Friday, 14 September 2012

My Grandmother, Agatha Christie

Melonie Clarke joins Mathew Prichard for a day of reminiscing about the Queen of Crime

Written by Melonie Clarke
She is the undisputed Queen of Crime and has sold more than four billion copies of her detective novels and short story collections. But as well as being one of the bestselling authors of all time, Agatha Christie was also a very normal lady. And who better to tell me about the real Christie than her closest living relative, grandson Mathew Prichard. Despite her fame, Christie managed to live an ordinary life. Indeed, Mathew talks about her in the same way I would talk about my own grandmother.

'She was just a normal and a ectionate grandmother,' he explains. 'It never occurred to me that she was a famous author. I was an only grandchild and my mother was an only child so we were very much the apples of her eye. We led a normal family life, spending summers together at Greenway. It was perfectly normal.'

So, things were pretty 'normal', then. Mathew tells me about his earliest memories of both Greenway, Christie's idyllic holiday home, and of his grandmother, and I can't help but smile at his enchanting tales.

'I remember sneaking into her bedroom early in the morning and she would read to us or make up a story or two,' he says. The stories would sometimes be based around his two toy elephants who would, of course, usually sneak in for the story, too. 'I remember her dogs and her avid reading; she used to read a book a day sometimes,' Mathew tells me.

Christie's love of reading is clear. Each room in Greenway is ‡ lled with shelves of books. 'My grandfather had a study and I used to sneak in to read. I remember reading books about archaeology at a young age.'

One of Mathew's favourite rooms was the library with its famous frieze, painted when the house was occupied during the war. 'I loved the library. I used to have nightmares about the subject matter of the frieze [of war scenes] but I remember spending mornings in there and we used to sit in the library before dinner. It was a very happy room.'

The family would spend six to eight weeks enjoying the summer at Greenway, going for picnics on Dartmoor, boat trips on the river and watching the steam trains chug along.

'We used to have big family parties with my parents, grandparents and some archaeologist friends. There were always lots of "play" people who used to come down, too.

'When I was in my teens, I had a great time there. I was allowed to have lots of my friends to stay – we were very lucky to have it,' he adds.

I can imagine the fun a group of teenage boys would have had there. Forget Swallows And Amazons, with its wild grounds, boathouse and river; summers spent with friends at Greenway must have been a real adventure. But there were still things I wanted to know about Christie herself.

Shortly before her death in 1976, Christie said that she didn't think anyone would remember her or her novels in 10 years' time. So I ask how she would feel if she knew she is still seen as the Queen of Crime.

'She was a very modest person but I don't think she ever really thought everybody would have forgotten her. I do think she would be so very happy,' says Mathew. 'She wrote books for people to read and enjoy, particularly if they were ill or travelling and wanted something more enjoyable to concentrate on.'

Today, of course, most people are familiar with Agatha Christie's work, often by watching the hugely popular Poirot and Marple TV shows. 'I think she would have been surprised to know that all of her Poirot stories have been televised – with the last ‡ fivbeing ‡filmed this year,' says Mathew.

I ask him if he thinks his grandmother would have thought David Suchet made a good Hercule Poirot. 'Sadly she never saw David Suchet's Poirot, but I think she would have been a great fan.'

Does his grandmother's talent for the written word run in the family? 'I think one author like that is probably enough for any family,' he replies.

But what about all the forewords he has written for his grandmother's books? 'I'm an introduction specialist,' he jokes.

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