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Dame Agatha Christie

Born: 15th September 1890 at Torquay, Devon
World's Best-Selling Author
Died: 12th January 1976 at Winterbrook, Berkshire

Dame Agatha Christie, Lady Mallowan, was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, in Torquay in Devon, the daughter of an American stockbroker, Frederick Alvah Miller, and his English wife, Clarissa Margaret Boehmer. She grew up in South Devon and at Ealing in Middlesex. In 1912, she met her first husband, Archibald Christie, an army officer who became seconded to the Royal Flying Corps stationed in Farnborough. They were married two years later, and had one daughter, Rosalind, together. During the First World War, Agatha became a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, treating wounded soldiers in Torquay, and, later, she trained as a pharmacist. 

Although, before the War, Agatha had written short stories and an unpublished novel, based around her interest in spiritualism and the paranormal, in 1920 she began writing in earnest. She turned to the detective genre made popular by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Her first work, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featured Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee who she was soon to make a World famous detective. It sold well. Agatha’s new career had begun. During the early years, the Christies lived at 'Scotswood' in Sunningdale and then 'Styles' in the same village, named after her first success. It was from the latter that Agatha mysteriously disappeared for eleven days in 1926, after having discovered her husband was having an affair. She was eventually discovered at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, apparently suffering from memory loss - as depicted by Vanessa Redgrave in the wonderful 1979 movie, 'Agatha'. Agatha’s favourite character, Miss Marple, the genteel elderly English lady who falls accidentally into detection, first appeared in 1927. The Christies were divorced in 1928. Agatha moved to London and Archi sold ‘Styles’ soon afterward. Agatha must have had some fond memories of the place, however, and, the following year, featured Sunningdale Golf Course in one of her short stories, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford’s 'The Sunningdale Mystery' (originally published as part of ‘Partners in Crime’).

In 1930, Agatha met and married Sir Max Mallowan, a well-known archaeologist. In 1934, they made Winterbrook House their home, in Northern Cholsey parish just south of Wallingford. Four years later, they also purchased Greenway House at Galmpton in Devon, where they resided in the Summer. However, the couple also travelled widely together because of Sir Max’s work. This led to several of Agatha’s novels being set in exotic locations in the Middle East and North Africa. ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was written in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul.

The murders, for which Agatha’s novels became so well known, were committed using the most ingenious methods. This was often through poison because of the lady’s wide knowledge of pharmaceuticals. During the Second World War, she gained still more ideas when working in the pharmacy at University College Hospital in London. Her international popularity grew after the War and, in 1952, her play, ‘The Mousetrap,’ debuted at the Ambassador’s Theatre in London. It has been performed continually there and, since 1974 at St. Martin’s Theatre next door, ever since. There have been more than 25,000 performances. 

In 1956, Agatha was appointed a CBE and then, in 1971, she became a Dame Commander of the British Empire. She is the best-selling author of all time, outstripping even Shakespeare. Only the Bible has sold more than her collected four billion copies. Her works have also been translated into more languages than any other individual writer. Agatha continued writing well into her eighties, eventually passing away at Winterbrook House, aged eighty-five. She and Sir Max are buried together in Winterbrook's parish churchyard at Cholsey.


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