Poirot gourmet: une petite omelette

Here’s a picture of a summery lunch (in progress!) for today’s “Poirot gourmet.” An omelette with sautéed mushrooms, garden chives, Danish brie, and Havarti. To drink: a shandy.

Poirot’s passion for omelettes is pretty well-documented, appearing in stories like “The Third-Floor Flat,” Lord Edgware Dies, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, and several other places. But the shandy may be a new one for you. Here’s the book reference…

‘What shall I get you?’ said Spence. ‘No fancy stuff here, I’m afraid. No blackcurrant or rose hip syrup or any of your patent things. Beer? Or shall I get Elspeth to make you a cup of tea? Or I can do you a shandy or Coca-Cola or some cocoa if you like. My sister, Elspeth, is a cocoa drinker.’

‘You are very kind. For me, I think a shandy. The ginger beer and the beer? That is right, is it not?’

Hallowe’en Party

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ITV’s Poirot and BBC’s Sherlock

It’s no great secret to Poirot fans that Agatha Christie’s most famous detective owes a lot in concept to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Both authors created bachelor gentlemen “consulting detectives”; each had a sometimes-flatmate as their admiring, not-quite-as-intelligent chronicler of tales; each were conceited to the nines due to a nearly flawless track record of deduction wizardry; each foiled Scotland Yard’s best men; etc. Rather than go into too much detail with the books alone, this blog post takes a look at the screen translations of those two universes as portrayed in the Poirot series and the BBC Sherlock series. The biggest difference in interpretation is the fact that Poirot is a period drama, while Sherlock is a modernization. Yet, fans of both series may find a good deal in one to remind them of the other. For example…

Mark Gatiss. The multi-talented Gatiss is well known as a writer and producer of several series, including (of course) Sherlock, in which he also stars as Mycroft Holmes. As for Poirot, Gatiss was a scriptwriter for Hallowe’en Party, The Big Four, and Cat Among the Pigeons. A few of the similarities between the series may possibly be traced to him as a result. He also acted in a certain episode of Poirot…

Appointment With Death. In this episode, Gatiss plays Leonard Boynton, the insecure stepson of the murdered woman. Seeing Gatiss flex his sarcastic chops against Poirot, it’s hard for me not to think of his banter with the other great fictional detective. There’s something else about Appointment With Death that is significant for this side-by-side: the story line of the man who fled across the desert to Samarra, attempting in vain to cheat Death. Originally used by Christie in her novel, exactly the same story is trotted out as an important framing narrative in Sherlock episode The Six Thatchers (Season 4, Ep. 1).

The “death” and resurrection of the detective. In true Holmsian fashion, Christie had her detective undergoing a fake death and dramatic return, much to the shock of his “Watson.” Gatiss did the screenplay for The Big Four as well as working on The Reichenbach Fall and The Empty Hearse, and the episodes of the two series were released very close to the same time. Yet Gatiss has claimed no deliberate influence between the two scripts– apparently they were conceived quite independently and at different times. Nonetheless, you can spot a few things in production if you look– including an iconic shadow on the pane of each of these detectives when their resurrected selves emerge from hiding once more. (Book-Poirot’s elusive brother, the highly-intelligent but constitutionally indolent Achille, was Christie’s nod to Mycroft. He was not included in the TV adaptation of The Big Four.)

Other cast members. Here, I’ll just note certain major characters from Sherlock who play other roles in Poirot. Along with Mark Gatiss as Mycroft…

Amanda Abbington (a.k.a. Mary Watson) is one of the teachers in Poirot episode Cat Among the Pigeons.

Tom Brooke is also noticeable as Wiggins in Sherlock and Tysoe in The Big Four (the journalist following up shady leads). The characters are even a bit similar, in that Wiggins and Tysoe attempt to work alongside Sherlock and Poirot professionally to a certain extent.

An actor who stands out as an arch-villain in both series: Toby Jones, who plays the notorious Ratchett in Murder on the Orient Express, and the equally creepy, sinister, wealthy Culverton Smith in Sherlock’s The Lying Detective.

Lindsay Duncan, who has a recurring role as Lady Smallwood in Sherlock, is Lady Tamplin in Poirot’s The Mystery of the Blue Train.

Would you believe that Sherlock’s “Anderson” (Jonathan Aris) is a receptionist in Lord Edgware Dies?? That whole critical conversation about the pince-nez, Mrs Van Dusen, and the need to telephone to Donald Ross happens with him.

The judge in Sad Cypress who condemns Elinor to death is Benedict Cumberbatch’s dad (Timothy Carlton), who plays the elder Mr. Holmes in Sherlock!

Honorable mentions for being recognizable: Haydn Gwynn is a painting-forging museum curator in Sherlock, and Coco Courtney / Miss Battersby in Poirot. Russell Tovey is a young Lionel Marshall in Evil Under the Sun, and is later seen as the terrorized guy in The Hounds of Baskerville.

“The Yellow Face” (ala The Six Thatchers) and “The Chocolate Box.” I’m cheating on this one because I’m comparing an episode with a short story, but hey, it’s my blog. 😉 In the Holmes story “The Yellow Face,” the detective says to Watson: ‘If it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, kindly whisper “Norbury” in my ears.’ Christie spoofs this moment at the end of story “The Chocolate Box” with Poirot asking Hastings: ‘If you think at any time that I am growing conceited… you shall say to me “Chocolate box.” Is it agreed?’ These are both rare instances of recorded failures of Holmes and Poirot. In the TV series, Poirot ends up getting his solution correct at the end after all and his line to Hastings does not appear. In the Sherlock episode The Six Thatchers, the detective wearily issues his directive about Norbury to Mrs Hudson. I include this example because I still cannot watch the end of this Sherlock episode without thinking of Poirot.

The Lost Mine: Hastings attempts to set Poirot straight on the rules of Monopoly, but Poirot’s brain can’t handle the illogic inherent in some of the game details. So when Hastings protests: “But it’s not in the rules,” Poirot retorts, “Well then, Hastings, the rules are wrong!” Sherlock snaps almost the identical dialogue at John Watson in The Hounds of Baskerville. One can’t help but feel it was lifted wholesale from the Poirot script. 🙂

Holmes: It’s this or Cluedo.

Watson: Ah, no. We are never playing that again.

Holmes: Why not?

Watson: Because it’s not actually possible for the victim to have done it, Sherlock, that’s why!

Holmes: It’s the only possible solution.

Watson: It’s not in the rules.

Holmes: Well, then the rules are wrong!

Retirement references. Christie, as a nod to the concept of Holmes retiring to Sussex to look after beehives, mirrors that idea with Poirot retiring to the country to (unsuccessfully!) grow vegetable marrows. In the words of Christie’s Tuppence from the book Partners in Crime: “This is our last case. When they have laid the superspy by the heels, the great detectives intend to retire and take to beekeeping or vegetable marrow growing. It’s always done.” 🙂 We see Poirot’s futile attempts at retirement at the beginning of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We don’t see Sherlock with beehives in the other series, but there is a passing reference to it in the episode His Last Vow.

Janine: So, we’re good, then?

Sherlock Holmes: Yeah, of course. Where’s the cottage?

Janine: Sussex Downs.

Sherlock Holmes: Mm, nice.

Janine: It’s gorgeous. There’s beehives, but I’m getting rid of those.

How the actors in the title roles portray a walking brain. Both Suchet and Cumberbatch made use of the classic “steeple hands” position throughout the series to indicate their detectives entering a spell of deep thought. Interestingly, they each employed other distinctive techniques to convey the cerebral aspect of their characters. Suchet manages this by setting his voice into a much higher register, the “head” voice suggesting that the brain dominates Poirot’s entire personality to the exclusion of everything below-neck. Cumberbatch also wanted to evoke a “mind over matter” aspect of Sherlock’s physicality, and he did this by losing a significant amount of weight for the role. Doyle, of course, does describe his detective as very thin.

Giraud. Sherlock Holmes gets several references in the Poirot stories, in book and on film. Some are by name; several are by allusion (written monographs, the parsley in the butter, etc). In The Murder on the Links, Christie invents the odious Giraud to provide a rival detective for Poirot. Giraud prides himself on his great observational skills, his collection of tiny clues, his attention to cigarette ash and tire marks, and– in the episode– his trademark pipe. He is clearly aspiring (and failing) to be a second Sherlock Holmes, a “human foxhound.” I include this in my catalogue of similarities because we do get to see some pipe-smoking in the flashback episode of Sherlock, The Abominable Bride. 🙂

Offhand, those are the most noticeable “overlaps” I see when watching one or the other series. One could possibly find some connections as to how Lestrade and Japp are played (perhaps in getting their respective sleuths out of jail?), or Countess Rossakoff and Irene Adler, or Miss Lemon and Miss Hudson. However, to my mind, those are more general similarities– they don’t make me think automatically of the other series.

Are there any others you’ve noticed?  🙂

I found Poirot’s ring, you guys.

In the television series, as in the books, Poirot has some fancy bling. In the series it takes the form of what appears to be silver-and-amethyst coordinates with faceted oval gems, including the famous “Virginie” brooch, the fob, the cuff links, and what a police inspector in The Veiled Lady calls “one fancy ring.”  🙂 🙂 🙂  These pieces are ubiquitous throughout the series. Here are a few shots of the ring:

Well, dear blog readers, I found the ring…

…At least, a remarkably similar one. 🙂  Mine came from a store in India. The design is appropriate for either men or women and amethyst also happens to be my birthstone, so I didn’t even feel too weird about getting it.  😉  It is the closest I could find to what is seen in the series– and it really is VERY similar. Here is the link to a listing of the identical product. If you visit with an aim to purchase and find that it’s sold, don’t worry; they apparently re-list it each time. It is the 3-carat version.

I love props and wardrobe stuff.

18 actors who play more than one character in the Poirot series

I don’t know about you, but I’m not always good with faces. There are many actors over the quarter-century run of the Poirot series who have played two different characters in the series– and most of them I didn’t recognize from their previous role. Sometimes, the discovery was quite a shock! Here are 18 that are worth taking note of… (Spoilers for everything, as usual)

1) David Yelland

Perhaps the most obvious place to start. The brilliant David Yelland played Charles Laverton West, a stuck-up and self-centered MP, in the second-ever episode of the series, Murder in the Mews. Of course, he is more readily recognized as Poirot’s valet George from Season 10 to the very last episode, Curtain. (George is still a snob, but much more likeable.) 🙂 Yelland has the distinction of being the “longest-running” of those with multiple roles in the series. Yet, he does not boast the biggest gap between appearances. That honor goes to…

2) Danny Webb

My jaw hit the floor when I discovered that the cheeky, sarcastic porter of The Adventure of the Clapham Cook ended up “promoted” to Superintendent Bill Garroway in Elephants Can Remember! He always did have good observation skills… 🙂  Webb is one of only three multiple-role cast members who appear in both the first and the last season of Poirot. He, Yelland, and one other…

3) Sean Pertwee

I received another mammoth shock at not having recognized Sean Pertwee from The King of Clubs. The inoffensive-looking Ronnie Oglander seemed such a far cry from Dead Man’s Folly‘s Sir George Stubbs. And yet, the hair has remained exactly the same! Another curious similarity between the characters: both are killers who are trying to hide a blood relationship with one of the Cusack sisters. Ha!!!

4) Frances Barber

Barber’s first role in the series was as (faux) Lady Millicent Castle-Vaughan in The Veiled Lady. Her second was in The Clocks as Merlina Rival, who falsely identifies the murdered man as her ex-husband. Both characters are scheming crooks relying on their own acting skills to try to deceive the authorities.

5) Carol MacReady

First, she’s an Australian forger in Peril at End House; finally, she’s a flask-toting matron at an English girl’s school in Cat Among the Pigeons. I’d call that a reforming of life. 😀  I jest about the characters, but really, this little blog exercise gives one a tremendous appreciation for character acting– how very different the roles, and how well the actors disappear into them. As if you didn’t already know that Poirot was a sterling exemplar of character acting.

6) Pip Torrens

I don’t remember whether or not I’d spotted the disgruntled “Major Rich” from Spanish Chest when he popped up as the disgruntled Jeremy Cloade in Taken at the Flood. But I really should have. I love these side-by-side photos… it makes Torrens look like he’s been to a really, really long party and is a little confused as to how he got home. LOL

7) Geoffrey Beevers

Did you recognize Mr Tolliver from Problem at Sea as the lawyer advising Elinor Carlisle after the death of her aunt in Sad Cypress? Nope.

8) Beatie Edney

OH MY GOSH MARY CAVENDISH RETIRED TO WILBRAHAM CRESCENT AND BECAME A CRAZY CAT LADY!!!!!!!!!!

It’s a long way from The Mysterious Affair at Styles to The Clocks!

9) Haydn Gwynn

From Coco Courtney in The Affair at the Victory Ball to Miss Battersby in Third Girl, Gwynn brings her own lovely ironical quality to the roles.

10) Barbara Barnes

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Mrs Charles Lester from The Lost Mine is one of my least favorite minor characters in the series. The voice and performance just grate on me. I think that Barnes pulled off Louise Leidner in Murder in Mesopotamia much better. Both characters have extremely problematic husbands, to say the least.

11) Catherine Russell

One can hardly believe that the troubled Russian companion Katrina Reiger from How Does Your Garden Grow? is played by the same woman who became the smarmy editor of The Sunday Comet in Mrs McGinty’s Dead! Truly a transformation of Poirot-esque magnitude.

12) Simon Shepherd

Shepherd has a go as disillusioned playwright David Hall in Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan, and appears later as Dr. Rendell in Mrs McGinty’s Dead.

13) Richard Lintern

Because EVERYONE comes back for Mrs McGinty’s Dead! 😉  Lintern is John Lake in Dead Man’s Mirror and Guy Carpenter for McGinty. He is, I think, one of the most recognizable of the returning cast members to the series. These two shots, in fact, are remarkably similar.

14) Beth Goddard

Another unexpected jolt: seeing Violet from The Case of the Missing Will transform into the very strange Sister Agnieszka from Appointment With Death. Headstrong feminist turned human trafficker… okay then…

15) Nicholas Farrell

From The A.B.C. Murders to The Mystery of the Blue Train, Farrell is alternately Donald Fraser and Major Knighton. Got a bit of a temper in each of them as well as girl trouble, but he’s only a baddie in one of the episodes.

16) Patrick Ryecart

Ryecart plays Charles Arundell in Dumb Witness, and Sir Anthony Morgan in The Labours of Hercules. He’s got this terrific shifty expression that he brings fully to bear in each of these characters, who are none too scrupulous. Weird little detail that the characters share: they are both alerted to disaster by means of a painting that is no longer where it should be on the wall!

17) Fenella Woolgar

Woolgar is Ellis in Lord Edgware Dies and Miss Whittaker in Hallowe’en Party. I think she is one of the easiest to recognize between roles.

18) Lucy Liemann

Last but not least (although latest in the series!) is Lucy Liemann, who takes the roles of two useful assistants: Miss Burgess in Cards on the Table, and Sonia in Third Girl. Miss Burgess is guileless, a bit naive, easy to pump for information. Sonia is the opposite!

Attempts on Poirot’s life: book, play, and film

Agatha Christie writes comparatively few forward-thinking criminals who connive to permanently remove the threat of Poirot. In fact, I deal with the issue in my own Poirot novel, attempting to answer the “Why?” Some of it is evident: Christie frequently makes Poirot more “famous in his own mind” but not taken seriously by criminals– until it’s too late. He uses his perceived ridiculousness at times as camouflage. At some points in the series, Poirot actually is virtually unknown in London (“Kidnapped Prime Minister”). But at other points (e.g. “The Veiled Lady,” “Hunter’s Lodge,” “Western Star,” etc) it is very evident that he is well-known as a blazing success by society and criminals alike. My story, The London Syndicate, takes the question on as a challenge: why don’t enterprising criminals make a little more effort to get him out of the way? For my own solution, consult the text!  😉

But for interest, Christie does throw in some examples of these people who, through cunning, panic, or even sheer ignorance, try to do in our favorite Belgian detective. Here’s a little compare/contrast on how it’s tackled in book, TV, and stage.

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1) The Big Four. I’m just going to count this as “one.” The book is full of anecdotes of Poirot and Hastings battling it out with this international menace, with not a few dramatic brushes with death. Most notable is the explosion which Poirot uses to fake his own death (because like Sherlock Holmes he’s a bit of a jerk to his friend in that respect). 🙂 Many Christie readers dislike The Big Four for a variety of reasons– Christie did as well– but I find it hard not to enjoy the more energetic and risk-filled anecdotes of this very bizarre, Bond-esque Poirot account. It’s great fun because it’s so unique and different.

2) Mrs McGinty’s Dead. In this story, Poirot’s investigations into the McGinty case results in Dr Rendall getting the wind up and trying to push him under a train. The irony is that although Poirot delightedly assumes that McGinty’s murderer attempted to murder him and that this proves that he is on the right track, it’s actually a completely different crime that Dr Rendall is attempting to cover up. (In the adaptation, it is Mrs Rendall who does this, and she actually succeeds in shoving him onto the line.)

3) “The Case of the Egyptian Tomb.” The serial murder decides to try to add a meddling Poirot to his list of victims who are popularly supposed to be cursed by proximity to the opened tomb of an ancient pharaoh. Somehow Poirot manages to anticipate the spiking of his evening tisane with cyanide. His murder attempt failing, the murderer commits suicide instead (in the book).

4) “The Erymantian Boar.” This wild and crazy incident from The Labours of Hercules formed a large part of the conglomerate television adaptation, in which the killer Marrascaud is lurking in the Swiss establishment of Rochers Neiges. In the book, members of Marrascaud’s gang attack Poirot in his room at night, threatening to cut him with razor blades. They are thwarted by American tourist Schwartz and his fortuitous revolver, earning profound gratitude (not inexplicable annoyance– really, TV script?) from Poirot.

5) Black Coffee. In this one and only Poirot play by Christie, the murderer attempts to poison Poirot in a whisky and soda. Luckily, Poirot is as usual a step ahead of the game, and has arranged a substitution with Hastings ahead of time as part of his dramatic denouement.

6) Three Act Tragedy. This is not a deliberate targeting of Poirot, but he is fully cognizant (as the final lines of the novel reveal) that he could have easily been the recipient of the first poisoned cocktail. Almost everyone in the room was a potential murder victim. This last scene is really beautifully dramatized and delivered by Suchet, who manages to simultaneously bring out both the humor of Poirot’s vanity and the pathos of being betrayed by his friend.

7) Evil Under the Sun. This is an example of pure rage from the murderer when his crime is revealed by Poirot. Usually Poirot is deft enough to simply skip out of the way, but this time the killer manages to get his hands on the other’s throat before he is held at bay. Accurately portrayed in the television adaptation as well.

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Honorable mentions (including television additions):

Death in the Clouds: The jury at the inquest nearly convicts Poirot of the murder on the plane! The verdict gets thrown out by the coroner.

He said, ‘I wonder what was on that paper that the coroner wouldn’t have at any price?’

‘I can tell you, I think,’ said a voice behind him.

The couple turned, to look into the twinkling eyes of M. Hercule Poirot.

‘It was a verdict,’ said the little man, ‘of wilful murder against me.

‘Oh, surely– ’ cried Jane.

Poirot nodded happily.

Mais oui. As I came out I heard one man say to the other, “That little foreigner– mark my words, he done it!” The jury thought the same.’

The A.B.C. Murders: At the beginning of the book, Poirot recounts to Hastings that not long ago he’d had a narrow escape, having been “nearly exterminated.” Hastings is impressed: “An enterprising murderer!” Poirot suggests that the better word would be “careless,” not enterprising. Some think that this incident is a direct reference to the jury in Death in the Clouds (above), but in my opinion, it seems much more likely to refer to Three Act Tragedy. Poirot does not claim that he was deliberately targeted for death, but does accept Hastings’ use of the word “murderer,” and “careless” is a good word to describe that particular murderer. But there is always the speculative possibility that Poirot could be describing an unknown incident that Hastings never learns about and records for us.

Sad Cypress: In the television adaptation, the murderer attempts to poison Poirot in the same manner that Mary Gerrard was poisoned. But Poirot has always hated tea! 😀 Interestingly, this delightful addition to the original story appears to have been lifted directly from the pages of Black Coffee! In both scenarios, Poirot is given a poisoned drink which he substitutes, and he also fakes symptoms of impending death. Then the murderer, off their guard, launches freely into a smug confession of nefarious deeds, only to be overheard by the nearby police. I’m very pleased that this device from Black Coffee made it into the TV canon. The only downside to the TV addition is: how can the murderer possibly think that she’ll get away with this?

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: In the adaptation, the murderer takes some gratuitous pot shots at Poirot and Japp after his cover is blown.

Curtain: The TV telling of Curtain includes Norton engaging in a dangerous cat-and-mouse power play with Poirot, seeming to threaten to withhold the latter’s medication.

‘It would be most unwise on your part to attempt to silence me as you silenced M. Ackroyd. That kind of business does not succeed against Hercule Poirot, you understand.’

-The Murder of Roger Ackroyd