This post is part of my 2016 Poirot Project. You can read the full story of why I’m doing this in my Introduction post. The previous post was a review of ‘Murder in the Mews’.
Beware: Here be Spoilers
I think this review will be shorter and a little less effusive than the two that have come before, as the third episode in the first series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot is one of the less memorable (apart from two bits, that is). And I can't remember if I’d ever read the original short story before today.
‘The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly’ was first broadcast on 22nd January 1989, and was based on the short story (aka ‘The Kidnapping of Johnny Waverly’) published in The Sketch in 1923. The original story is narrated by Hastings; Poirot has been engaged by Mr and Mrs Waverly, whose young son has been kidnapped. The couple received a series of letters threatening to abduct Johnnie if a ransom of £50,000 was not paid by a specific deadline. They didn’t pay the money, and their young son was taken – despite all their attempts to prevent this. Poirot questions the couple, and then travels to Waverly Court, where an examination of the property and interviews with the staff allow him to unravel the kidnapping plot.
I’m not sure this is the most exciting of the Poirot stories – the detective dismisses kidnapping as ‘easy’, and even Hastings admits that he is ‘frankly bored’ during one of the interviews. Nevertheless, there are some nice clues and a neat ‘hidden in plain sight’ perpetrator. As it is one of the early stories, there is still something of the Watson about Hastings’ narration – he is faithfully recording the deeds of his illustrious associate – but his confession that he is ‘bored’ prepares us for some of the excellent Hastings snark that is to be found in the later novels (e.g. Peril at End House).
The adaptation was dramatized by Clive Exton and directed by Renny Rye. The plot and characters are retained from the source material, but there are some changes that don’t quite work as well as in other Exton adaptations. Firstly, the alteration of the third co-conspirator and the resulting requirement that Tredwell’s niece (played by Carol Frazer) could pass for a young version of Tredwell (Patrick Jordan) doesn’t work as well as the revelation in the original story. Also, inexplicably, the adaptation has Mr Waverly (Geoffrey Bateman) meet with Poirot alone – it would make a lot more sense if (as in the original story) Mrs Waverly was responsible for engaging the detective. Why on earth would Mr Waverly want a famous detective poking his nose in? Finally, as in other episodes, some of the clues have been stripped down and removed entirely. The dust-free priest hole of the short story is replaced with a secret tunnel, and the clue of the dog paw prints is absent. I think this is a bit of a shame, as these were nice little clues (they even make Poirot chuckle).
As with the rest of the series, the regular ‘family’ of characters are inserted into the adaptation, despite not being present in the short story. And I’m absolutely fine with this!
Miss Lemon is added to the story, though she is only present in the early scenes before Poirot goes to Waverly Court. These brief scenes do have two points of note, though. We see the first of several silent exchanges between Moran's Miss Lemon and Fraser's Hastings – it’s just a little bit of eye contact between the two after Poirot has left the room, but it speaks volumes. And we get our first taste of Miss Lemon’s incredible filing system (which, I believe, is mentioned in Christie’s work, but appears more frequently in the early adaptations). I adore Miss Lemon’s filing system – it’s long been my ambition to have an office (or a mind) that is so efficiently organized.
Inspector Japp is also added ito the episode; here, he replaces Inspector McNeil as the Scotland Yard detective who doesn’t have time to take the threatening letters seriously at first, and then fails to prevent the kidnapping when he finally goes to Waverly Court. This isn’t a big change, to be honest, and I don’t have a problem with Japp being used instead of the various detectives who appear in Christie’s fiction. And, let’s be honest, the central group of characters at the heart of the early series are why we fell in love with it in the first place. Much better to have Japp here than the arbitrary ‘McNeil’ that we’ll probably never see again.
But it’s the added Poirot-and-Hastings scenes that are really memorable in this episode. The two travel to Waverly Court in Hastings’ Lagonda, giving us our first taste of the ‘car porn’ that will recur throughout the early series. After spending the night at Waverly Court, Poirot is dismayed to find that the frugal Mrs Waverly serves a less than substantial breakfast (she appears to not even put fish in the kedgeree). Hastings takes him to a pub for a full English (something that Christie’s Poirot disdains in ‘The Market Basing Mystery’, and that the ITV character will later wrinkle his nose at) – and this includes a couple of pints of ale. Fed and watered, the two travel back in Hastings’ car, giving a rousing rendition of ‘One Man Went to Mow’. It’s not in the source material, and it’s not quite in character, but I do love that bit.
And bonus points for another gorgeous steam train (this time pulling into a station), as Poirot declines Hastings’ offer of driving him back to London.
And so ends the third review in my Poirot Project. On to ‘Four and Twenty Blackbirds’…