Desert Island Discs is a long-running radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Each week a guest, called a ‘castaway‘ during the programme, is asked to choose eight recordings (usually, but not always, music), a book and a luxury item that they would take if they were to be cast away on a desert island. They have already been given a copy of The Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare. At the end, the castaway has to nominate which recording they would save if the rest were to be washed away.
We have devised an equivalent for devotees of Agatha Christie based on books, rather than pieces of music.
Instead of being sent to a desert island, our castaway would be stranded, alone, for a month on Burgh Island, a small island off the coast of Devon which the author used as the setting for her novels And Then There Were None (1939) and Evil Under the Sun (1941).
The castaway would have no form of contact with the outside world – no radio, no TV, no working phonelines, and no internet connection. The castaway would however have the run of the only house on the island, a huge mansion.
The weather will be foul throughout, so our castaway will have little inclination to explore the cliffs and coves of the island during their stay. Instead, they will be battening down the hatches and exploring the magnificent house and its contents.
There are no staff, nor other guests (thankfully, given its history!) hidden in the House. The facilities, with one exception, are in excellent working order: there is hot and cold running water in each of the thirty bedrooms; the kitchen and wine cellar are well-stocked, and there is an ice-house full of partridges.
The main living area is a spacious open-plan living-cum-dining-cum-study area, with a luxurious open fire and logs burning in it. To the side of the fireplace is a huge pile of wood and kindling that will obviate the need for any hazardous trips down to the woodstore in the cellar.
Along the whole of one wall is shelving containing DVD recordings of every single TV adaptation of an Agatha Christie story, ever, including hundreds that Mark Aldridge can only dream of seeing. There will be no cinematic productions amongst this collection, however, but the castaway will be allowed to bring one, just the one, to the island with them.
Above the shelving is a DVD player and 200” high-definition screen. Upon the castaway’s arrival, it will be showing Sarah Phelps’ BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None, just to make them feel at home …
As well as Agatha Christie: The Complete TV collection we have thoughtfully provided a copy of the great lady’s Autobiography, which will allow the castaway to form their own conclusions as to what the author herself might have thought about the adaptations that they will be watching.
In addition, as the guest explores the house further, they will encounter a huge variety of props and luxury items from the original stories – an ABC Railway guide, Roger Ackroyd’s dictaphone, a mask from Seven Dials, Amyas Crale’s painting of Elsa Greer and so on. At the end of their stay the castaway will be invited to choose one such item, one that they will be allowed to take home and keep.
In spite of a full day’s gorging on ACTV and partridges, it is understood that our castaway might find it difficult to get to sleep as the gales rage outside the bedroom window. Therefore, they will be permitted to bring their own comfort reading with them to see them through the month: 8 individual books written by Agatha Christie. She did not write compilations, such as The Complete Miss Marple, so these will not be permitted.
The month will fly by, and all too soon the castaway will be packing to leave. Before they can do so, a fault in the wiring has led to a fire which is threatening to engulf the castaway’s bedtime reading; they only have the time to save one book before rushing for a bucket of water …
Time to go
On their final day, our castaway will take one last, long look around the house, bidding a fond farewell to all the luxury items and props that they must leave behind, whilst holding on to the one that they can keep.
As the castaway leaves the house, the storm dies down and the ferry from the mainland comes into view. As they board it, our castaway will hear in their mind the plinky piano at the end of Chris Gunning’s Poirot theme; this is not surprising, as they will have heard it about 150 times during the month as they ploughed through the DVDs.
We feel that this package offers the perfect break for a true fan of Agatha Christie, and now ask that they now consider:
Which eight Books would you take with you to the island?
Which one would you save from the fire?
Which one Film would you bring with you?
What luxury item would you hope to find in the house to take home with you?
Eight Books to take
A Murder is Announced
At Bertram’s Hotel
Five Little Pigs
The ABC Murders
The Secret of Chimneys
The Thirteen Problems
I would be looking for an element of ‘comfort reading’ if I was to spend a month all alone in a spooky house with storms raging outside; And Then There Were None would not appeal to me on that score, but At Bertram’s Hotel, The Secret of Chimneys, A Murder is Announced and The Thirteen Problems would. Five Little Pigs and Sad Cypress come from the period when I consider the author was at her peak; Endless Night is an astonishing late flowering, while The ABC Murders is the most Agatha Christie-ish book she wrote.
One Book to save
The ABC Murders
ABC Murders has it all – great plot, great cast (with Poirot and Hastings at the top of their form) and nothing wasted.
One Film to take
The Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder, 1957)
This is a really tough call. I love the Sydney Lumet Murder on the Orient Express (1974) but Charles Laughton’s wonderful performance just wins it.
Luxury Item to take home
Picture of Polflexan Harbour
I would hope to find the picture from After The Funeral to take home with me, given that the picture underneath it is ‘definitely a Vermeer’. Selling that would allow me to be able to afford another month’s stay, this time with my family and friends, at the hotel that now stands on Burgh Island.