Thursday, 1 May 2014

Murder.....At the Victory Ball! Reggie inspires Agatha Christie

I've already seen Reggie inspire the wrath of Bernard Shaw. As well as featuring in the correpondence of this great man of letters Reggie also featured as a version of himself in a novel by Roy Horniman (author of the novel which became 'Kind Hearts & Coronets') and in an early novel by the Restauranteur and first ever 'TV Chef' Marcel Boulestin.

However fictional versions of Reggie are still surfacing and I recently established that an early short story by Agatha Christie;  'The Affair at the Victory Ball' bears some remarkable similarities to the events of that night in Novemeber 1918. The names of some of the characters echo not only this scandal but another infamous episode in Reggie's life.

The synopsis of The Affair at the Victory Ball is as follows (source: Wikipedia)

Chief Inspector Japp asks Poirot to assist Scotland Yard in the strange events which took place at a recent costumed Victory Ball. A group of six people, headed by the young Viscount Cronshaw, attended dressed in the costume of the Commedia dell'arte. Lord Cronshaw was Harlequin, his uncle, the honourable Eustace Beltane, was Punchinello and Mrs Mallaby, an American widow, was Punchinella. In the roles of Pierrot and Pierette were Mr and Mrs Christopher Davidson (he being a stage actor) and finally, Miss "Coco" Courtenay, an actress rumoured to be engaged to Lord Cronshaw, was Columbine. The night went badly from the start when it was obvious to the party that Cronshaw and Miss Courtenay were not on speaking terms. The latter was crying and asked Chris Davidson to take her home to her flat in Chelsea. When they had gone, a friend of Cronshaw's spotted Harlequin in a box looking down on the ball and called up to him to join them on the main floor. Cronshaw left the box to join them but then disappeared. He was found ten minutes later on the floor of the supper room, stabbed through the heart with a table knife, his body strangely stiff. Coco Courtenay is found dead in her bed from an overdose of cocaine; at the inquest that followed, it was found that she was addicted to the drug. Poirot starts to investigate, finding out to everyone's puzzlement that Cronshaw was emphatically opposed to drugs, that Beltane's costume had a hump and a ruffle and that a curtained recess exists in the supper room. He arranges a get-together of the people involved at his flat where he puts on a shadowed presentation across a back-lit screen of the six costumes but then reveals that there were actually five. Underneath Pierrot's loose garb is that of the slimmer-fitting Harlequin. Davidson leaps forward and curses Poirot but is quickly arrested by Japp.
Poirot reveals that the strength with which the knife was plunged into Cronshaw meant that a man was responsible for the crime. The stiffness of the body meant he had been dead for some time and not killed in the ten-minute interval between being seen in the box and then being found dead on the floor, therefore the figure seen as Harlequin was one of the others. It could not have been Beltane as his costume was too elaborate to change quickly. Davidson killed Cronshaw earlier, hid the body in the curtained recess, then took Courtenay home where he fed her an overdose of the drug. He did not stay there as he claimed but returned immediately. His motive was self-preservation as it was he who had been supplying Courtenay with drugs and Cronshaw was on the point of finding out and exposing him.

So Davidson (an actor!) feeds an overdose of cocaine to the young actress 'Courtenay'. Davidson as her supplier was fearful of exposure by Cronshaw and decides to dispose of him.

This is an interesting twist of the story not just because Courtenay was dressed as Columbine - The mistress of Harlequin in the Comedia Del Arte. It is also interesting in using the name of Cronshaw - here promoted to a Lord of the realm as the innocent and wronged party in the tale.

William Cronshaw was the name of the Manchester business man blackmailed by Rose and John Power over his relationship with their son. Reggie was implicated in the case and had in fact introduced Cronshaw to young Powers.

This was Agatha Christies first published short story appearing in issue 1571 of 'The Sketch' in March 1923. It was a hit and many more of her stories appeared in the Sketch during that year.

These were collected together and published in the mid 1970's. The story; substantially fleshed out and putting 'Davidson' at the centre of the tale; featured in series 3 of the David Suchet TV version of the famous Belgian detective. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

15 Minutes of Infamy

I have yet to see the contents of this serialisation but I imagine that the proceeds of articles such as these would have allowed the notorious Reggie DeVeulle to maintain his Mayfair lifestyle for a little longer.