Although her name is shorthand for “murder mystery” and she is the most translated and biggest-selling writer in history, Agatha Christie shunned publicity. She rarely gave print interviews and steadfastly refused to appear on television or radio. Surviving radio documentaries feature mainly other people talking about her and her work. Authorised biographies appeared only long after her death and her own Autobiography is maddeningly offhand about her writing. With Poirot-like diligence I have gathered together these 126 facts about the Queen of Crime to mark what would have been her 126th birthday last month:
1. Christie has been outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible.
2. It was never Christie’s intention to become a writer, but she was determined to rise to the challenge set by her sister Madge who had dared her to write a detective story.
3. Dead Man’s Folly (1956) uses as setting Christie’s own Greenway House and gardens.
4. Creating not one but two hugely successful and famous detective characters is a feat not matched by any other crime writer.
5. Passenger to Frankfurt (1970) was her 80th book, published on her 80th birthday.
6. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) Poirot had already retired from the Belgian police; when he died in 1975 he was at least 120!
7. Poirot was “dropped” from four stage adaptations of novels in which he starred: Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death, The Hollow and Five Little Pigs.
8. In 1922 Christie travelled the world accompanying her husband, Archie, and his boss Major Belcher, on the Empire Expedition.
9. Christie’s first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles suffered rejection by six publishers until, five years after she began submitting it, Bodley Head agreed to publish.
10. The Queen of Crime also wrote six non-crime novels using the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.
11. In Cards on the Table Christie drew on her knowledge of Syria when naming the story’s victim, Shaitana, which is Syrian for Satan.
12. At the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in May 2000, Christie was named Mystery Writer of the Twentieth Century and the Poirot novels Mystery Series of the Twentieth Century.
13. Although Margaret Rutherford's portrayal of Miss Marple displeased Christie she dedicated The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to the actress.
14. Agatha Christie was a lifelong dog-owner.
15. Her creation Mrs Ariadne Oliver, the detective novelist, is seen as her alter-ego.
16. When Hercule Poirot died in 1975, The New York Times gave him a front-page obituary, the only fictional character ever so honoured.
17. Christie’s favourite colour was green.
18. Christie has sold over two billion books worldwide.
19. Christie didn’t smoke, or drink alcohol.
20. The US Navy requisitioned Christie’s home Greenway House, in Devon, during the second World War. The house is now a National Trust property and open to visitors.
21. During Christie’s centenary year, 1990, a rose named Agatha was created.
22. She was as successful a playwright as she was a novelist, a feat that no other crime writer has achieved.
23. Christie was the president of the local amateur dramatic society in Wallingford, where she lived.
24. Christie’s parents decided on the name Agatha only minutes before arriving at her christening.
25. Although dropped from many stage adaptations Poirot appears in the play Black Coffee.
26. Theatres in London’s West End dimmed their lights on the day Christie died.
27. Christie’s own grandmother influenced her creation of Miss Marple.
28. Christie’s pet hates included marmalade pudding and cockroaches.
29. Two of Christie’s favourite writers were Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene.
30. Christie wrote the part of Clarissa in Spider’s Web especially for the English actress Margaret Lockwood.
31. Charles Laughton was the first stage Poirot.
32. Christie worked in a hospital dispensary during World War One, thereby gaining her knowledge of poisons.
33. Christie claimed that she “saw” Hercule Poirot twice: once while lunching at the Savoy and again while visiting the Canary Islands.
34. Christie mentions herself by name in The Body in the Library, the 1942 Marple novel.
35. Her last public appearance was at the 1974 premiere of the film Murder on the Orient Express.
36. Joan Hickson had a small part in the stage version of Death on the Nile. Christie was impressed and wrote to her, hoping that “one day you will play my Miss Marple”.
37. Christie had originally planned to have Miss Marple as the detective in Death on the Nile.
38. Christie read one of her own stories on BBC radio in 1931.
39. The world’s longest running play The Mousetrap was originally written as a 20-minute radio drama, Three Blind Mice.
40. Two original Christie radio plays, Butter in a Lordly Dish (1948) and Personal Call (1960), have never been published.
41. In 1948 Penguin published a Christie “Penguin Million”: 100,000 copies of 10 titles.
42. Christie spent many years assisting her second husband archaeologist Max Mallowan, during which she became an expert photographer.
43. Among her fellow crime-novelists Christie admired Ngaio Marsh, Elizabeth Daly, John Dickson Carr and Patricia Highsmith.
44. According to An Autobiography she made only £25 from her first book.
45. In the 1960s a musical adaptation of Hickory Dickory Dock, Death Beat, was planned.
46. Christie wrote a screenplay for Charles Dickens’ Bleak House in 1962.
47. The Mysterious Affair at Styles was one of 10 titles chosen to launch Penguin books in 1935.
48. The first television Miss Marple was Gracie Fields in a 1956 US TV version of A Murder is Announced.
49. Wagner, Elgar and Sibelius were among her favourite composers.
50. Christie accepted the presidency of the Detection Club in 1958 on the strict understanding that she would never have to make a speech.
51. The Big Four, published in 1927, was a series of early short stories brought together as a novel.
52. Miss Marple first appeared in a 1927 short story.
53. Die Abenteuer G.M.B.H., the first Christie adapted for the screen, was a 1928 German silent film of The Secret Adversary.
54. If you placed every copy of Peril at End House sold in the US, one on top of the other, it would reach the moon.
55. The identity of Mary Westmacott was a secret for over 20 years.
56. The original theatre programme for The Mousetrap did not include a title on its cover, just a picture of a mousetrap on a splash of red.
57. Agatha Christie’s name has appeared in every newspaper with a West End theatre listing for the last 64 years.
58. Travel experiences were used to colour her books. In The Man in the Brown Suit the heroine Anne suffers seasickness, just as Agatha had on her 1922 trip to South Africa.
59. Christie refused permission for any likeness of Poirot to appear on book jackets.
60. Christie received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Exeter in 1961.
61. Christie wrote much of Lord Edgware Dies while on holiday in Rhodes in 1931.
62. Agatha Christie never went to school.
63. Hercule Poirot solved a mystery in Connemara in The Apples of the Hesperides from The Labours of Hercules.
64. Of all her plays, Witness for the Prosecution was Christie’s personal favourite.
65. Agatha Christie and her novels have featured as a subject on ‘Mastermind’ on at least five occasions.
66. Lily of the Valley was Christie’s favourite flower.
67. In her 1933 Mary Westmacott novel, Unfinished Portrait, Christie based the two central characters, Celia and Dermot, on herself and her first husband Archie.
68. There is a bronze bust of Christie located outside the Torquay Tourist Office.
69. Death on the Nile is the title of a Parker Pyne short story, as well as the better known Poirot novel.
70. In 1972 Madame Tussauds created a waxwork model of Agatha Christie.
71. Christie had originally planned for 12 characters in And Then There Were None.
72. Christie created a new record in 1935 when Three Act Tragedy sold 10,000 copies in its first year.
73. Of the four films starring Margaret Rutherford, only Murder She Said is based on a Marple novel; two are based on Poirot books and the fourth has no connection with Agatha Christie at all.
74. While with her husband Max Mallowan on archaeological digs in Iraq, Christie wrote in a house named Beit Agatha.
75. The Malice Domestic Mystery Convention in the US presents an annual award called The Agatha.
76. The Queen of Crime became Dame Agatha Christie in January 1971.
77. Christie’s sister Madge had a play, The Claimant, performed in the West End before Agatha.
78. Christie used Major Belcher, head of the 1922 Empire Expedition, as the model, at his own request, for the villain in The Man in the Brown Suit.
79. With the money earned from selling the serial rights to The Man in the Brown Suit, Christie bought herself her first car.
80. A lifelong swimmer, Christie also surfed during the Empire Expedition through South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
81. It is possible to read a different Agatha Christie book every month for seven years.
82. In 1947 when the BBC asked Queen Mary what she’d like to hear on her 80th birthday, she asked for an Agatha Christie radio play; this later became The Mousetrap.
83. Christie and her first husband Archie named their house at Sunningdale Styles in honour of her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
84. The local school in Torquay named one of their classrooms after Agatha Christie.
85. Despite her mother’s ideas about education, a determined young Agatha taught herself to read and write.
86. Christie never saw her play Akhnaton performed.
87. Christie had her “coming out” season in Cairo.
88. The first Mr Quin short story, The Coming of Mr Quin, was adapted for the screen in 1928 as The Passing of Mr Quinn.
89. Christie borrowed a number of traits from her character Caroline Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd for her more famous creation Miss Marple.
90. Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case was written at the start of the second World War but not published until 1975.
91. The opening of Witness for the Prosecution in 1953 was the only first night that Christie actually enjoyed.
92. Christie’s daughter Rosalind told her mother that it would be impossible to adapt The Hollow for the stage; the production ran for over a year.
93. In 1951 US sales of They Came to Baghdad outstripped sales of all her previous novels.
94. The cinema version of Murder on the Orient Express which is in production is the fifth screen adaptation.
95. Christie was an admirer of PG Wodehouse to whom she dedicated Hallowe’en Party.
96. Agatha Christie and Archaeology was a 2001 exhibition in the British Museum which included a number of photographs and home movies shot by Agatha Christie.
97. Marple Hall, an old mansion in Cheshire, near to where Christie’s sister Madge lived, is believed to be the inspiration for Miss Marple’s name.
98. Not content with teaching herself to read, by her early teens Agatha was able to read The Three Musketeers, in French!
99. The A. B. C. Murders (1936) is an early example of a plot featuring a serial killer.
100. Christie’s An Autobiography was published a year after her death, but was written over a period of 15 years between 1950 and 1965.
101. Christie’s first novel, written in 1908, Snow upon the Desert, has never been published.
102. Evil under the Sun used Burgh Island, off the Devon coast and often visited by Agatha Christie, as its setting.
103. In 1954 the Mystery Writers of America bestowed upon her their first ever Grandmaster Award.
104. Chimneys, the play adapted by Christie in the late 1920s from her novel The Secret of Chimneys, received its premiere in Calgary in 2003.
105. The Mystery of the Blue Train was a book so poor that Christie wished, in later life, that she’d never written it.
106. No other female playwright has matched Christie’s record of having three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End.
107. Christie took pleasure at being invited to judge an essay competition at the school local to her home, Greenway.
108. Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott, completed Absent in the Spring, in a weekend.
109. Endless Night is narrated by a young working-class male and was written by Christie at the age of 76.
110. Statistically the medical profession is the most deadly in Christie stories.
111. The 1945 novel Death Comes as the End is set in Egypt 2000 BC.
112. Agatha dedicated her novel Dumb Witness to Peter, her dog, described as “a dog in a thousand”.
113. Agatha Christie Ltd was formed in 1955.
114. Although Captain Hastings appears alongside Poirot in many TV adaptations he appears in only eight novels.
115. Christie was an excellent pianist but stage fright prevented her pursuing it as a career.
116. And Then There Were None has sold over one hundred million copies.
117. In order to avoid confusion with a real train, Christie changed the time in the title 4.50 from Paddington several times before deciding on 4.50.
118. Christie selected a symbol of three intertwined fish for the 1960s Collins’ “Greenway Edition” of her work. It’s a symbol used in the short story The House of Lurking Death from Partners in Crime.
119. Tiglath Pileser was an Assyrian warrior king whose artifacts were discovered by Max Mallowan at Nimrud; and the name of the vicarage cat in A Murder is Announced.
120. On Agatha’s death her husband Max Mallowan wrote “Few men know what it is to live in harmony beside an imaginative, creative mind which inspires life with zest.”
121. She was a Times crossword fan.
122. In 1934 she published five books: four Christie titles and a Mary Westmacott
123. She has been portrayed on screen by Vanessa Redgrave, Anna Massey, Peggy Ashcroft and Olivia Williams.
124. Like Miss Marple in Nemesis, Agatha Christie toured the Great Gardens of Ireland in the 1950s.
125. Many of her stories have been adapted for Japanese TV as an anime series.
126. The film rights to The Mousetrap were sold shortly after the play opened but with the proviso that the play must close before filming began…
Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks by John Curran is published by HarperCollims, £30