Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Music of Agatha Christie's Poirot

Agatha Christie's Poirot has remained synonymous with a very distinctive theme tune, composed by Christopher Gunning, and the opening titles designed by Pat Gavin. Moreover, music is a vital element of the series in most people's eyes. I will briefly try to outline the three composers who have worked on the series over the years: Christopher Gunning (1989-2004), Stephen McKeon (2005-2008) and Christian Henson (2009-2013). Their names are linked to their respective web sites.

[EDIT FEBRUARY 2013: This post has been significantly expanded and altered due to the news of Christopher Gunning's release of a new Poirot soundtrack album - see separate post]

Christopher Gunning's music is available on a CD released in 1992. This recording has been almost impossible to get hold of over the years (and it still is!). But it does appear from time to time on places like YouTube and Grooveshark. See below for the track list:

  1. Hercule Poirot - The Belgian Detective (2:30)
  2. One-two, Buckle-my-shoe (2:00)
  3. The Double Clue (5:05)
  4. The A-B-C- Murders (4:35)
  5. Grey Cells (4:21)
  6. War (2:30)
  7. A Country Retreat (4:52)
  8. Death of Mrs. Inglethorpe (2:29)
  9. The Height of Fashion (2:08)
  10. How Does Your Garden Grow (9:05)
  11. Death in the Clouds (3:55)
  12. To the Lakes (2:19)
  13. The Victory Ball (4:55)
  14. The Plymouth Express (9:29)

Two of these are available on YouTube at the moment: The Plymouth Express and The Belgian Detective. As of 2013, a new album has been released, featuring all the above tracks (apart from 'The Plymouth Express' and 'Death in the Clouds'), in addition to three previously unreleased tracks. See separate post.

The series changed tone quite drastically with Stephen McKeon. Some of his tracks are available on his web site. Below are some comments from a blog I'll most probably come back to in a later post.

"In only his second Poirot film, composer Stephen McKeon notably melds Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 2 with notable Philip Glass-like highlights to create a most enchanting score that adds immeasurably to the proceedings." 
Douglas Payne, sound insights blog, on the score for Cards on the Table (2006)

"Stephen McKeon’s score, a surprisingly successful mix of Philip Glass and John Williams, is remarkably effective in achieving these ends, though the curious use of the melodica, a keyboard instrument, now suggests the music of the Harry Potter films a bit more than is appropriate."
Douglas Payne, sound insights blog, on the score for Mrs. McGinty's Dead (2007)
Personally, having listened to his scores both on his website and in the films, I prefer the ones that are somewhat more sentimental in flavour, like the end music to The Mystery of the Blue Train, to the somewhat dark and moody ones that seem to scream MURDER in capital letters. However, in light of the stories he scored, I think the music works well within the context of the films.


A rehearsed reading of Black Coffee in Chichester

Hello there! Let me first apologise for the silence - I have had less time to update this blog than I first expected. But I will try to make up for that now by describing an absolutely unforgettable Sunday afternoon in Chichester!

For those of you who do not know what I'm talking about; a very special 'rehearsed reading' of Agatha Christie's only Poirot play, Black Coffee, was performed in Chichester on July 15th 2012.

For those of you who still struggle to see the attraction of that;  the cast included David Suchet. As Hercule Poirot. In full costume. The first (and possibly only) time he will portray the character on stage. And as if that wasn't enough - the performance meant that by July 2013, Suchet will have starred in every single Poirot story ever written (well, almost, there's still a short story, 'The Lemesurier Inheritance', I'll come back to that some other time).

I read about this production in January - Suchet posted a comment about it on his Twitter account. It did not take me long to decide that I had to get tickets for this event - so I did. Just in time, as it turns out, because a few days later all the tickets had been sold!

Now, I acted entirely on impulse with this thing. You see, I don't live in the UK. Far from it. So getting to Chichester (a place I had never visited before) involved both an international flight and a train journey - not to mention some serious planning! So for a long time, I didn't think I would be able to go. But I did, in the end. And I'm so glad I did.

When my friend and I arrived in Chichester, I really didn't know what to expect. 'Rehearsed reading' was a very vague description of the event, and I somehow imagined that I would just spend two hours watching David Suchet sit still on a chair reading the lines of all the characters. Luckily, I was wrong.

Suchet was joined by members of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, as well as David Yelland (known to most of us as Poirot's butler, George) as Captain Arthur Hastings. As I got hold of the programme , the cast, in itself, made me jump with joy. But it was not until about half an hour later that I realised how special this really was. Because there he was - David Suchet aka Hercule Poirot aka David Suchet (they are almost one and the same by now) in full costume. And in character.

The official Agatha Christie website summed it up very nicely - 'Poirot in 360'. As the reviewer explained, it was absolutely incredible to watch Suchet/Poirot from every angle - not just the angles dictated by cameras on TV. What struck me about it all was how incredibly 'in character' Suchet was while he was on stage. I should probably explain that the 'rehearsed reading' meant that the play was staged as a BBC radio play from the 1930s, with a set of microphones determining where characters were standing and who was involved in each scene. This meant that the entire cast was on stage all the time. So we got plenty of time to examine Suchet's performance. And he really was Poirot from the minute he walked onto the stage to the minute he walked off. For instance, he sat neatly on his chair (in a very Poirot-like manner), walked with his famous Poirot walk, kept his legs together when standing or sitting still etc. It is almost impossible to describe it accurately.

Suchet rounded it all off neatly with a Q&A session. Amazingly, almost everyone in the audience (1000 people!) remained. It was a real treat, and he gave some clues on the final series as well.

About Me

I'm a passionate fan of Poirot, Agatha Christie and the ITV series. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests, please e-mail me at, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)