Britain's detective fiction is just as well known worldwide as its best classical literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are surely as much household names the world over as Shakespeare's Hamlet or Mark Antony. Just as Agatha Christie's detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, are every bit as familiar internationally as Dickens's miserly Scrooge.
The result of this is that many visitors to Britain feel as impelled to visit the enterprisingly presented Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street, London, as they do to drop in on the more authentic Shakespeare memorabilia at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Cast Of Hundreds In the same spirit, many feel drawn to another institution, the world's longest-running play, "The Mousetrap'' - Agatha Christie's thriller at the St Martin's Theatre in London - that had its opening in the West End on November 25, 1952.
Since its premiere the play has now been seen by more than nine million people, presented in 44 countries and translated into 24 languages. It has been estimated that as many as 280 actors have appeared in the West End production with a further 128 engaged as understudies.
However, if these theatre-goers think that they will be seeing Miss Marple or Poirot on stage they will be disappointed for although these much-loved characters have surfaced in countless films and television adaptations, The Mousetrap has achieved its longevity without their help. Even so, like most of her work, this eight-character play is set in the upper middle-class world in which Dame Agatha (as she later became) lived and worked.
Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and had no formal education until she went to Paris at the age of 16 to study singing and the piano, only to discover that she was much too shy to perform in public.
Later, Peter Saunders, the West End impresario, presented adaptations of several of her plays in London's theatreland and when one day she gave him a new script wrapped up in brown paper, he could not have guessed that this was to become her most famous stage piece.
Evidently, he had considerable confidence in it for he engaged some top names, Richard Attenborough and his wife, Sheila Sim, to lead the company and even had specially designed publicity material long before today's show logo had become familiar.
When The Mousetrap opened 45 years ago, Winston Churchill was Britain's Prime Minister, Harry Truman was President of the United States of America and Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. Trams were still running in London and the wartime rationing of sweets and sugar had still not been relaxed.