Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay in Devon. In her early years Agatha Christie didn't go to school but was educated at home by her mother and a succession of governesses.   In her late teens she studied to be a classical musician but was too nervous to perform.  In 1905, she was sent to Paris where she was educated in three pensions – Mademoiselle Cabernet's, Les Marroniers, and then Miss Dryden's – the last of which served primarily as a finishing school.

She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation and she is the best-selling crime novelist of all time.  

Her work has become synonymous with the trope of the country house mystery, the landed gentry and Jazz Age good-time boys and girls whose ordered, privileged world is suddenly thrown into disarray by the fly in the ointment of a rather awkward corpse found in the library or on the croquet lawn. 

She then met Archibald Christie (1889–1962) at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke.  Archie was born in India, the son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service. He was an army officer who was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1913. The couple quickly fell in love. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Archie was sent to France to fight the German forces. They married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church, Clifton, Bristol, which was close to the home of his parents, while Archie was on home leave.

Agatha involved herself in the war effort. She joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in 1914, and attended to wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay as an unpaid VAD nurse.

During the First World War there were Belgian refugees in most parts of the English countryside.  Although he was not based on any particular person, Agatha thought that a Belgian refugee, a former great Belgian policeman, would make an excellent detective for The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Hercule Poirot was born.

She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six rejections, but this changed when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, was published in 1920.   Agatha was also a fan of P.G. Wodehouse’s work. 

In 1922, leaving Rosalind with her nurse and her mother, she and her husband travelled across the then British Empire, promoting The Empire Exhibition of 1924. 

Once returned from the Grand Tour, the family were reunited and settled in a house they named Styles in the suburbs outside London.  At this time Agatha’s husband Archie fell in love with a fellow golfer and friend of the family, Nancy Neale. 

In late 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. On 3 December 1926, the Christies quarrelled, and Archie left their house to spend the weekend with his mistress. That same evening, around 9:45 pm, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car, a Morris Cowley, was later found at Newlands Corner, perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving licence and clothes.

Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public. The Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes scoured the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even gave a spirit medium one of Christie's gloves to find the missing woman. 

Christie's disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days.  On 14 December 1926, she was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Teresa Neele (the surname of her husband's lover) from Cape Town.

One of Christie’s lifelong ambitions had been to travel on the Orient Express and her first journey took place in the autumn of 1928 to Baghdad.  

During this trip, she encountered her first archaeological dig and met a young archaeologist, Max Mallowan, whom she married in September 1930. Their marriage was happy and lasted until Christie's death in 1976.  Christie's 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, the southern terminus of the railway.

During the Second World War she worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital, London, during the Blitz and acquired a good knowledge of poisons which featured in many of her novels.

In 1971 she was elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her contribution to literature.
Christie’s last public appearance was at the 1974 premiere of Murder on the Orient Express.

Mark Aldridge, Author of Agatha Christie on Screen said: “There’s perhaps a sense of nostalgia about Christie’s work.  There’s a part of us that likes to see village greens and country houses, ships steaming up the Nile. Christie was a very visual writer, and she was very well travelled and used a lot of exotic locations she had actually visited.”