Selina Mills on how some newly discovered tapes give us a glimpse into the life of Agatha Christie
One hot summer’s afternoon in London, when I was five or six, I was sent to the garden of our house in Chelsea, rather than attending a birthday party, to contemplate a naughty deed. I can’t remember my crime, but I can remember swaying too violently on a vivid orange hammock, and falling on my head with a thump. Before long, a smart old lady with ropes of pearls rushed over from next door and calmed my howling. We had a nice little chat about the merits of hammocks on hot sunny days and being naughty until my mother arrived and the lady left. I did not discover until much later, however, that my rescuer was Agatha Christie; the following winter (1976) she died.
I tell this story, not just for the name drop, but to give a clue about Agatha Christie. A couple of months ago her grandson Mathew Prichard was going through her old effects at her home Greenway, in south Devon, and to his astonishment found a box full of old tapes and an old Grundig Memorette reel-to-reel tape recorder. Hidden for over 35 years, and dating back to the 1960s when she was making working notes for her biography, published in 1978, the tapes reveal an intriguing glimpse into the intimate life of one of the world’s most private and reclusive writers. They reveal a whole other side that her fans and critics never saw: a cosmopolitan, clever and forthright person, who cared deeply about so many things, even little girls who fell out of hammocks.
First off, the bad news for the many Christie aficionados (worldwide her novels have sold over two billion and are in 45 languages): the tapes do not reveal what happened during the 11 days that Agatha Christie went missing in 1926.