Sunday, July 22, 2012

Agatha Christie and the Brixham Horticultural Show

When I was eleven years old I had the good fortune to have two maiden aunts who lived in Brixham. In 1954 Brixham was a cute, unspoiled fishing village on the other side of the bay from Torquay. It was heaven and I and my cousins spent the summer holidays there.

In those days Brixham was small and everyone knew everyone. The fisherman were real fishermen and Brixham was a working fishing port with a real fish market every morning. Most of the houses were falling down including my aunts and housed fisherman and the gardens if they had one were tiny. 

So it was with great interest that I watched a TV documentary on Agatha Christie's beautiful house and garden on the road to Dartmouth. There is no doubt that Mrs Mallowan as she was known by the locals, was the town's illusive celebrity but no one ever saw her.

Every year Brixham held a small horticultural show in the local village hall.  There was great competition for the prizes but when Mrs Mallowan arrived on the scene in the late forties everything changed. Nobody in Brixham won anything ever again simply because  the Mallowans were rich enough to afford gardeners and greenhouses and in fact ran a commercial enterprise.

That this was blatantly unfair and not being in the spirit of the thing never entered the heads of the Mallowans. Year after year the Mallowans won every section they entered and they entered everything from large carrots to flower arranging. It was so unfair but the Mallowans did not seem to realise.  Their advantages and skilled gardeners  could be likened to a Wimbledon tennis champion entering the local Brixham tennis tournament and playing at Grand Slam standard. No surprise who would win and seeing no difficulty in doing this year after year. Naturally there were grumbles all around. Agatha Christie was not popular with the locals.

Eventually in about 1960 the Mallowans must have got the message that all was not well with their selfishness. This still did not deter them from entering and winning all the prizes but they donated a cup for all those who did not employ a gardener for more than 2 hours a week. This cup became the true competition.

It was nostalgic to see this presented in the documentary on Agatha's magnificent garden, which has been gifted to The National Trust. It was just as I remembered it.

What did surprise me was the way this minor horitcutural event was portrayed in the documentary. It was made to sound The horticultural event of the year, second only to Chelsea. The winning of all the prizes was an incredible feat comparing in stature to a Chelsea gold medal. The fact there was no competition at all seemed to illude the presenters. The presentation of a special Agatha Christie Cup after nine years of total domination was made to sound generous.

The Mallowans should never have entered this competition. They should have entered Chelsea. If they had won that they would have had cause to crow about it but beating a few fisherman and crowing about it is frankly not British.

They did not even come to collect their trophies  They lived the unreal lives of the characters in her novels in real life and apparently saw nothing wrong in depriving the fisherman of their small pleasures for their greater glory. 

Murder at the Flower Show could easily have been real with the whole of Brixham as suspects.

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