Rosalind Hicks

Daughter of Agatha Christie and custodian of her books

Born: 5 August, 1919, in Torquay.

Died: 28 October, 2004, in Hampshire, aged 85.

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AFTER her mother’s death in 1976, Rosalind Hicks promoted and upheld the books of Agatha Christie with a determined commitment. She did not permit biographies, disapproved of many theatrical and film projects (maintaining a careful eye on who was being cast as Hercule Poirot) and categorically refused to talk about the "11 missing days" in the Thirties when Christie went missing. The two films made of the incident were dismissed by the family with unalloyed contempt. Hicks championed the novels and steadfastly furthered her mother’s claims to be accepted as a writer of substance. She proved a most energetic president of the Agatha Christie Society.

Rosalind Margaret Clarissa Christie was born into a comfortable home five years after her parents had got married. Her father, Colonel Archibald Christie was in the Flying Corps but the year after her birth, Christie wrote her first book (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), which many consider to be among her most convincing thrillers. It was to prove the first of many and a most lucrative past time for the First Lady of Crime, and her daughter.

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After a schooling at Benenden, Rosalind attended finishing schools in Switzerland and France, but in 1928 her parents divorced and her mother married the archaeologist Max Mallowan. But Rosalind, although happy with her mother and stepfather, remained devoted to her father. In 1938, her mother bought Greenway, a substantial estate on the banks of the River Dart, in Hampshire, and Rosalind fitted into the country life with much enthusiasm. It was to be the scenario of many of Christie’s books as was Egypt, which she and Rosalind often visited with Mallowan.

In 1940, Rosalind married Hubert Pritchard but in 1944 he was killed in action. In 1949 she married Anthony Hicks and they spent much of their married life at Greenway, which they were eventually turned into a splendid market garden. In 2000, they handed it over to the National Trust.

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Hicks fought to uphold the integrity of her mother’s works and refused to consider them merely as mystery books with a few convenient U-turns. From childhood, her mother had read her books after supper round the dining room table and Hicks would remain an ardent supporter all her life. Certainly she inherited her mother’s strict ideas of how the books should be filmed, dramatised or read on the radio. Such overtly commercial suggestions as merchandising of Poirot or Marples were never considered.

Hicks most certainly enjoyed the Sidney Lumet film of Murder on the Orient Express with Albert Finney as the Belgian detective with his "little grey cells" and later television dramatisations starring John Suchet (as Poirot) and Joan Hickson (as Marples) gained her approval. Indeed it is thought that Hicks recommended Suchet for the television role. They, she resolutely maintained, came closest to the spirit and essence of her mother’s characterisations.

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The BBC approached Queen Mary in 1948 as to how she wanted her 80th birthday celebrated. She asked for a radio play by Agatha Christie and Three Blind Mice was duly transmitted. The play was extended and opened, as The Mousetrap, in 1952 and Christie generously signed over a percentage of the royalties to Hicks. The play is still running in London’s West End.

In 1926, her mother had gone missing and a police hunt eventually found her in Harrogate. Whether it was as a result of a domestic upset or amnesia has never been determined but when the film Agatha was being made in the late Seventies (starring Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave), Hicks unsuccessfully tried to take out an injunction to prevent it being distributed.

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In the Nineties, Hicks firstly did battle with Polygram who filmed Towards Zero and introduced an incest scene into the movie. Hicks stopped them using the title, the names of the characters or her mother’s name. Three years later, a film titled Eleven Missing Days suggested Christie disappeared all those years before to slight her erring husband. It incensed Hicks but she was powerless to prevent the film being made.

Clearly, Hicks had reservations about the casting of Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in the late Seventies. When he came on set for Evil Under the Sun, Ustinov recalled in an interview Hicks saying, "That’s not Poirot." Undaunted, Ustinov replied, "It is now, my dear." Ustinov, in all, made four very successful Poirot movies.

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Eventually, Hicks somewhat relented and commissioned Janet Morgan to write an authorised biography of her mother in 1984, but the question marks over that disappearance were left unresolved and haunted the family to the end.

Hicks became president of the Agatha Christie Society in 1993 (John Suchet and Joan Hickson are the vice presidents) and annually spoke lovingly of the books and the characters in them. She sternly refuted that the books were similar and all set in country house mansions with stereotypical characters and a plot line that was predictable. Hicks pointed out that most of Christie’s 70 books had been written "between 1920 and 1973 and were set at the time of writing. I see no reason to update them."

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Like her mother, Hicks was an energetic and athletic lady. She was a keen tennis player and swam regularly in the sea off the south coast. Throughout her life, she devoted much of her energy to the maintenance of the Christie name and endeavoured to preserve the books and plays, as her mother would have liked. Hicks was determined to remain true to her mother’s original intentions and not to allow them to become over commercialised or trivialised.

Hicks is survived by her husband and a son from her first marriage.