘saw’ Hercule Poirot - once lunching in the Savoy and once on a boat in the Canary Islands.
  • With her earnings from the serialisation of The Man in the Brown Suit, she bought a Morris Cowley.
  • She discouraged publishers from having any representation of Poirot on book jackets, although there are a couple of examples, including Poirot Investigates.
  • Her 1927 title The Big Four was actually a series of short stories reworked into a novel.
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was the first Christie novel to be published in France by Editions du Masque in 1927.
  • She described The Mystery of the Blue Train as ‘easily the worst book I ever wrote’. She wrote this while in the Canary Islands.
  • Miss Marple was inspired by her maternal grandmother and her friends.
  • The Murder at the Vicarage was one of the first titles in Collins’ famous Crime Club series.
  • When she first started writing poetry in her youth, she wrote poems inspired by the commedia dell'arte, and the figures Harlequin and Columbine. These helped inspire her Mr. Quin tales later in her career.
  • She wrote six semi-autobiographical, bitter-sweet novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. The fact that she was the author remained a secret for almost 20 years.
  • When Penguin paperbacks were launched in 1935 The Mysterious Affair at Styles was one of the first 10 titles.
  • Three Act Tragedy, published in 1935, became her first title to sell 10,000 copies in its first year.
  • In her 1942 Miss Marple novel The Body in the Library she mentions herself by name.
  • She wrote an entire book over one weekend: Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott.
  • She was the first crime writer to have 100,000 copies of ten of her titles published by Penguin on the same day in 1948 - A Penguin Million.
  • In 1954 she was the recipient of the first ever Grandmaster Award from the Mystery Writers of America.
  • Christie donated the proceeds of her Miss Marple short story ‘Sanctuary’ to the Westminster Abbey Appeal Fund.
  • She accepted the Presidency of the famous Detection Club in 1958 on the strict understanding that she would never have to make a speech.
  • Hallowe’en Party is dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse whom she admired.
  • She wrote her autobiography over a period of 15 years: 1950 - 1965.
  • Endless Night is narrated by a young working-class male which she wrote when she was 76.
  • When he died, Hercule Poirot was given a full-page obituary in The New York Times.
  • Christie considered retiring at the age of seventy-five, but her books were selling so well that she decided to keep writing for at least another five years, and wound up writing up until about a year before she passed away at age eighty-six.
  • 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.
  • She wrote over 30 plays, of which the most famous, The Mousetrap, is the longest running play in the world, having debuted in 1952.

Theatre

  • She is the only female dramatist ever to have had three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End.
  • She is the only crime novelist to achieve equal and international fame as a dramatist.
  • The first stage Poirot was Charles Laughton.
  • When she adapted four of her Poirot novels for the stage she dropped Poirot completely.
  • 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.
  • The Mousetrap was developed from the radio play Three Blind Mice, which was written at the request of Queen Mary (grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II) for her birthday.
  • The original programme for The Mousetrap had no title on the cover - just a mousetrap on a splash of red.
  • Inmates at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London were once treated to a performance of The Mousetrap with the West End cast. During the play, two prisoners escaped.
  • Of her own work her favourite play was Witness for the Prosecution.
  • Christie kept such a low profile that she was not recognized at the Witness for the Prosecution stage play premiere party, and was turned away at the door. She was too shy to identify herself and demand access.
  • Christie won an Edgar Award for Best Play for The Witness for the Prosecution.
  • Agatha Christie’s name has appeared every day for the last 53 years in every newspaper with a West End theatre listing. Apart from during lockdown in 2020!
  • On the day she died the West End theatres dimmed their lights for one hour.

Childhood and Youth

  • In her early years she didn’t go to school but was educated by her mother and a succession of governesses.
  • As a girl, she played Colonel Fairfax in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. She would perform in amateur theatricals at Cockington Court in Torquay.
  • As a child, Christie loved the lavish feasts that were prepared at Christmas. She would engage in eating contests with a friend and never get sick. She loved everything but the oyster soup, and the food helped inspire her story "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding."
  • In her late teens she studied in Paris to be a classical musician but was too nervous to perform.
  • She harboured a secret fantasy to be an opera singer which was shattered when a friend of a friend, connected with the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, came to hear her sing. The verdict was that she would make a good concert singer, but that her voice would never bestrong enough for opera.
  • In 1911, Christie was thrilled by her first trip in an aeroplane. She had to spend five pounds for the experience, and an additional half-crown for a commemorative photograph afterwards. The flight only lasted five minutes, but she loved it.

Devon

  • During the First World War she worked first as a VAD nurse in Torquay’s Red Cross hospital, then joined the new hospital pharmacy as an assistant dispenser - thus acquiring her knowledge of poisons. On 13th April 1917 she passed her apothecary exam in London and qualified as a dispenser.
  • While at the Torquay pharmacy she realised that a chemist had made a mistake in his calculations and put too much of a potentially dangerous drug into a batch of suppositories. Knowing that he wouldn't like to be corrected, Christie instead knocked the much-too-strong medicine to the ground and stomped on them to make them unusable. The chemist, who also boasted about keeping curare in his pocket, inspired a character in The Pale Horse.
  • Her holiday home in South Devon, Greenway, was requisitioned by the U.S. Coastguard during the Second World War.
  • For many years she set and corrected an essay competition for the pupils of Galmpton Primary School, near Greenway. She also has a classroom named after her in the same school.
  • She donated the proceeds from her Miss Marple story Greenshaw’s Folly to fund a new stained glass window at Churston Church near Greenway.
  • She never wrote at Greenway, but she often read her latest stories for her family to try and guess whodunnit. Her husband Max would invariably get it right.
  • A bust of Agatha Christie sits on Cary Green, Torquay. It was created by Dutch artist Carol Van Den Boom-Cairns and unveiled by Christie's daughter Rosalind Hicks in 1990, a century after the writer’s birth.

Travel

  • In 1922 she travelled around the world accompanying her first husband Archie Christie on a business tour.
  • She suffered from seasickness – as does Poirot.
  • She rarely used people she knew in her stories, but one example was the character of Eustace Pedlar, who was based on Major Belcher. Belcher was on the world tour with Agatha and Archie.
  • She is credited with being the first Western woman to stand up on a surf board. This happened when she visited South Africa and then Hawaii in 1922.
  • She travelled on the Orient Express for the first time in 1928. She was originally planning to travel to the Caribbean, but changed her destination after dining with acquaintances who were living in Baghdad.
  • Room 411 at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul is dedicated to Christie. She is said to have written part of Murder on the Orient Express there. The room has pictures of her and many copies of her books.
  • She met her second husband Sir Max Mallowan on an archaeological dig in the Middle East. She subsequently spent many years on digs with him and helped out by cleaning the finds with her face cream.
  • She studied photography at the Reinhardt School and used her new skills to photograph archaeological finds. Unfortunately, Max found the results too artistic; he wanted the objects to appear exactly as they were.
  • Once while she was on an archaeological dig, Allen Lane, of Penguin, gave her some stilton as a gift.

Personal

  • She named her house Styles in 1924 after the success of her first novel.
  • She was a dog lover. Her first dog was a Yorkshire Terrier puppy which she received as a fifth birthday present. She was so overwhelmed with happiness that she couldn't even say "thank you" and retreated to the lavatory to get her thoughts together. The dog was named Tony– although his full name was George Washington.
  • Her favourite colour was green.
  • For many years she was the President of the local amateur drama society in Wallingford.
  • She was a teetotaller and non-smoker.
  • Two of her pet hates were marmalade pudding and cockroaches. Her dislikes included “crowds, being jammed up against people, loud voices, noise, protracted talking, parties, and especially cocktail parties, cigarette smoke and smoking generally, any kind of drink except in cooking, marmalade, oysters, lukewarm food, grey skies, the feet of birds, or indeed the feel of a bird altogether. Final and fiercest dislike: the taste and smell of hot milk.”
  • Christie's likes included "“sunshine, apples, almost any kind of music, railway trains, numerical puzzles and anything to do with numbers, “going to the sea, bathing and swimming, silence, sleeping, dreaming, eating, the smell of coffee, lilies of the valley, most dogs, and going to the theatre.”
  • Her favourite writers were Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene.
  • One of her life’s passions was music. Her favourite composers were Elgar, Sibelius and Wagner.
  • She has a rose named after her.
  • Her favourite flower was Lily of the Valley.
  • The basement of her house at Sheffield Terrace in London was bombed out during the Second World War and she moved to the modernist Isokon Building in Hampstead.
  • During the Second World War she worked as a dispenser at University College Hospital in London.
  • In 1955 Agatha Christie became a Limited Company.
  • In 1961 she was conferred with an honorary degree from Exeter University.
  • Christie was once surprised by a letter from a woman she'd never met who asked Christie to adopt her! Christie was embarrassed and tried to decline as politely as possible.
  • The two things that excited her most in life were her car – the “grey bottle-nosed” Morris Cowley. The second was dining with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
  • In 1972 she was immortalised in Madame Tussauds.

Film, television and radio

  • The first ever screen version of a Christie novel was a German one: Die Abenteuer G.M.B.H. (The Secret Adversary).
  • In 1931 she read one of her own stories on BBC radio.
  • 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.’
  • The first TV Miss Marple in 1956 was Gracie Fields in A Murder is Announced.
  • She dedicated The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side to Margaret Rutherford - the first cinema Miss Marple. Though Christie did not care for the Margaret Rutherford movies and thought the actress did not resemble Miss Marple, she deeply respected Rutherford as an actress and the one time the two women met, they got along really well.
  • 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.
  • She wrote a film script for Dickens' Bleak House in 1962.
  • Her last public appearance was at the 1974 premiere of Murder on the Orient Express.
  • Agatha Christie is a character in the David Tennant Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp," where she helps the Doctor and his companion Donna Noble solve a series of murders that parallel her works and the board game Clue(do). Fenella Woolgar played Christie.

Miscellaneous

  • A pile of all of the US editions of Peril at End House would stretch to the moon.
  • A one-volume edition of the complete Miss Marple tales holds the Guinness World Record for the world's thickest book at 4,032 pages.
  • Christie's novel The Pale Horse and its vivid description of poisoning helped lead to the arrest of the real-life serial killer Graham Young in 1971.
  • There is an Agatha Christie Memorial in Covent Garden, 2.4 metres high and in the form of a book. It was created to mark the 60th anniversary of The Mousetrap.
  • Her prolific writing career spanned five decades, with 66 crime novels, 6 non-crime novels and 150 short stories.
  • With more than 2 billion books published, she is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
  • Her books have been published in over 100 languages, making her the most translated writer of all time.

This post originally appeared as John Curran's 75 Facts About Agatha Christie. It has been updated in September 2020 for the 100th anniversary of The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

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