1953: the good, the bad and the plain ugly
Guest blogger Stephen Fenerty – who is playing William Henry Blore in SUP’s new production of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – reflects on the year this version is set
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is Christie’s bestselling novel, clocking up sales of more than 100 million copies worldwide.
Our production of this “masterpiece of suspense” takes place in 1953: the choice of our director, Paul Green.
The book itself was first published in 1939, when the Second World War was already under way. Christie wrote her play version in 1943, with hostilities still raging.
The story goes that at her agent’s urging, she changed the ending to a somewhat ‘softer’ and happier outcome, so as not to affect morale during wartime.
I’m pleased to report that SUP has reinstated her original 1939 ending from the book, using Christie’s original dialogue.
Anyway, in the original story, the action takes place some time in the late 1930s. Shifting it to 1953 means we retain that all-important vintage feel while also giving the story an ever-so-slightly more modern, post-war look.
In the UK, the biggest event in 1953 was undoubtedly the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which was televised.
This was the first time many people had seen a television, and sales of the new-fangled device skyrocketed. It actually poured with rain on Coronation day – which, in our version, takes place just eight weeks before the murderous events on Soldier Island.
The other momentous event of 1953 – famously announced in The Times newspaper on the same day as the Coronation – was the conquest of Mount Everest by a British expedition led by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
Wartime rationing was only just coming to an end in 1953, a full eight years after the close of the war. In particular, petrol rationing ends at the beginning of February (as well as sweet rationing). This leads to a huge influx of cars onto Britain’s pre-motorway road network.
The end of rationing also means clothes and fashions are changing. Younger women favour a more ‘relaxed’ waistline, and so-called ‘pancake’ make-up becomes the norm.
While swearing in public places is still an offence, youth culture linked to rock and roll music is starting to emerge with a vengeance, first in London before fanning out across the country.
1953 sees the Daily Express coin the name ‘Teddy Boy’ – Teddy being a shortening of Edwardian. Members of the Ted subculture were originally known as ‘Cosh Boys’.
So what of the plain ugly? The year starts darkly with the hanging of Derek Bentley for his part in the murder of PC Sidney Miles, in the notorious “Let him have it” case.
In America, meanwhile, President Truman announces that the US has developed the hydrogen bomb, with nuclear testing in Nevada in the spring and summer.
At the same time as the Cold War is hotting up, UFO sightings are on the increase.
At the end of January 1953, the North Sea flood kills more than 2,000 people in the Netherlands and on the east coast of Britain. Queen Mary dies in her sleep in March, with Joseph Stalin dying the same month.
The 10 Rillington Place murders are uncovered in March, with another Christie – John Reginald Halliday Christie – hanged for those grisly crimes just three weeks before the houseguests gather on Soldier Island.
That same week, the BBC airs the first episode of a groundbreaking sci-fi suspense serial Quatermass, while US spies Julian and Ethel Rosenberg are executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York.
With the Korean War officially ending, the Soviet prime minister announces – the same day as our characters arrive on Soldier Island – that the Soviet Union also has the hydrogen bomb. The country detonates its first thermonuclear weapon “Joe 4” a few days later.
This is the febrile atmosphere that forms the backdrop to SUP’s new production of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.
It’s hardly any wonder that fear, suspicion and paranoia are the order of the day.
By the way, in 1953, Agatha herself – now aged 63 – is still working hard. That year sees her publish both a Hercule Poirot novel, After the Funeral, and a Miss Marple novel, A Pocket Full of Rye – another nursery rhyme reference, in this case ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’, and again featuring cyanide.
To give you an idea of Christie’s longevity and enduring popularity, the year before saw the premiere of her play The Mousetrap in November 1952 – and 66 years later it’s still running in London’s West End.
However, you have an opportunity in just a few weeks to see her masterwork of suspense live and kicking, onstage in Southampton…
SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10
Concessions and group bookings also available