The Lady Vanishes .

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER PATERSON

Agatha Christie: A Life In Pictures (BBC2); Panorama Special: Miracle Baby Grows Up (BBC1)

THE mysterious depths of the human psyche are not susceptible to the pat conclusions we rightly expect of a country house murder story, which made last night's biopic of Agatha Christie so fascinating.

It is extraordinary that the central biographical fact most people know of Agatha Christie is that in 1926, already a successful author of detective stories, she went missing for nearly two weeks.

The creator of popular fictional mysteries was at the centre of her own mystery, an irony that transfixed the British public.

There was a national hue and cry following the discovery of her abandoned car at a beauty spot in Surrey. It was feared that she may have committed suicide, or - even more thrilling - had been murdered by her war hero husband, Colonel Archie Christie.

Eventually, with police and volunteers still combing the Surrey heathlands for what they feared would be her remains, she was discovered in a hotel in Harrogate, 200 miles away.

Once she had been found, it was given out that she was suffering from amnesia.

Last night's adroitly constructed drama- documentary by Richard Curson-Smith approached its subject from two different, yet interlinking, directions.

First, we saw the timid, elderly Agatha, played by Anna Massey, attending the tenth anniversary party for her famous play The Mousetrap, and agreeing for the first time in 35 years to talk to members of the Press.

Inevitably, questions concerning her famous disappearance cropped up, allowing the action to switch to a younger Agatha - played by Olivia Williams - revealing her thoughts and feelings to the psychiatrist who treated her for her alleged amnesia.

He was convinced that her story was authentic - 'Despite the ingenuity of her mind, I can find no evidence of fakery,' he reported. It seems that Christie was under enormous psychological pressure at the time, for her husband had fallen in love with another woman, Nancy Neele.

But what are we to make of the fact, if she had indeed lost her memory, that in the register of the Harrogate hotel Christie signed herself in with the suspiciously sound-alike name, 'Mrs Neill'?

Among the many intriguing puzzles thrown up by this curious incident in Christie's life was the letter she wrote to her brother-in-law at the time of her disappearance.

This was of obvious interest to the police, but the recipient claimed that although he had retained the envelope, he had lost the letter - a likely tale that would have been dismissed with a contemptuous snort by Christie's fictional detective, Hercule Poirot. …