Hastings sketch

Ringing in Hastings Monday (okay, this post is coming a couple days late) with a pencil sketch on white paper. My favorite drawing pencil these days is General’s Kimberly 9XXB, which is the darkest and softest they have. Intensity of charcoal, but not as dirty and without the graphite glare!  🙂  It’s been easy to get lazy with my gray paper where all the midtones are provided for you and you add pencil and pastel as the random shadow or highlight. So every now and then I’ve been switching it up with good old traditional white paper again.

By the way, Hugh Fraser is really hard to draw. I have no idea why. I’ve drawn his character many times and this is usually my experience. Hypothetically (by my own technique, anyway) no person should be harder to draw than any other. I’m working off a photo and just copy what I see. But it may be that, compared to Poirot, Hastings’ fairer coloring creates more difficulties, like the greater likelihood of being “washed out” or having less of the contrast that comes more naturally with light skin and dark hair/eyes. Clean-shaven people are also harder to draw. Poirot is a piece of cake, really. If you get the moustache right, everything else just falls into place!

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Poirot, Jeeves & Wooster

Now that I’ve watched through the Jeeves & Wooster series several times and read a number of the books (all highly recommended), I feel vaguely qualified to do a bit of comparing and contrasting between it and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

It seemed a logical move. After all, the two series do have several rather notable things in common. Here’s some listage for you.


Compare…

• Both were produced, in the late ’80s- early ’90s, by Brian Eastman.
• Both are heavily defined by some excellent Clive Exton scripts. He adapted well and maintained quite a lot of the original authors’ dialogue and atmosphere, to the lasting satisfaction of hard-core fans. Speaking of which…
• Both series feature source material from 20th-century British authors that are known to be #1 in their genre. Not just close, but actually at the very top. You don’t get more superlative than Christie in mystery and Wodehouse in humor.
• The title character actors in the two series– namely, David Suchet, Stephen Fry, and Hugh Laurie– are unquestionably some of the greatest talents England has ever seen fit to put on screen. And they all do great accents. 🙂
• Gorgeous sets, gorgeous locations, gorgeous clothes. All the great visuals of well-done period drama. Not to mention snappy theme songs.
• Eastman deliberately infused both shows with a cultivated domesticity that further endeared the characters to the viewer. There is an unmistakable “family” atmosphere at Whitehaven Mansions and Berkeley Mansions.
• Likewise, the shows are quite family-friendly, remaining consistent with the original authors’ material.
• The original stories which form both series include bachelor gentlemen friends sharing a flat and moving in more-or-less upper-class English society. One of the pair is super-intelligent, sartorially impeccable, and great at solving problems; the other is pleasant but not terribly bright, and serves as a frequent stooge and an admiring chronicler of the tales. This is very “Sherlock Holmes” in setup, but in both cases, the authors subvert things in their own ways: Christie makes her brainy cove an eccentric Belgian, while Wodehouse makes his “hero” the servant.

Contrast…

• Brian Eastman made a deliberate decision with Poirot to not include the character of George in those early episodes. This was entirely because he was working on Jeeves & Wooster simultaneously, and didn’t want another series with a valet! This led to greater emphasis on the character of Miss Lemon instead. Another result is that Hastings (patient soul that he is) ends up performing a number of minor tasks that you might normally associate with a valet, although he isn’t really employed in that capacity– paying cab fare and tips, helping with the jacket, nabbing drinks, and so on. To contrast Poirot’s actual valet, George, with Jeeves– it is clear that although George is a sort of paragon in his own way (he must be to come up to Poirot’s standard), he doesn’t possess nearly as much imagination or intelligence as Jeeves. Still, in the books at least, George is instrumental in helping Poirot with some of his cases (“The Under Dog,” “The Lernean Hydra”).
• Because Eastman produced, and Clive Exton scripted, ALL of Jeeves, there is greater consistency in the feel of the shows in many respects. The fact that it ran only four seasons would also be a contributing factor. Poirot, on the other hand, spanned some 25 years, with various script writers and others dealing with production. On the other hand, Jeeves & Wooster has a tremendous inconsistency in casting; Fry and Laurie are in every episode, but nearly every other important character is played by multiple actors, which can result in very confusing viewing. Only rarely in Poirot is a different actor cast for the same role (e.g. Vera Rossakoff). And Suchet’s consistency in the role over a 25-year-span is impressive, to say the least.
• There are some locations shared in common, as is typical in British period drama. Halton House, for example, appears in The Labours of Hercules as well as “Bertie Sets Sail.” Yet there isn’t quite as much location overlap as one might expect. Since Jeeves & Wooster leans “1920s” and Poirot is set firmly in the 1930s, and careful decisions were made regarding period architecture, there is some significant divergence here. Including…
• Although we often think of Agatha Christie’s cozy mysteries in an English country house setting, it seemed to me (correct me if I’m wrong) that Jeeves & Wooster takes us out into the country more often, despite Bertie’s preference for the metrop, while Poirot’s cases were quite often right in the city. Obviously there are a number of exceptions. But this may be because the Jeeves stories generally revolve around Bertie’s family and friends, many of whom are extremely rich and live in these huge country houses.
• If we are contrasting Hastings with the character of Bertie Wooster, we will find that Hastings is, understandably, not nearly so silly. Their manners of speech are quite different. In themselves, there are few great similarities beyond their time at Eton. But I’ve been wondering if Clive Exton didn’t deliberately (or not) imbue some of his Poirot scripts with Wodehousian moments. Hugh Fraser’s Hastings becomes known for his catch-phrases, including “I say!” But offhand, I can only recall Christie putting those words into Hastings’ mouth once– in Black Coffee! But Wooster is always dropping “I says” all over the place. Consider his very first words after meeting Jeeves. Another scene that suggests Wodehouse is at the beginning of The Incredible Theft, in which Hastings is lying on the couch, rambling about cubic “whatsits” and “thingummies.” Again, words never used by Christie’s character, but by Wodehouse’s. Exton’s adaptation of The Veiled Lady includes Poirot chastening Hastings for leaving him “in the soup”– never used by Poirot in the books, but a ubiquitous phrase Wodehouse uses for describing Bertie Wooster getting into trouble. And in Murder in the Mews, Poirot disparagingly asks: “‘The thing,’ Hastings? You think Poirot concerns himself with mere thingness?” The use of “thingness” is pure Wodehouse.

Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse– I don’t think you can possibly enjoy one without loving the other as well. Hercule Poirot is even mentioned in more than one of the Jeeves novels (Wooster being a big fan of detective fiction). For example:

“I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old Grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot, as well” (The Code of the Woosters).

Christie, for her part, dedicated her Poirot novel Hallowe’en Party to Wodehouse.

“To P.G. Wodehouse – whose books and stories have brightened up my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.”

So, gentle blog reader, not only should you get watching– get reading, too! 🙂

Partners in Crime… and a new prize giveaway!

What Poirot blog would be complete without a nod to the other books by Agatha Christie that feature Hercule Poirot as a fictional character? I’ll start with what is probably my favorite non-Poirot Christie: the Tommy and Tuppence collection, Partners in Crime.

partners1

Tommy and Tuppence stories are always a treat because, despite certain moments of implausibility when things sometimes get a little international-spy-crazy, the two main characters are simply SO well drawn and interact so wonderfully. The stories tend to be light-hearted and hilariously funny, and anything farfetched just adds to the fun. Partners in Crime has some aspects of unique brilliance: the two main characters are posing as a fake detective agency while solving genuine mysteries, and for inspiration, they choose to solve each case in the style and idiom of different fictional detectives. It’s really a great way for Christie to show off her talent and a treat for mystery-lovers to see her characters tackle the modi operandi of their favorite sleuths!

The major Poirot book reference is that of The Big Four, though Poirot fanatics may also notice nods to Roger Ackroyd and more. The little grey cells are mentioned fairly early in Partners in Crime, but the very last chapter of the book is reserved for a case solved in the style of Hercule Poirot. It’s called “The Man Who Was No. 16,” in reference to “The Man Who Was No. 4.”

*****

‘So it is,’ said Tuppence. She lowered her voice impressively. “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.’

‘Well, sir, why not use your little grey cells, and see what you can do.’
‘It’s easier to use your little grey cells in fiction that it is in fact, my boy.’

‘He is the 4 squared– in other words, he is now the No. 16. You comprehend, my friend?’
‘Perfectly,’ said Tuppence. ‘You are the great Hercule Poirot.’
‘Exactly. No moustaches, but lots of grey cells.’
‘I’ve a feeling,’ said Tuppence, ‘that this particular adventure will be called the “Triumph of Hastings.”‘
‘Never,’ said Tommy. ‘It isn’t done. Once the idiot friend, always the idiot friend. There’s an etiquette in these matters. By the way, mon ami, can you not part your hair in the middle instead of one side? The present effect is unsymmetrical and deplorable.’

*****

Speaking of that last quote: if you like the book, you might also need the audio book. Read by Hugh Fraser, it’s almost worth it solely to hear the voice of Hastings himself call his own long-standing character “the idiot friend.” 🙂  There’s another reason to love this particular audio book– it features a bonus interview with Fraser in which he waxes eloquent about the challenges of recording about a million audio books (I forget exactly how many hours he’s recorded, but it’s insanely impressive), the technique of Agatha Christie, working on the show, and other fun stuff.

Now to the prize giveaway…

This one is a little bit girly, I suppose, but I can’t help occasionally making girly things. I dabble in crafting as well as the fine arts. In honor of Christie’s Partners in Crime, I offer you a pair of bracelets, embellished by yours truly… one to keep, and one to share with your favorite partner in crime. If bracelets aren’t your thing personally, the pair of them would make a great gift for any girl. They are 7.5″ and extend to 8.5″, and they feature two halves of a “partners in crime” heart, tiny key charms, and some of my favorite sea-glass-colored iridescent beads.

partnersmix1

partnersmix2

I’ll ship these anywhere in the world. To win the pair of them, just share this blog post on Twitter or Facebook and send me your name. I’ll pull a name from a hat next Wednesday and announce the winner.  🙂  Bonne chance!

A-B-C: The musical landscape of The A. B. C. Murders

On June 21, Kingston Hospital Radio Online tweeted an interesting little tidbit about the music used in The A. B. C. Murders that Hugh Fraser retweeted, and so it came to my feed…

abc41

For my part, I was both delighted and sort of chagrined that I had never noticed this before. Last night I finally re-watched the episode, and the A-B-C motif positively screams to high heaven. Once heard, it cannot be unheard. I also realized that a full-fledged lay analysis was inevitable at that point, and so I watched through the episode sitting at my piano keyboard to see just what happens with the alphabet (musically) throughout the episode. I won’t go through quite the entire thing here– there are about a hundred key changes and transitions– but I’ll share some of the more interesting highlights.  🙂  ***Plot spoilers ahead***

As a bit of an aside, is it coincidence or not that we see, on two different pieces of Hastings luggage, his initials? They happen to start with A, and I'm not sure we see this in any other episode.

As a bit of an aside, is it coincidence or not that we see, on two different pieces of Hastings luggage, his initials? I’m not sure we see this in any other episode.

The very first thing we see in the episode, which I love, is the rack of ABC railway guides at the station where Poirot is waiting for Hastings. A familiar cane appears to straighten those that are sticking out a bit. The very blatant A-B-C notes (representing the first three notes of the A minor scale) are the first things heard, and they quickly mingle with the Poirot theme, which has been transposed up a step from G minor to A minor and also contains those first three notes. This may explain why you can watch the episode so many times without realizing you’re hearing A-B-C… it just sounds like the beginning of the Poirot theme transposed (A-B-C-E-A from G-A-Bb-D-G). Clever.  🙂

abc25

Throughout the episode– for example, early on when Poirot and Hastings are first discussing the first letter–  the A-B-C motif is sometimes paired with Eb-F-Gb to create a series of creepy-sounding diminished fifths. What better way to emphasize the unresolved tension of letters sent from a homicidal maniac? Diminished fifths give that delightful sensation of “something is really sick and wrong here.”

Whenever a new message from A. B. C. appears, the key reverts to A minor, and this also frequently happens when we encounter Cust. (Although he is also an A. B. C. in a manner of speaking, this is a bit deceptive musically because it causes the viewer/hearer to mentally associate that character with the typed letters. Sneaky!) By the time we get to Andover and the sign is zoomed in on, we get a very heavily-hammered A note. I was curious to see whether the same would hold true of the B, C, and D crimes. And sure enough– when the Bexhill poster is shown, we get a blaring B in the key of B minor, even– and later, Churston takes us to C minor! I was very giddy about this…  🙂  🙂  🙂  There are associations with keys for the different crimes in other places, too, such as when Donald Fraser is discussing the Bexhill crime and his dreams with Poirot, and the “ABC” theme plays in B minor again (B-C#-D).

abc36

Doncaster presents some interesting musical moments, too. The drone of the D for Doncaster begins when Japp, in Poirot’s sitting room, contemplates the St Leger as a complication of plans. When Cust enters the train to travel to Doncaster with the rest of the crew, we hear a “A-B… C-D”! And when everyone arrives in town together, sure enough, the key is switched to D minor.

I just want to hug the composer at this point. But moving along.  🙂

One of the most intriguing sections, musically, is when the crowds are congregated at the St Leger, and we see our various characters standing at their posts while Poirot parks somewhere to employ the grey cells. The music starts in A minor, and slowly modulates up by half steps through various keys, so that we get the B minor and C minor moments of earlier crimes as Poirot sits and thinks about them. This is also interspersed with Poirot’s own “regular” G minor theme. And just when he starts to get his revelation, what happens but a determined, final resolve to D minor!

abc42

We first hear the theme in F minor (I think) when Poirot is sitting and thinking about what will happen at Doncaster. Poirot’s denouement begins in his standard G minor, but when he gets to the part of his story where Cust meets the murderer over dominoes, the F minor key returns for the “ABC” theme. This is interesting– F for Franklin, perhaps? The reveal of the murderer takes us back to the original A minor, while the chase scene progresses through Ab minor, D minor, and F minor before returning to A minor. Franklin Clark is finally taken away by the police on a strong drone of F!!

Fascinating stuff!

Curtain: Why Hastings really dashes back upstairs.

***Spoilers, but if you’ve been here before, you know that! Watch Curtain already!  😛 ***

Anyway.

You know the scene where Elizabeth Cole is playing Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude right after Hastings has had his final chat with Poirot? Hastings walks in on her; she stops playing when she sees him; Hastings has a few moments of pause, then dashes back upstairs to find his friend dead in bed.

curtain39

What exactly is it that triggers the dash upstairs? Instinct? The simple fact that the music has stopped dead is what immediately leaps to the eye (or ear), and that is an important part of it. But there’s another component that is more pointed.

hastingschar4

“La musique cesse.” Charcoal sketch on paper.

The fact is that this scene exactly parallels the scene where Hastings first meets Poirot again there at Styles, all those years later, at the beginning of the episode. Elizabeth Cole is sitting at the piano, playing the very same piece. Hastings opens the drawing room door, and there is his friend. Poirot turns to face him, and as he opens his mouth in greeting…

The music stops. And Poirot speaks: “Hastings?”

curtain26

The reason, I humbly and speculatively propose, that Hastings stands there awkwardly at the drawing room door when he opens it on the day of Poirot’s death, is that he feels déjà vu, as though he’s waiting for something to happen. And something does happen. Once again, the music stops. Once again, he hears his name: “Captain Hastings?” But it is not Poirot who greets him. That’s when it occurs to him that there is only one difference in the two scenes: Poirot is gone.

Poirot is gone. And when he realizes this, it is then that he rushes upstairs again to see if it is true… and it is.

Hastings returns to the drawing room to ruminate in grief with his daughter, Judith, afterwards.

 

 

Compilation: The best of “Hastings snark”

Hastings isn’t the snarkiest of characters in the Poirot canon, particularly in the series. In the books, it is true, we can hear every last annoyed thought that passes through his head, but in general, we regard him as an unusually good-natured character. In fact, surely a large part of our admiration for him is the incomprehensible fact that he doesn’t smack Poirot in the face on a daily basis.

Clive Exton (and others) gave Hugh Fraser some wonderful zingers from time to time, however, all the more delightful for their comparative rarity and memorable delivery. Here’s a collection of some of my favorites. Sorry if I missed yours; no time to re-watch all the episodes.  😉

*****

Poirot: “Hastings, a favour… Whatever I should say, you will nod in agreement.”
Hastings: “Did I ever do otherwise, Poirot?”

-Dumb Witness

Both delightfully self-depricating and self-referential.

Both delightfully self-depricating and self-referential.

Maid: “I beg your pardon, sir?”
Hastings: “What colour were they, if you can remember?”
Maid: “Mr. Loewen’s trousers, sir?”
Hastings: “Well, I know it’s a rather odd question, but a rather odd person would like to know.”

-The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim

This script gets all the cookies. Forever.

This script gets all the cookies. Forever.

(Extensive damage to Hastings’ car, caused by murderer, is surveyed)
Hastings: “Hanging’s too good for some people.”

-The Third Floor Flat  

thirdfloor4

Hee hee hee.

Poirot (lining up a golf shot): “Am I allowed to hit the flag?”
Hastings: “Yes, yes, that’ll be fine.”

Murder in the Mews

This little exchange on the links makes me laugh more than just about anything...

I don’t know exactly why, but this whole little exchange on the links makes me laugh more than just about anything…

Hastings: “I’m not surprised she had gastritis.”
Poirot: “Comment?
Hastings: “Well, if she’s going to run around after chaps half her age…”

-The Cornish Mystery

Ouch...

Ouch…

Lazy guy at the dock: “I just told all I know to that police inspector; I ain’t got time to tell that all again.”
Hastings: “No, quite, I can see you’re a very busy man, Mr. Merritt.”

Mr. Davenheim

ALL THE COOKIES.

ALL THE COOKIES.

Hastings: “What’s up?”
Poirot: “You do not know who is Marie Marvelle?”
Hastings: “Can’t say I do, no. These look good, Poirot…”
Poirot (repressively): “Dah!! …Marie Marvelle is the greatest film star Belgium has ever produced.”
Hastings: “I should think she’s the only film star Belgium’s ever produced.”
Poirot: “You do not remember ‘La Tendresse Religieuse’?
Hastings: “The what?”
Poirot: “And ‘Drôle de Coeur’?”
Hastings: “I didn’t even know they made films in Belgium.”
Poirot (disgusted): “Why is it the fate of Hercule Poirot to live among such Philistines?”

-The Adventure of the “Western Star”  

No, really, they make films in Belgium?

No, really, they make films in Belgium?

Hastings: “Well hang it all, Japp, what are we going to do next?”
Japp: “Eh?”
Hastings: “Well, we can’t let Poirot die in vain. We’ve got to stop them.”
Japp: “Now hang on, Captain Hastings–”
Hastings: “We can’t be faint-hearted now, man. Are you with me or not? For Poirot’s sake, together, we have to stop the Big Four!”
Japp: “Listen, these people mean business. They’ll stop at nothing. If even Poirot couldn’t stop them–”
Hastings: “Good Lord, man. I never thought I’d hear such conchy talk from you. Well, if you won’t do anything to stop these brutes, then I certainly will. And I’ll leave no stone unturned. Good day.”

-The Big Four

"Good old Hastings"... and conchy is my new favorite word, I think.

More serious snark from “good old Hastings”… and conchy is my new favorite word, I think.

Hastings: “Well, he’s always been middle-aged. Have you seen that photograph of him at his christening?”
Miss Lemon (smirking): “I know!”
Hastings: “He looks as though he’s about to address a board meeting.”

-Double Sin

CRIKEY, I love this script, too. And not an easy short story to adapt to screen.

CRIKEY, I love this script, too. And not an easy short story to adapt to screen. Totally going to get nightmares from this screen shot, though…

(Hastings is ditched on the dance floor by the aristocracy-stalking Mrs. Mallerby, who has spotted Lord Cranshaw)
Ackerly: “Been stood up, Arthur?”
Hastings: “No title, I’m afraid!”

-The Affair at the Victory Ball  

ZAP. Bonus points for the face that he makes just before turning to go back to the table...

ZAP. Bonus points for the face that he makes just before turning to go back to the table.

Hastings: “Well, the pub’s so crowded, I’m having to share a room, and you’ll never guess who with.”
Poirot: “No Hastings, I will not.”
Hastings: “Japp.”
Poirot: “With the Chief Inspector Japp?”
Hastings: “And the room has only got one bed.”
Poirot: “I wonder why the Chief Inspector Japp is here.”
Hastings: “You’re not very sympathetic!”

Hastings: “Poirot, my dear fellow, I promise you, you’ve never heard anything like it. You know those boots he wears? Bang. And the other one– crash. When he finally gets into bed, it’s worse!”
Poirot: “Worse?”
Hastings: “He talks in his sleep. ‘Now I’ve got you, young fellow, me lad. Japp of the Yard strikes again!’ I thought I’d go mad. Every time I managed to drop off, he’d start shouting. ‘Stand back, lads, he’s got a blancmange!’ Some of the things he was saying were enough to make a cat laugh. I can’t take much more of it, Poirot. I’ve been through three days of a jerry barrage.”

-The Incredible Theft 

I think this one wins the snark-fest, not only for the sheer volume of dialog, but the delicious needling of Japp, the convincing delivery (while eating), and the BLANCMANGE. Bravo everyone, and cookies.

I think this one wins the snark-fest, not only for the sheer volume of dialog, but the delicious needling of Japp, the convincing desperation of the delivery (while eating, no less), and the BLANCMANGE. Bravo everyone, and cookies.