Three Blind Mice (radio play and short story)

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The billing from the Radio Times issue of 25–31 May 1947, illustrating the night's programmes on radio for Queen Mary including the performance of Three Blind Mice

Three Blind Mice is the name of a half-hour radio play written by Agatha Christie and broadcast on the BBC Light Programme at 8.00pm on Friday 30 May 1947.

It was part of an evening of programmes in honour of the eightieth birthday of Queen Mary. The BBC had approached the Queen some months before and asked what programmes she would like to hear. Amongst a selection of music and variety, she requested something by Christie who was a writer she admired. Christie agreed, asking that her fee of one hundred Guineas be donated to the Southport Infirmary Children's Toy Fund.[1]

The idea for the play came from a real-life crime tragedy in 1945 with the death of a boy in foster care. Christie's official biography states that the name of the boy was Daniel O'Neill[2] but contemporary newspaper reports state the name of the boy was Dennis O'Neill, aged twelve. Together with his younger brother, Terence (aged nine) he had been placed in the care of a farmer (Reginald Gough, aged thirty-one) and his wife (Esther, aged twenty-nine) of Bank Farm, Hope Valley, Minsterley, Shropshire, on 5 July 1944. Just over six months later, on 9 January, Mrs. Gough rang a local doctor and reported that the boy was having fits. The doctor attended but Dennis died. He was severely malnourished and was covered in three-day old bruises. An inquest was held on 5 February 1945[3] at which the jury returned a verdict of Dennis having died due to "acute cardiac failure, following violence applied to the front of the chest and back while in a state of under-nourishment due to neglect". Two days before, on Saturday, 3 February, Gough had been charged with manslaughter and his wife with having "wilfully ill-treated, neglected and exposed the boy in a manner likely to cause suffering and injury". They went on trial on 15 March and on 19 March both were found guilty of their respective charges. Gough was sentenced to six years and his wife to six months.[4] The Goughs were divorced on 22 October 1946 on the grounds of his cruelty to her[5] but their subsequent fate is not recorded. A first-hand account of Terence O'Neill's story was published by Harper Collins in March 2010 under the title Someone to Love Us (ISBN 9780007350186). A government enquiry by Sir Walter Monckton ensued as a result of the case which on 13 December 1946 resulted in a revised set of rules relating to the placement of children in foster care. These came into effect on 1 January 1947.

At some point soon after transmission of the radio play the suggestion was made to Christie that she turn it into a short story.[6] This was published in the US in Cosmopolitan magazine in May 1948 and then in the 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.

Christie saw the potential of expanding the half-hour radio play into a full theatre play and in 1952, The Mousetrap, the play that has the longest initial run of any play in the world, first came to the stage. As another play had run on the stage just prior to the Second World War also with the title Three Blind Mice, Christie had to change the name. It was her son-in-law, Anthony Hicks, who suggested The Mousetrap,[7] which is taken from Act III, Scene II of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Allan McClelland, in the role of Christopher Wren, was the only actor to make the transition from the radio production to the stage play.

No recording of the original radio plays exists and the script is not commercially available. Further, Christie asked that the short story not be published in the UK as long as The Mousetrap continued to run on the stage. The text of the latter play was published in 1954 by Samuel French as 'French's Acting Edition No 153' and also in the HarperCollins 1993 collection The Mousetrap and Other Plays (ISBN 0-00-224344-X).

1947 Radio production[edit]

Director/Producer: Martyn C. Webster

Cast:
Barry Morse played Giles Davis
Belle Chrystall played Molly Davis
Gladys Young played Mrs Boyle
Richard Williams played Major Metcalf
Raf De La Torre played Mr Paravicini
Allan McClelland played Christopher Wren
Lewis Stringer played Detective-Sergeant Trotter
Lydia Sherwood played Mrs Lyon

Other parts were played by Marjorie Westbury, David Kossoff and Duncan McIntyre

References[edit]

  1. ^ Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie, A Biography. (Page 261) Collins, 1984 ISBN 0-00-216330-6
  2. ^ Morgan. (Page 262)
  3. ^ The Times. 6 February 1945. Page 2. Underfed boy beaten with stick.
  4. ^ The Times. 20 March 1945. Page 2.Gough found guilty.
  5. ^ The Guardian. 23 October 1946. Page 8. Gough Case Echo.
  6. ^ Christie, Agatha. An Autobiography. (Page 510). Collins, 1977. ISBN 0-00-216012-9
  7. ^ Morgan. (Page 291)