Agatha Christie and The Grand Tour

Poster of 1924 British Empire Exhibition. In a time were colonies were loosing their importance, the propaganda was meant to make the Empire feel like a solid institution.

Poster for the British Empire Exhibition, 1924. In a time were colonies were losing their importance, the propaganda was meant to make the Empire feel like a solid institution.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand how important travelling was for Agatha and how much it influenced her works during her life time. Snow Upon the Desert, her first attempt to write a novel, was set in Egypt where she stayed during her early 20s. Followed by that was Death in the CloudsMurder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and the controversial Passenger to Frankfurt. Frequent though were her family trips around Europe, nothing was quite like the trip she made in 1922.

The charismatic Major Ernest Belcher was the assistant manager of the British Empire Exhibition (BEE) and he happened to know  Archibald Christie from their time at Clifton College. After the war Belcher was appointed Director of vegetable supplies (he was fond of his potatoes) at the Ministry of Food. During a dinner with Christie, he told him about a magnificent Grand Tour that the government was planning in order to promote the upcoming BEE and offered Archibald to be a part of it. After the war, depression and apathy became a part of Archie’s life; he had become a recluse doing a 9 to 5 job in the city so naturally this was an offer he couldn’t refuse. He was a young man in need of action, and as a young man, he was broke as well. He told Agatha about the project and after hours of deliberating, they decided to go and perhaps enjoy a bit of free time in Hawaii.

"The Sign of Three": From the left: Archie Christie, Major Belcher, someone and Agatha.

“The Sign of Three” – From the left: Archie Christie, Major Belcher, a friend and Agatha.

The Grand Tour did not start off on the best foot as Agatha was sick almost as soon as soon as she stepped on the ship to Spain marking this as one of her most dreadful experiences ever. The Tour was supposed to stop over in South Africa, were Agatha enjoyed buying wooden statues carved by the locals  (there is a famous wooden giraffe in one of her books, do you know which one?). Then it went on to India, then Australia, where she was astonished by the size of the gargantuan farms and ranches, on to Canada and then back to the main land.  The days went by with many visits to the local settlements, lunches with ambassadors, card games and the odd argument with Belcher. He was the grumpy one of the group; always shouting and complaining. During the 20’s Agatha published her first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles and she was planning to write more. Belcher insisted that he be quoted in one of her books, or to at least have a character based on him. Soon, his wish was granted, but not in the way he expected (can you guess what she did?).

"Chilling under the Sun". Agatha relaxing in the land down under.

“Chilling under the Sun” – Agatha relaxing in the land down under.

Finally, after months of formalities, Agatha and Archie headed to Hawaii. Agatha enjoyed eating bananas, sipping cocktails, getting tanned (Archie and her got sun burnt and to relieve the pain, they applied bleach on the skin which I think is a very questionable remedy!) and surfing.

Agatha, Archie & Fred. Fred was their surfboard in Honolulu, Hawaii. Together with Prince Edward they were the earliest European to surf standing still.

Agatha, Archie & Fred (their surfboard) in Honolulu, Hawaii. Together with Prince Edward, they were the earliest Europeans to surf standing still.

"Surfin' USA"

“Surfin’ USA”

The holiday had come to an end. They were now broke so to manage their expenses they decided to split up; Archie followed the mission to Canada and Agatha went to New York to spend some time with her paternal family. Her letters described how broke she was how she would often go through an entire day having only eaten the breakfast included at her accommodation.

The Grand tour finished in November 1922. Major Belcher was relieved that he no longer had to deal with locals and foreigners. Agatha and Archie however, were about to face a crisis that would change their lives forever.

But, I will save that story for another time. Until then, if you’re interested in reading more about their tour do check out The Grand Tour by Mathew Pritchard. It’s a smashing read!

*All images in this post belong to the Agatha Christie Archive*


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