Book of the Month: At Bertram’s Hotel

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Entering the beautiful Bertram’s hotel in London is like travelling back in time; for Miss Marple it is a trip down memory lane. But what truly lies behind the polite smiles of the staff and impeccable service? Is the elegant décor and the charming atmosphere a front for something rotten and horrible?

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Top 10 Highlights from the International Agatha Christie Festival 2015

The International Agatha Christie Festival 2015 marked the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth. It took place between the 12th and the 19th of September and was a very special week for us as that was where we met and the Dumb Witnesses was born. Through rainy, windy Torquay (we were expecting a ton of sun) we attended several talks, screenings and readings honouring the life and legacy of the Queen of Crime. Here are the highlights:

1. 125th Birthday Garden Party & Luncheon

Copyright: Leena Salo / The Dumb Witnesses

The big day had arrived! 15th September 2015 was the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birthday, which was celebrated in style with a grand luncheon in the gardens of Torre Abbey in full 1930s style. Right before lunch, Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, toasted the day armed with a glass of bubbly. Surrounded by the venomous  plants of the “Garden of Poisons” many aficionados had slipped into vintage clothing and were happily tucking into their Brixham salmon.The party was thoroughly enjoyed and many even claimed to have seen Poirot in person; maybe you’ll spot him next time?

2. Agatha Christie and the BBC: From Page to Screen

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Anytime you get a chance to hear Mathew Prichard  discuss grandmum’s best (and worst) adaptations, you simply can’t miss it.  The other panelists of the talk included Sarah Phelps (who adapted And Then There Were None ), Zinnie Harris (writer of Partners in Crime), Hilary Strong (from Agatha Christie Ltd), Hilady Bevan Jones (BAFTA and Emmy award-winning producer) and Karen Thrussell (producer of And Then There Were None and Poirot).

It was wonderful to hear fresh thoughts and opinions on the BBC’s Christie adaptations, reasons for certain decisions or changes and some behind the scenes tidbits. Even the audience joined in on the debate putting the members of the panel in the hot seat.

We were also served clips from the new And Then There Were None adaptation over three months before it was shown on television; and it looked absolutely fab (even though we couldn’t really tell anyone). Mathew also revealed that the one Christie book he would love to see on film is Crooked House! We’re keeping our fingers tightly crossed…

3. Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie with, Tom Adams & John Curran

TAA cold, drizzly afternoon was spent warmly snuggled in the dark hearing Tom Adams  chat about his paintings to Christie expert, John Curran as they appeared on a big screen one after the other. Famously known for the paperback art he produced for Agatha Christie, Tom Adams has painted around 150 covers for almost every one of her books reproduced in many languages all over the world.

Although he had never met the lady herself, Adams was a great fan of her writing. He would read a book repeatedly to gauge the essence of her mysteries which he would then reproduce in his most distinctive and unusual paintings. They were fantasy and reality thrown together into collages of dreams which went on to define the style of paperback artwork throughout the sixties and seventies.

To delve deeper into his magical world, get your hands on Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyondit is guaranteed to be one of the most beautiful books on your coffee table!

 4. Murder Mystery & Dinner: A Dark Night at the Abbey

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Murder, horror, a family feud and scrumptious desserts…what’s not to love! One of the hightlights of the festival last year was the murder mystery dinner organized at the atmospheric Spanish Barn situated at Torrey Abbey.  The night offered a three course meal and actors from the South Devon College played out a murder in front of our eyes; all this where everyone was suited, booted and flapped around in 1930’s garb.

The honored guests of the mystery dinner were invited to a birthday party but (oh quelle surprise!) the man of the hour is murdered before the main course. It was up to the diners to solve this crime while the suspicious behaviour of the family of the deceased offered hints and clues. In the end, it was up to our little grey cells and boy, did we over think it!

 5. British Library: Publishing Golden Age Detective Fiction

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Agatha Christie rules the whodunnit roost but our love for crime fiction doesn’t stop there. The 1920s and 1930s was hailed as the Golden Age of detective fiction; lighthearted and straightforward, the murder mysteries written at this time were true classics.  In an effort to bring them back to life, The British Library has published the Crime Classics series which have been flying off the shelves ever since their release.

The gorgeous Imperial Hotel (we stayed here during the festival) hosted an event where the public had a chance to listen to British crime writer Martin Edwards and series editor Rob Davies talk about how the series came about. Davies explained that they discovered a gap in the market where readers craved nostalgia and escapist detective fiction with tight plots situated in a period bygone.

Published in paperback format, each book is a piece of art with covers adorned with paintings and illustrations from the twenties and thirties. For all readers starting to discover crime fiction, the British Library’s Crime Classics should definitely be on your wishlists!

6. Sparkling Tea Dance

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As the old saying goes “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!”, so, when in Devon, you must have a sumptuous afternoon tea! The perfect location for this traditional treat is The Grand Hotel in Torquay,  where Agatha & Archie spent their honeymoon.

Enormous scones and clouds of clotted cream crowded the tables and rivers of champagne flowed. Ladies in glamorous vintage dresses and gentlemen  sporting very peculiar jackets and suits foxtrotted and charlestoned to The Spiffing Tunes like it was 1927. We’re pretty sure we had stepped back in time…

7. David Brawn: Publishing Christie and Poirot’s Little Grey Cells

mouEvery publisher who ever rejected Agatha Christie’s manuscripts is, over 9 decades later, probably still kicking themselves. Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles was published in 1920 featuring her famous little moustachioed Belgian, Hercule Poirot. 6 years later, Harper Collins took on Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and what followed was a successful marriage of writer and publisher which 80 novels and many short stories later, is still going strong. David Brawn, publisher at Harper Collins, talked us through this incredible bond that Christie and Collins shared.

The other relationship that was widely acknowledged by Christie’s fans was the one she shared with Hercule Poirot. She called him “insufferable” and bemoaned his existence but the public loved him; so on she wrote about this obnoxious egg head and his “little grey cells”. The love continues and for every Poirot fan, there has now been published Little Grey Cells: The Quotable Poirot edited by David Brawn. Filled with the exclamations, wise ones and consistently disdainful remarks on the English way of life, these Poirot quotes are a joyful little companion.

8. Curtain Up: Book Talk by Julius Green

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From the outside it looks just like one of the many country gothic churches scattered around England. But inside it’s a different story; there’s a curtain and there’s a stage.

That’s Torquay’s Little theatre, where we were invited to join Julius Green, writer of Curtain up: A Life in Theatre,  and the main cast of And Then There Were None,  the play.
                                                
Green charmed the crowds with his words as he talked about the passion that linked Agatha with the stage and the theatrical world; her early attempts as an actress in the local community theatre in Torquay, the fact that she very nearly became an opera singer and her talent as an exceptional playwright. All this was accompanied by the performances of Deborah Grant, Kezia Burrows, Ben Nealon and Eric Carte who staged some scenes from Agatha’s early plays; Eugenia and Eugenics to name one.

Witty, clever, fresh and always ahead of her time, thats the impression we got of her, and we cannot wait for more of Christie’s works to return to the stage. Rumour has it that there’s a new production coming up later this year but shhhh, it’s a secret!

9. Night at Greenway – Twilight Tour & John Curran’s Literary Dinner

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It was described by Agatha herself as “the loveliest place in the world”, how is it possible not to agree? Facing the river Dart, Greenway is a magical place, full of history that dates back to times even before Agatha and her second husband Max Mallowan moved in.

During the day the park and the house are explored by hundreds of visitors, fans and families but, thanks to the International Agatha Christie Festival, it was made possible for a limited number, to experience Greenway after hours.

The Twilight Tour was the perfect opportunity to come in contact with a different dimension of the crime writer, the private Agatha – lover of family and country life. Thanks to the volunteers of the National Trust (who has been looking after Greenway since 2005) a few secrets and curiosities of the house were unveiled that night. Walking around the house, finding the real objects that inspired Christie’s works like the Baghdad chest in the entrance hall, the gong and the Harlequin porcelain statue (did you spot any others?) and touching and reading first editions of some of her best works was a thrilling experience. It almost felt like she was there, happy to be the hostess of so many guests.

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The following night, Christie archivist and expert, John Curran hosted his annual literary dinner at Greenway House. An exclusive (and almost always sold out) event, it felt rather special being among the 24 guests invited to dine around Agatha Christie’s dining table. Most of the house is kept as it had been in Agatha’s time and, not sure if it was the rain outside or the fact that the lighting was dim, but as we sat around the dining table and toasted to the memory of our beloved authoress, we expected someone to drop dead. Now, now, don’t think we’re macabre! Ok maybe we are a bit…

10. The Greenway Ball

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A 1930s German car drove up hill and stopped in front of Greenway House. The chauffeur opened the door and Hillary Strong, CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd., stepped out; what an entrance! But after all, it was The Greenway Ball.

The ball was held in the well manicured gardens of Greenway and the suggestive atmosphere of the Georgian house was the perfect setting for this sparkling evening. People clad in black tie and evening dresses floated about, vintage cocktails were sipped and an excited buzz rang through the night. Among the guests present were the prominent members of the Mallowan and Prichard families.

The biggest surprise of the evening was a performance of Christie’s 1935 radio play The Yellow Iris introduced by Julius Green and acted out by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. After the magnificent show,the gong rang and dinner was served. To further keep the crowds riveted, a silent auction was put up with props and objects from the Poirot TV series and the script of the tv adaptation of And Then There Were None signed by the cast. The night ended with dancing and music played by a 10 piece band. A perfect end to the festival!

-TDW-