Being Poirot a reminder that Agatha Christie is the eternal money-spinner
It seems like a long farewell to Agatha Christie's great detective, but Being Poirot, Sunday, Prime, reinforced the peculiar deathlessness of those cosy, dated mysteries.
While Poirot's last case, based on Christie's novella Curtain, has already screened here, this wrap-up documentary parceled the series' 34-year run up in a way that will have made all but the sourest viewer nostalgic to watch a re-run or two.
They really are great fun, gorgeous to look at and so numerous – 70 of them over 13 series – that most of us can rely on being unable to remember whodunit from the last time we saw each twisty story.
Perhaps the most suspenseful aspect of the show was how David Suchet, who has played the prissy Belgian detective from the start, has kept him looking identically aged all these years. Not till the last show, in which Poirot grows frail and dies, has he allowed the character to become elderly. The "egg-shaped head" containing the "leedle grey cells" has been maintained in indeterminate middle-age throughout. Makeup, lots of product in the hair and moustache, and being blessed with perfectly ovoid head seem to have been the key.
It's touching to see how deeply seriously and respectfully Suchet has treated the role, recognising it as not just a career opportunity, but a British cultural treasure. He has perfected the officious waddle, the inscrutable smugness and the mincing speech patterns with method-actor dedication. Being Poirot was as much a tribute to Suchet as to the phenomenon that is Agatha Christie.
It's worth noting, too, that while it's impossible to update these stories beyond about the 1950s – police procedural practice and forensics being what they are – the mandatory retro prescription hasn't lead the stories to be pickled in aspic. Compare early versions of Murder on the Orient Express to the last Suchet/Poirot adaptation, and see how sinister and shocking such a well-trodden story can be rendered with modern dramatic techniques.
Coincidentally, the Marple series has also ended, the BBC last year buying all the Christie rights, ending ITV/LWT'S long-running series, and recovering the franchise the Beeb popularised from 1984 with the late Joan Hickson playing the knitting sleuth. There are no plans for more Marple as yet, but comedian David Walliams has made a series of the Partners in Crime books, featuring Tommy and Tuppence; and there's a Christmas special of And Then There Were None, Christie's most ambitious whodunit.
Just like Christie's books, these shows are destined to remain money-spinners well past most other programmes' sell-by dates.
ONE TO WATCH
Penguin Post Office, Prime, 7.30pm
Port Lockroy is almost certainly the world's most unorthodox post office, being situated on an Antarctic Island whose primary population is penguins. This BBC documentary explains how – and why – it works.