INSIGHTS: The French Four ~ plays from 1950-1954
Most collectors of Agatha Christie's written word seek her first edition novels. However, Agatha Christie was also a writer of stage plays, radio dramas and television scripts. This article will focus on the "French Four" - a set of four play scripts published by Samuel French from 1950 - 1954.
This set of four is unique in that they are stylistically similar with tan covers and relatively simplistic art work. Unfortunately French didn't continue with the more illustrative artwork used for "Murder on the Nile" published in 1948 (click here for the full story on this play). That said, at least they used some art on the covers for after the last of these was published, aside from reprints, Samuel French changed the style to the basic blue covers. These "boring blues" represented a departure by French from the use of cover art that would essentially be the standard from then on. Sadly, the decision by publishers to remove art and instead solely promote author and title on the cover was also adopted by Collins with Christie's hardbacks published in the 1960s and 70s also. Consequently, the "French Four" represents a unique grouping of plays for the collector to seek out - the last of their kind.
Plays to Collect: Generally, Christie's plays fall into three categories: a) Original works, b) adapted or revised works by Christie, or c) those adapted by others. Some collectors may find it easier to start collecting by category to make it less daunting. If you are interested in reading about Christie's 10 original works click here. Another way to collect is by visual style, and the "French Four" is a great way to execute that approach. Within these four you will find at least one play from the three primary categories referenced above. They are as follows:
1. Murder at the Vicarage - published 1950 (adapted by Moie Charles & Barbara Toy).
2. Black Coffee - published 1952 (original work).
3. The Hollow - published 1952 (adapted by Christie from her novel).
4. The Mousetrap - published 1954 (adapted by Christie from her radio play "Three Blind Mice").
Of these four books, three were first editions of the plays. The one exception was Black Coffee. While it was the first time Samuel French published this play, the true first edition was published in 1934 by Alfred Ashley and is the rarest play script to acquire. However, French's version is unique in that it is the only time an artist's rendering of Poirot appeared on a play script. It should be noted that published dates represent the year that Samuel French made an 'acting edition' available for the general public to acquire. Original working scripts for these plays were available, in most cases, for several years prior to these dates while the plays had their professional runs.
Values: All of the "French Four" can easily be acquired, though condition varies substantially. A near fine copy would be worth £70-100 ($85 - $125), while poorer copies can likely be found for £25 -40 ($33 - $50). Many play scripts were used and often have underlining or marks throughout the script. The cleaner the better if you have a choice. All of these should be priced "5s net" to ensure it is period correct. Some later reprints do exist, and with The Mousetrap reprint the cover art is reduced in size. The Mousetrap and Black Coffee had the price on the front cover, while the other two placed the price on the spine. The US sold the same exact play script, but would usually mark out the UK price and stamp $1.25 on the cover.