What the hell? by Barbara Nadel

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Those of you who read my nonsense will know that last week I promised that I would reveal more about my recent filming trip to İstanbul. Then we discovered what we all knew anyway, that the British economy was dying as a result of government cuts and I thought ‘I should really have a right go at the Chancellor for this.’ But then I thought again.

Whatever I wrote, would Chancellor George Osborne give a shit? In spite of being ‘hard working’ he doesn’t care about people like me. I went to quite the wrong type of school, I’m not rich, I use the National Health Service and I’m not called Pippa. Fair dos. I feel much the same about him as it happens. I can honestly say that if I saw him being mugged in the street I’d walk on by. That’s what happens, George old mate, when you kill off jobs, persecute the weak and enrich all your mates. So enough of you. What the hell? Back to Plan A.

Last Thursday I went off to İstanbul to take part in a documentary about Agatha Christie. The purpose of it is to provide a new slant on a life that was far more interesting, ground breaking and unusual that people often think.

Everyone knows that Agatha went missing for eleven days in 1926 after her husband Archie admitted his infidelity and I think that a lot of people believe that this incident is probably the most interesting thing about her personal life. But Agatha’s private existence amounted to much more than that. She wasn’t ‘just’ a ‘nice’ upper middle class lady who looks rather kind and homely in her publicity photos.

I won’t spoil the documentary by telling you exactly what the film makers are emphasising about Agatha Christie, but because my piece was filmed in İstanbul I can say that it is concerned with the latter part of her life, when she spent a lot of time travelling in the Middle East.  This was mainly because her second husband was the archaeologist Max Mallowan whose work took him to Iraq and to Syria. But Max wasn’t Agatha’s first introduction to the Middle East – that came earlier and happened almost entirely off her own bat.

I filmed at Sirkeci Railway Station, where the Orient Express used to arrive from the Gare de l’est in Paris as well as in the Spice Bazaar and in the streets of traders that surround it. However I am not the prime focus of this film, that is actually the person who is tracing the whole of Agatha’s life from Devon to İstanbul, the actor David Suchet. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed chewing the fat about Agatha with Monsieur Poirot. As well as being, for me, the embodiment of Poirot (rather in the same way that Stephen Fry will be forever Jeeves), David Suchet possesses a keen and abiding interest in Agatha Christie and it was great to talk to him about her.

Filming in such public places was not easy but the director and film crew wanted to capture as much atmosphere as they could. So we had to deal with belting rain, trains pulling into and out of the station, people staring into the camera, people walking into shot, the azan (call to prayer) and a man who liked the sound of his own voice SO much. But we all kept our cool, our senses of humour and I had one of the best days I’ve had for a long time. Staying at ‘Agatha’s’ hotel, the Pera Palas didn’t do any harm either. Now I just have to wait until March 2013 to see myself on film – which is a little bit nerve wracking. Sometimes the life of a writer goes off at unexpected tangents and this is one of them. I’m hoping, of course, that the documentary helps to raise awareness about Agatha as well as giving a little bit of a nudge to my own work. We’ll see. But I enjoyed the experience enormously and I hope that, given the chance, I’ll be able to do more work of this kind in the future.

Anyone interested in a documentary about the Ottoman Empire?

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