Agatha Christie Wiki

A Fairy in the Flat/A Pot of Tea is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published under the title "Publicity" in The Sketch in September 1924. It was the first of a series of stories for the Sketch under the banner "Tommy and Tuppence" which formed a loosely contiguous story arc. This story was subsequently compiled and split into two, forming the first two chapters of the collection Partners in Crime which came out in both the U.K. and the U.S. in 1929.

Following this story, the adventures of Tommy and Tuppence continue in The Affair of the Pink Pearl.


Married for six years already, Tuppence is getting bored. Fortunately, Tommy's secret service boss offers both of them a chance to "inherit" a detective agency which the secret service had "acquired". Besides functioning as an outpost for the secret service, they are welcome to take on any cases that may come their way. But there are almost no clients, so Tuppence decides they need "publicity".

Plot summary[]

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Prudence ("Tuppence") Beresford, who has been married to Tommy for six years, is bored with life, although not with her husband. She flippantly discusses what exciting things she would wish to happen to her, mainly adventures involving German spies or spying trips to Bolshevik Russia. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Carter who asks them to take over The International Detective Agency whose manager, Theodore Blunt, is now in prison. Blunt and his agency is apparently being used as a "letter box" by international agents who do not know the real Blunt has been apprehended and might continue to send mail to the place. In his guise as "Mr. Blunt" Tommy is to look out for letters written on blue paper, with a Russian stamp on them from a supposed ham merchant anxious to trace his refugee wife. They will have a "16" written under the stamp and they are also to be alert for any other references to said number. In the meantime, the agency is free to undertake any other cases which may come their way.

A few days later, the two have installed themselves in the office. Tommy's alias is Mr. Blunt while Tuppence is his confidential secretary, Miss Robinson. The porter from their flat, Albert (Mrs Vandemeyer's lift boy from The Secret Adversary) is their office boy. After a week of divorce cases, which Tuppence finds distasteful, they receive a visit from Lawrence St. Vincent. He is the nephew of and heir to the Earl of Cheriton. He has fallen for a young girl called Janet who works in a hat shop in Brook Street but she has disappeared from the shop and has not been seen at her lodgings. St. Vincent heard several mentions of the detective agency from Janet and now wants them to find her. In conversation with Tuppence, St. Vincent admits that he intends to ask Janet to marry him as soon as she is found.

The Beresfords take on the case which Tuppence solves with ease--because it is all a publicity stunt she has arranged. Janet is a friend of hers from her wartime nursing days who was working at the hat shop where Tuppence makes her purchases. She is being romanced by St. Vincent. Tuppence asked Janet to make the mentions of "Blunt" detective agency and then disappear. St. Vincent would ask them to take on the case (for which they get publicity) and they would "find" Janet, provoking St. Vincent into a proposal of marriage. Tuppence had earlier manoeuvred the conversation with St. Vincent around to him saying he intends to ask her to marry him.


Parody of a fictional detective[]

This is only the preamble. The Beresfords have not embarked on a case yet. Tommy will float the idea of emulating various detecting styles in the next story. However the setup of Tommy & Tuppence at The International Detective Agency. Reminiscent of Malcolm Sage, detective (1921) by Herbert George Jenkins.

References or Allusions[]

References to actual history, geography and current science[]

Tommy and Tuppence look at a blemish on a photograph, the shape of which resembles a fairy and Tuppence suggests writing to Arthur Conan Doyle about it. This is a reference to the Cottingley Fairies. This was a media cause célèbre of the early 1920s and surrounded five photographs taken by two girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, in Cottingley, West Yorkshire which supposedly showed fairies at the bottom of their garden. Conan Doyle believed the photographs were real and wrote a famous article about the incident which appeared in the November 1920 issue of the Strand Magazine.


Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime[]

The story was not adapted as an episode in the LWT series Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime. However, part of the plot, notably how the Beresfords help Lawrence St. Vincent find Janet was folded into the development of The Affair of the Pink Pearl which was the first episode in the series.

Publication history[]