The labours of Hercule

David Suchet, sans moustache, talks sleuthing with James Rampton

To some people, Belgians are a bit of a joke. The French use them as the butt in their equivalent of Irish jokes, and the British have been known to view them in a similarly amused light. We ask questions along the lines of "How many famous Belgians can you name?" It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, that one of the most popular characters in British television dramas of recent years hails from that much-maligned nation. Hercule Poirot is indisputably Belgian.

There is, of course, rather more to his appeal than the bald fact of his nationality. In the appropriately showbizzy surroundings of the Brasserie at the Cafe Royal in London's West End - all busts of George Bernard Shaw and signed photos of black-and-white luvvies - a clean-shaven David Suchet ponders the enduring popularity of his moustachioed alter ego.

"On the page, you know, he's a bit of a prig," he says. "I've often wondered, reading the stories, what it is about this strange, almost obsessive little Belgian, who believes he's the world's greatest detective and has the ego the size of a big city, that made him so attractive to a readership that wouldn't give him up - and turned Agatha Christie into the top-selling author of her day. What is it that made people say, `I really like this man' rather than `I can't bear him'? It took me a long time to realise that it was his very eccentricity of character that appealed to the British so much. On top of that, they liked his desire to do good and rid the world of crime, his attitude of being a Harley Street specialist in his own field, his humour, his malapropisms, his dapperness, his running-down of the English upper classes and his standing up for his own nation." Phew.

Suchet, really getting into his stride now, continues: "Agatha always wrote of him as having a twinkle in his eye. So he was aware of himself and almost parodying himself as well." It is this twinkle that really distinguishes Suchet's performance. Dressed in an immaculate grey three- piece suit with matching hat and gloves and carrying a cane topped with a silver swan, his Poirot can sprinkle even the most apparently po-faced words with his own brand of actorly fairy-dust. So, in Suchet's mouth, a line such as Poirot's peremptory dismissal of the game of golf - "to hit a little ball into a little hole in the middle of a large open field, I think it is not to the taste of Poirot" - raises a smile rather than a scowl. His awkward English syntax only serves to enhance his charm.

Some critics have attacked the cosy safety of period drama, but Suchet leaps to its defence. "It's great escapism into a world that's disappeared," he asserts. "People enjoy seeing a recreation of something that has gone out of fashion. If you watch a wonderful programme like Cracker, you see that the style has moved on, but then it would, wouldn't it? These were written 60 years ago. Poirot is not modern television, it has never tried to be modern television. It is faithful to a period that is out of date."

Another accusation levelled at Agatha Christie is that her plotting is too predictable. "There is a formula to her stories," Suchet concedes. "In filming the stories, I knew where they were all going to go in the end. They follow a pattern, but I think people feel comfortable with that. Some people have bets going about whodunit, and then tune in for the summing-up. I've never seen any of the money, though."

Suchet is also well-practised in fending off the argument that we are overdosing on telly 'tecs. "That's a fair criticism. At one stage there was Poirot, Morse, Frost, Murder She Wrote - it seemed there was one for every night of the week. But people love whodunits. People love to guess. Some people say to me, `Viewers just sit and watch television mindlessly', but they're underestimating the audience. I've been in the business 27 years, and to judge from my mail-bag, there are some great viewers out there who want stimulation and who want to be intellectually excited. High ratings doesn't necessarily equal merit."

In six years, LWT have produced 50 hours' worth of Poirot and sold them to 55 countries. But Suchet is not yet ready to hang up his moustache. With a Poirot-esque twinkle, he tells me that there are still 24 stories they haven't yet filmed.

`Agatha Christie's Poirot', Sun 8pm ITV.

Two further Poirot stories will be broadcast in the New Year

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker