Murder and management: Agatha Christie’s family business
Mathew Pritchard talks about his grandmother, her estate and the definitive Poirot
A young Mathew Pritchard with his grandmother Agatha Christie
Mathew Pritchard as he is now
Jason Durr as Poirot in ‘Black Coffee’
Hardy a week goes by that Mathew Pritchard does not think about his grandmother Agatha Christie, as he deals with the literary estate that she left behind.
For hundreds of millions, Christie is the woman who created the Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot detective novels, which still sell more than a million copies, in dozens of languages, around the world every year.
The Guinness Book of Records ranks Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time: her tally of two billion copies in 103 languages puts her behind only the Bible and William Shakespeare. One novel, And Then There Were None, has sold some 100 million copies.
Christie’s philosophy was simple, says Pritchard. “Her sole objective was to entertain. She didn’t want to educate, she didn’t want to change their lives. She just wanted to make people’s lives better for a short period, whether they were in hospital, travelling or just sitting at home.”
Next week, Black Coffee, the only Christie play to feature Hercule Poirot, comes to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin for its first revival in 40 years. The production stars Jason Durr, probably best known for his role in TV’s Heartbeat.
Asked about his relationship with Christie, Pritchard, sitting in his office in London, momentarily forgets how long she has been dead. “Not 40 years, no 30. Hang on a minute, it is nearly 40. Good Lord.
“I hardly ever thought of her as anything other than a very lovely grandmother who was always more interested in what I was doing than what she was doing. I have always said to everybody that she was the best listener that I ever met,” he says.
The Christie estate
Pritchard is in charge of Christie’s estate, having taken over from his mother, Rosalind, who died in 2004. “I am a sort of glorified brand manager. I am the one to say whether something is good for the Agatha Christie brand.
“Sometimes it is uncomfortable, because 40 years ago the literature and entertainment world was very different to what it is now,” he says, pointing to the release soon of a new Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders, written by Sophie Hannah. “What would she have thought of that? In some ways it is a meaningless question, because she didn’t think that she would be achieving the popularity and success that she is nearly 40 years after she died,” he says.
Such “continuation” novels are commonplace today, even if Pritchard’s more conservative mother might have recoiled. “We were told that if we did one of these, the backlist would retain its popularity much longer,” he says.
Pritchard does not share some of his mother’s aversions to commercialisation, either: the official Agatha Christie website now sells games for PC and tablet based on Dead Man’s Folly, 4.50 from Paddington and Peril At End House.