Agatha Christie's secret tapes discovered
13 hours of tapes found
Mathew Prichard said he found a host of old tapes when cleaning out his grandmother's house several years ago, but could not play them until he fixed the obsolete machine on which they were recorded. He called the experience of hearing Christie's voice again "quite eerie."
Fans hoping for a posthumous mystery will be disappointed — the tapes served as raw material for Christie's autobiography and do not add much to what has already been written about her.
They capture Christie speaking in a thin, deliberate voice. In an impeccably old-fashioned English accent, she describes the origins of the sleuth known to millions of readers worldwide as Miss Marple.
"Miss Marple insinuated herself so quietly into my life that I think I hardly noticed her arrival," she said, according to an excerpt of the recording carried on the Daily Telegraph's Web site. "An old spinster lady, living in a village, the sort of lady who would have been rather like some of my grandmother's cronies."
"'I shouldn't be surprised if so-and-so was going on,' my grandmother used to say, and although with no grounds for these assertions, that was exactly what was going on," Ms. Christie said.
Mr. Prichard said the recordings also covered Christie's trips to the Middle East and her honeymoon with her second husband, Max Mallowan. It was not clear when exactly the tapes were made, although Mr. Prichard said Christie often relied on dictation in the 1960s.
While the tapes have now been digitized, Mr. Prichard said he wanted to consult with his family before deciding whether to put more of the material in the public domain.
Secret recordings made almost half a century ago have offered a rare insight into one of the most mysterious of mystery writers.
Agatha Christie, who was born 118 years ago today, dictated the tapes on a Grundig Memorette machine in the mid-1960s to help write Christie's autobiography. They lay unnoticed in Christie’s Devon home until her grandson Matthew Prichard stumbled upon the 27 half-hour tapes in a cardboard box.
“I have now no recollection at all of writing Murder in the Vicarage,” she said. “I don’t even remember why it was that I selected a new character, Miss Marple, to act as a sleuth in the case. Certainly, at the time I had no intension of continuing her for the rest of my natural life.
“I didn’t know then that she would become a rival to Hercule Poirot. People never stop writing me nowadays to suggest that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot should meet but why should they meet? I’m sure they would not like meeting at all.
“Hercule Poirot, a complete egoist, would not like being taught his business or having suggestions made to him by an elderly spinster lady.”
Only one or two recordings of her voice were previously known to exist, including a 1955 interview for the BBC and a 1974 recording for the Imperial War Museum sound archive in which she recounts her experiences in World War I.
The tapes, however, give no insight into one of the most intriguing parts of her life. In 1926 she disappeared, disguising herself as Mrs Neele, the name of her husband’s mistress, and spending 12 days in Yorkshire while police hunted for her fearing the worst.
While the media embarked on their own nationwide search Christie was secretly performing with a dance band in her Harrogate hotel.
There are some insights into her family life in the tapes and she explains that Miss Marple shared many characteristics with her own grandmother.
Christie said of her grandmother: "Although a completely cheerful person, she always expected the worst of anyone and everything. And with almost frightening accuracy [she was] usually proved right."
Her grandmother would say "I shouldn't be surprised if so-and-so was going on," Christie said. "And although with no grounds for these assertions, that was exactly what was going on."
Her play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest opening run in the world, it began at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952 and after 23,000 performances is still on in the West End.
A large collection of previously unknown audiotapes recorded by acclaimed British mystery writer Agatha Christie have been discovered in one of her former houses in Devon. The tapes offer a highly personal "dictation of her life story" and Christie's estate are considering releasing them or updating Agatha Christie's autobiography as a result.
Uttered in the reedy voice of Christie herself, these withering descriptions are contained on a cache of audiotapes, recently discovered in a dusty cardboard box in one of her former houses by her only grandson, Mathew Prichard.
The tapes — 27 reels running a total of more than 13 hours — are filled with Christie’s painstaking dictation of her life story, rough material recorded in the early 1960s that eventually made up Christie's autobiography, published posthumously in 1977. It stands as one of only a handful of recordings of Christie, the British mystery writer, who rarely agreed to be interviewed.
Christie’s estate is expected to announce its discovery on Monday, the 118th anniversary of her birth, calling the tapes a rare find and a significant addition to the collection of memorabilia related to Christie.
In Britain the appetite for all things Agatha Christie is still fierce.
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born at home on September 15, 1890. She was the third child of Frederick Alvah and Clarissa Beochmer Miller. Her father was an American who had been living in England for twenty years. Her mother was English. Agatha Christie lived at Ashfield in Torquay, Devonshire.
When Agatha was 11, her father died. Before his death, he had begun teaching her arithmetic. Agatha never went to school. Her mother believed education destroyed the brain and ruined the eyes. She taught Agatha history and something called "general knowledge". Agatha Christie read newspaper articles. The house was filled with books, and all three children were encouraged to read.
As a teenager, Agatha Christie read the Sherlock Holmes books. Early in the 1900s, she was heavily influenced by the novelist Eden Phillpotts. He lived nearby and she would visit him regularly. He mentored Agatha, encouraging and guiding her reading.
After the death of her father, Agatha was taken to arithmetic classes twice a week. Her teachers instilled a respect for money in her. She also took Swedish exercise classes, piano, singing, and dancing lessons. At 16, she attended finishing school in Paris, where she remained for two years. Agatha Christie spoke French and German. She also took gymnastics and tennis lessons.
As a young woman, she was attached to her mother. Mrs. Miller wanted her daughter to be a concert pianist or a professional opera singer. Agatha was a talented pianist and had a clear soprano voice. However, Agatha Christie preferred nursing. She was described as tall, Scandinavian in coloring with reddish-gold hair, nice, fun, shy, bright, and loyal.
After finishing school, Agatha spent three months in Egypt with her mother. During this time, she was officially engaged to Reggie Lucy, a major in the gunners. Upon returning to England, Agatha met Lieutenant Archibald Christie of the Royal Field Artillery, later of the Royal Flying Corps. Archibald Christie was described as steady and popular by a fellow officer. After a two year engagement, Agatha and Archibald were married by special license at the parish church of Emmanuel, Clifton, Bristol, on December 24, 1914.
During the war, Christie became a nurse near Torquay to be near her mother. She was a favorite with the recovering soldiers. She soon advanced to the dispensary. She used her nursing experience later to write her first detective novel.
Agatha's first foray into public writing was a poem that was published in "The Road of Dreams". The only detective stories she had read were Sherlock Holmes and a French novel called Mystery of the Yellow Room. Her sister Madge taunted Agatha to write a detective story in which the ending could not be guessed quickly. For three weeks, Agatha stayed at Moorland Hotel, Hay Tor, Dartmoor, where she wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. This was the world's first introduction to her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The book was based on Agatha's nursing experience. Styles was an exact replica of Torquay.
Mrs. Christie was in charge of herself and her career. Letters to her publishers were businesslike and crisp. Her second book was published in 1922. This marked the beginning of a book-a-year record. She was on the bestseller list for the rest of her life. Agatha took great pleasure attending parties with other authors at the home of one of her lifelong friends, who happened to be her first publisher's nephew. He enjoyed gathering writers to talk about their styles, interests, and lives.
In 1919, Agatha gave birth to her only child, Rosalind, named after Shakespeare's heroine. Agatha went with her husband on a British Empire Exhibition in 1922. Her sister looked after Rosalind. Agatha was seasick most of the time. The tour went to Madeira, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Hawaii, Canada, and the United States. In 1923, Archibald Christie joined Austral Trust Ltd. He was immediately placed on the board. He was responsible for share activities. The family moved to Scotswood, Sunningdale. They stayed for two years. A larger house was bought nearby. It was called Styles after Agatha's first book. Agatha retained a flat at 8 Addison Mansions, Kensington, where much of her business was done. Agatha's agent for over fifty years was Edmunk Cork of Hughes Massie Ltd. He took her from Bodley Head, where six of her books had been published, to William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., who published the rest of her work.
In 1926, she wrote her masterpiece, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. It was the most discussed detective story ever written. Many believed she had broken the sacred rules set down by the Detection Club. The idea for the plot device was given to her by a friend. He suggested she should make the narrator of the story double as the murderer.
On December 3, 1926, the newspaper headlines stated "Agatha Christie Vanishes". Mrs. Christie disappeared for ten days. The solution was partly resolved when she was found on the eleventh day in the north of London. Clarissa Miller, Agatha's mother, had died after a severe illness. Agatha spent a month in the south of France to recuperate, mourn, and relax from the stress of overwork. She had also found out her husband was in love with another woman. Agatha was highly imaginative and sensitive. She was caught by surprise and thrown totally off balance. The police at the time believed she dealt with the situation in a way she could understand it; with mystery, deception, and revenge. Her disappearance was planned with methodical care.
On the morning of her disappearance, she and her husband had an argument. She left a letter for her husband and one for her secretary, telling her to cancel all weekend engagements. Then she went for a drive.
Mrs. Christie was found living at the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel. She claimed she was suffering from amnesia. Seeing her husband at the hotel, she said he was her brother. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from an unquestionable loss of memory. Mrs. Christie said it was the result of too many troubles at once: the death of her mother, an earache, a toothache, gastritis, memory lapses, sleepwalking, and "buckets of tears". The police believed Agatha Christie was mentally distraught, filled with revenge, and in degradation of misery. She did what any other woman would have done, deciding to teach her husband a lesson.
Archibald and Agatha Christie stayed together for two more years. Divorce was granted in an undefended suit. Agatha received custody of Rosalind. After the divorce, she went to southern Iraq to join an archaeological dig. There she met Max Mallowan, an archaeological assistant. The two were completely unlike in background, education, profession and age, but both recognized they complimented each other. Max and Agatha were married in September 1930.
Agatha Christie's book sales are only surpassed by the Bible. She is second only to Shakespeare as the most often translated writer in the English language. Between 1930 and 1956, six romantic novels appeared under her pseudonym, Mary Westmacott. Between 1930 and 1939, twenty-four mysteries were published. She wrote an original play, produced in 1934. She wrote another play that was not published until 1973. She also adapted a short story into a play, produced in 1936. She accompanied Max on his archaeological digs, taking her portable typewriter along. She believed, however, she owed a higher responsibility to her husband and household than to her publishers and readers.
In September 1939, during the Second World War, Max was stationed in Tripolitania. Agatha lived in London, serving as dispenser at University College Hospital. Her daughter Rosalind had married Huber deBurgh Prichard. Her grandson Matthew was born in 1943. Rosalind was widowed during the war. She later married Anthony Hicks.
Agatha Christie's off-duty hours were spent plotting, planning, and writing. Between 1940 and 1945, ten new novels were published and two stage adaptations of earlier novels were made. She also wrote the last Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries. These were to be kept in her publisher's vault. Neither would be published until after her death. She deeded all rights to her novels to her husband and her daughter. Her fifty-sixth novel was published in 1950. Her short story, "Three Blind Mice", was first aired on the radio in 1947. It was adapted to a stage play and called "The Mousetrap". It holds the record as the longest running play produced. It opened on the London stage in 1952. On the night of Agatha's death, "The Mousetrap" was giving its 9,612th consecutive performance.
Agatha Christie won the Commander of the Order of the British Empire decoration in 1956 for being the most popular British crime mystery writer. She became president of the Detection Club in 1958. Between 1956 and 1960, four mysteries and one collection of short stories were published, as well as three plays being produced. Her husband received the same decoration as she in 1960, his for archaeology. In 1966, she and Max went on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada. Max received a knighthood in 1968, giving them the titles of Sir Max and Lady Mallowan. Agatha received an Order of Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971. She was now Dame Agatha Christie.
By 1971 most of her time was spent at her home, Winterbrook House, in Wallingford. In 1972, she broke her leg and experienced heart trouble that required considerable bed rest. New mysteries were produced regularly every year to the end of 1973. In 1974, Agatha had a recurrence of heart trouble. She gave her last interview to Lord Snowdon in the same year. She told him she wanted to be remembered as a good writer of detective and thriller books. She also told him the writing that had given her the most enjoyment was her romance books. Her last public appearance was in 1974 at the opening of the movie version of her novel, Murder On The Orient Express.
In 1975, Agatha Christie was experiencing failing health and increasing weakness. She made over all rights to "The Mousetrap" to her grandson. Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller Christie Mallowan died peacefully in Wallingford on January 12, 1976. She was buried in the country churchyard of Cholsey parish near her home.
Agatha's interests spanned her lifetime. She loved cricket and enjoyed collecting objects, two things she picked up from her father. She picked up her interest in trees and love for gardening from her mentor, Eden Phillpotts. She enjoyed shopping and was pleased she could do so in Torquay undetected. She took a professional interest in the design of her own book covers. She was fascinated by archaeology.
Agatha Christie was described in her life as imaginative, happy in her own company, never lonely, modest, and a good listener. She was paranoiac in her shyness of strangers. She was secretive, professional in business, and had an inborn sense of public relations. She projected sturdy middle class respectability. She was reserved, reluctant to be interviewed, and averse to discussing her personal life. She had an engaging sense of humor and delighted in perceived incongruity. She was a talented pianist and singer. She was a non-smoker and a non-drinker. She had a deep-rooted avoidance of controversy and worked hard to attain her privacy.