There's a wonderful website called Art of the Title which features articles on and interviews with people who have designed title sequences for film and television. A couple of months ago, it was Agatha Christie's Poirot's turn and title designer Pat Gavin. Do read the interview, it's such an interesting look at an aspect of the series that rarely gets mentioned. Here are some extracts from the article:
It was my job to set the tone for the show. The idea for the titles was a portrait of a man and his time. The late Mike Oxley — or “OXO” as we called him — was the production designer and we put our heads together and found we were both thinking about Art Deco as a stylistic theme. I had some old architectural magazines with all those wonderful buildings of the ’20s and ’30s, with architectural plans, and that was my original inspiration. I wanted to make it all look exactly like architectural photography from that time. They had a wonderful atmosphere. But I wasn’t able to quite achieve that look, partly due to budget and partly to not having a clue! I had to find another way, so it became Art Deco–Cubism. I liked the idea of the fractured, multifaceted Cubist style because it reminded me of a puzzle and this is of course what Poirot does — he solves puzzles. Making Poirot himself a bit of a puzzle seemed to describe the man and what he does. Brian Eastman, the producer, and David Suchet, the actor who played Poirot — brilliantly, I might add — both agreed and gave me the green light. David was very helpful during the filming. He was a joy to direct.(MORE AFTER THE JUMP!)
For the music, I spent time with the composer, Chris Gunning, who was taking his ideas from Rachmaninov and composers working in the ’20s and ’30s and I showed him my thoughts. For the Cassandre-style trains, boats, and planes with Poirot’s name formed by the wheels, I gave him the storyboard plus some visuals and he worked closely to them. He was great to work with, very responsive. He gave me a track that fit like a glove but also had its own independent voice. I never like to force composers to bend to the visuals because their art is more temporal than the visuals. Like, how long does a painting last? But music has natural cadences and rhythms that can drive a visual and give it a story, bringing it to a satisfying conclusion. In effect, it is the script.As I said, this is such a fascinating interview, so do have a look at it if you are interested in this sort of thing. In addition to the titles he discusses here, I am fairly certain he also did the short version of it that appears at the beginning of some of the feature-length episodes pre-2003 (see below):
P.S. There's a lovely reference to the title in the adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which Poirot - at the beginning of the episode - enters a dark bank vault. As the lights appear, one by one, an eagle-eyed viewer would notice that the lamps in the ceiling are very similar to the ones in the original title sequence. In the final scene of the same episode, as Poirot leaves the dark room, his pose is almost the same as in the end of the title sequence (see below). What a wonderful way for Poirot to return to the screen after a five-year hiatus!
When the series returned in 2003 (without the involvement of Pat Gavin), there seems to have been some confusion as to what the title sequence would be (i.e. how the title of the episode should be shown). For Death on the Nile the team chose a strange red thing (possibly to give it that 'feature-length-film' feel?). For Five Little Pigs, The Hollow and Sad Cypress, they went for a slightly updated version of the white art deco font from the first eight series (adjusted to the colour of the opening scenes, see examples below). Since Series Ten, however, the team have stuck to the updated white font, apart from the adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, in which they went for an entirely different font altogether (which in a way makes sense if they, like with Death on the Nile, the other really famous story, wanted to create a big-screen feel (as far as way from 'television series' as possible).
P.S. I personally think the opening sequence for Five Little Pigs is the best of the post-2003 titles. Beautifully shot, with fantastic colours and Gunning's brilliant score.