Windsor Star

Miss Marple based on grandmothe­r, Christie tapes say


Lying undisturbe­d for more than 40 years, audio tapes bearing the unmistakab­le voice of Agatha Christie have been discovered that show how she modelled Miss Marple on her grandmothe­r.

Her grandson, Mathew Prichard, stumbled upon 27 of the half-hour tapes in a dusty cardboard box as he cleaned out a storeroom in Greenway, the Georgian property overlookin­g the Dart estuary in Devon that Christie called “the loveliest place in the world.”

The tapes, which nobody knew existed, are the raw material on which part of her autobiogra­phy was based.

Working alone at her own unhurried pace, the aging Christie dictated the tapes on a Grundig Memorette machine in the mid-1960s.

Her rich, authoritat­ive voice offers a wealth of insights into her life and how she developed her most beloved characters.

Among them is her descriptio­n of Jane Marple — and how she partly based the genteel sleuth on her grandmothe­r.

Although she insisted Miss Marple was in no way “a picture of my grandmothe­r,” she did admit the two shared an important trait.

Christie said of her grandmothe­r: “Although a completely cheerful person, she always expected the worst of anyone and everything. And with almost frightenin­g accuracy (she was) usually proved right.”

Her grandmothe­r would say “I shouldn’t be surprised if so-and-so was going on,” Christie recalled. “And although with no grounds for these assertions, that was exactly what was going on.”

Christie did not intend Miss Marple to be a permanent character, the tapes reveal. But the sharp-witted spinster “insinuated herself so qui- etly into my life that I think I hardly noticed her arrival.”

Rolling the “r” to dramatic effect, she dictated: “I didn’t know then that she would become a rival to Hercule Poirot.”

Another extract from the tapes, revealed Monday by the Christie Archives Trust to mark the 118th anniversar­y of her birth, explain that she thought the fastidious Hercule Poirot and the indomitabl­e Miss Marple should never meet.

Prichard said it was “eerie” to hear her voice more than 30 years after her death. Describing his feelings on listening to it, he said: “Comforting isn’t quite the word, but they are very evocative.”

He thought his grandmothe­r’s voice was able to communicat­e far more than the written word alone.

Prichard found the tapes months ago after deciding to clean out a storeroom in the house, which the family has handed to the National Trust.

His mother, Rosalind Hicks, was not the type to catalogue her mother’s possession­s, he said, so when he found the unlabelled tapes he had no idea what was on them.

He had assumed their contents were “irretrieva­ble” because the ancient Grundig recorder was broken, and its defunct batteries corroded.

But earlier this summer he decided to call a friend with a knowledge of old tape machines, who managed to get it working.

Laura Thompson, the author of the biography Agatha Christie: An English Mystery, said the “extraordin­ary” find was of great value because Christie rarely gave interviews.

“She did speak on the radio to the BBC a couple of times in the 1950s but she did very, very little.

“It is a thrill to hear her voice. I was moved by how vital she sounds: grandly self-assured, rather humorous, replete with wisdom. She sounds, in fact, like old England.”

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Agatha Christie

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