We all have them. Most of us celebrate them with a small group of family and friends. The passage of time is inexorable and whilst the majority of birthdays come and go in the blink of an eye, all are worthy of pause and reflection.  There are some however, that become a global event.  Today I’d like to look at two of these.  Take a bow Agatha Christie and Ingrid Bergman.

In September the crime fiction world will celebrate the 125th anniversary of Dame Agatha’s birth.  Throughout the year there are numerous events, launches, re-launches and reboots in commemoration of her life and work.  The BBC is planning a big celebration in 2015.  It isn’t a hard sell to be honest. Christie’s characters are so iconic and such a fundamental, inextricable part of the crime fiction landscape that we continue to watch and read them in our millions.  High hopes all round then for the brand new three-part version of her masterpiece And Then There Were None (1939) which has been written by Sarah Phelps who recently adapted J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy (2012) also for the BBC.  Similarly, Christie fans will be beside themselves at the prospect of Partners in Crime a six-part homage to Tommy and Tuppence starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine.  Dame Agatha’s family are heavily involved in the celebration as you might expect.  Last year they approved best-selling author Sophie Hannah to continue Christie’s legacy in the form of The Monogram Murders (2014) which was the highlight of the International Agatha Christie Festival, that took place in Torquay in September, fully a year ahead of the main celebrations.  The story sees the first formal outing for Hercule Poirot since he was put to bed in Curtain (1975).  In a deeply personal touch Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard recently made public a vast collection of fan letters that had been collected by the author.  I say collected, but I think hoarded is a better description for there are hundreds of them, sent from all over the world. They are an incredible reminder of the joy her work brought to millions, and Prichard has encouraged modern fans to come forward and share their own perspectives on her work during this celebration year. You can read some of these perspectives at www.125stories.com.

One of the letters Prichard released is from a Polish lady who reveals how she managed to secure a battered, incomplete copy of The Man in the Brown Suit in return for a candle during her time in a German wartime labour camp. She wrote this,

I read and reread so often that I almost knew it by heart. The first few pages were missing so I didn’t know the title or the author but for seven months it was my only link with a normal world. I know your writings have given pleasure and amusement to millions of people all over the world but never can one of your books have meant more to anyone than that tattered Polish translation did to me.

Up and down the country, and no doubt around the world, there will be touring productions of her most famous plays, screenings of television and film productions of her works and re-releases of her books.  I have my own fingers crossed for a re-run of the 1974 film production of Murder on the Orient Express based on her 1934 novel of the same name.  It is the very essence of star quality with Sidney Lumet directing and a cast that includes Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sir John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman.  I am particularly keen to see this film back on the big screen because if it happens then it may just also be part of an extended celebration of Bergman’s work.  This year the film world celebrates the 100th anniversary of her birth. Even a cursory look at her filmography will tell you that it drips with iconic contributions to many different genres.

Bergman won three Academy Awards, the last for Murder on the Orient Express.  She turned down the much larger role of Princess Dragomiroff, for which Lumet was certain she would be an Academy Award for Best Actress contender, and rode off instead with a supporting award for her portrayal of Greta Ohlsson.  During her career she also won a clutch of Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony awards. She graced Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), and several Hitchcock classics. The first, Spellbound (1945) is a noir masterclass in which she plays opposite Gregory Peck and she followed this up with Notorious (1946), a spy classic, opposite Cary Grant. The year before she filmed Murder on the Orient Express she was the president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.  Little wonder then that as the curtain rose this week on the festival’s 68th outing the organisers unfurled an enormous poster featuring her unmistakable image as part of the 100th anniversary celebrations. In an additional touch her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, is one of this year’s jury heads. I hope in the middle of the hoopla there is an outing for my favourite Ingrid Bergman quote in which she refers to her affair and subsequent marriage to Isabella’s father, Roberto.

I’ve gone from saint to whore and back to saint again, all in one lifetime.

I intend to indulge in both of these celebrations.  Star quality like Agatha Christie and Ingrid Bergman is all too rare and has many false pretenders.  The appeal of their work is endless and with luck a whole new generation will enjoy it as it gets a well deserved extended run in the global spotlight.

Beware of cheap imitations.  The real thing deserves to be celebrated. Happy birthday to you both.

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