A grumpy Victor Meldrew would say, “I don’t believe it”.
But it’s true. One of Hollywood’s busiest character actors took time out from Hollywood to play the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot on radio in the 1940’s.
Harold Huber was one of that band of terrific character actors so well known in classic Hollywood. He was usually a gangster, either in comedy or drama. He was in San Francisco, The Thin Man,G Men,Beau Geste. He could play any nationality,a handy skill for a character actor.
Harold Huber knew how popular Agatha Christie’s novels were in America. And in particular the little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Huber got the licensing rights for a radio version of Poirot stories and was listed as producer as well as playing the famous detective himself.
The radio series,over two networks in 1945 and 1946, did NOT use Agatha Christie stories, which one thinks might have been a concern for the writer herself but Agatha herself actually introduced the very first half hour episode in February 1945.
The broadcast was live and the plan was for Mrs.Christie to speak directly to the American audience from London. In fact one hears the announcer saying, “Go ahead,London”.
But the link didn’t work and a pre-recorded message was heard in which she said, “…I hope that this new career on the radio will make many new friends for Hercule Poirot among a wider public.”
So what did the writers do with the Poirot legend.Well,the detective is now based in New York! There is no Colonel Hastings or Miss Lemon or Inspector Japp.
Poirot has a new friend called Inspector Stevens and by the end of the first episode he has a new secretary, Miss Thresher.
The first episode was called ‘Case of the Careless Victim’ ( sounds like a Perry Mason story). I thought it was well written and Harold Huber had s suitable accent,occasionally throwing in some French phrases like ‘Au Revoir’, ‘Sacre bleu’,’mon ami’.
The story concerns a murder in the hotel Poirot is staying in ( while he looks for an apartment).
At one point,Poirot is referred to as ‘that little squirt with the silly moustache!’
I admire Harold Huber’s business acumen in obtaining the licensing rights and I plan to listen to more of the episodes which can be found online at Archive.org.