Today's guest blog is by author and journalist Geoffrey Wansell who in conjunction with David Suchet wrote the recently published Poirot and Me.
David Suchet and I first met in the most unlikely of places, Bryher, the smallest of the Isles of Scilly, in the spring of 1988. I was the executive producer of a movie for Twentieth Century Fox called When the Whales came, based on a wonderful Michael Morpurgo story about a set of narwhals that beached on the island. The stars were Paul Scofield and Helen Mirren. David was playing the third lead, a fisherman called Will. It was nine months before he first appeared on television as Poirot, but – even then – the little Belgian was peering over his shoulder.
David and I became friends at once, and have remained so ever since. He had just been offered the role and was carrying a pile of paperbacks of Dame Agatha’s stories about the detective around with him as he was determined to discover every single thing there was to know about the man he was about to portray. He had even started to make a list of Poirot’s characteristics on sheets of lined paper, a list that eventually reached 93 separate idiosyncrasies. He carried it around with him for the next 25 years – showing it to every director, producer, cameraman, make-up lady, costume designer and prop man that he worked with.
It was while we were sitting in the little hotel suite I had on the island that David first told me he had been offered the role of Poirot and asked me what I thought.
I said that he shouldn’t hesitate and take the part, but I also said: ‘It will change your life. You will go through a door and never be able to get back through it again’.
‘Don’t be so silly’ David said firmly. ‘I’ll still be exactly the same person I am now: an actor. That’s all I ever want to be’.
Looking back now, I think we were both right.
David has remained the character actor he always was, and has never allowed Poirot to consume him completely. He has played so many other great roles on television and in the theatre, from Augustus Melmotte in the BBC’s adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, to Robert Maxwell in another BBC drama. He has played in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in the West End, Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, both in London and on Broadway, and, most recently, starred in Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey into Night.
But Poirot has made him a worldwide star, and changed his life forever. There is hardly a person in the world who does not recognise him so successful has the series become. It is now shown in almost 200 countries, translated into 80 languages and it has been estimated that at least 700 million have seen his performance. Believe it or not, Poirot is playing on television somewhere in the world every second of every single day.
When we first talked about it neither David nor I knew it would become the television phenomenon that it has – but over the years we both came to realise that it was something that deserved to be captured in a book - which is why we wrote Poirot and Me together.
When ITV announced that were going to film the last five Poirot stories of the seventy that Dame Agatha Christie created, we knew it was time to describe the journey that David had taken with little Belgian. After all, he has now played a single figure in a television series longer, we believe, than any other actor in television history – longer than Peter Falk played Colombo, longer than Raymond Burr played Perry Mason and Ironside put together, longer than Telly Savalas played Kojak and John Thaw played Inspector Morse.
More information about Geoffrey and his work can be found on his website.