Robert Powell is stepping into the large (metaphorically-speaking) shoes of Hercule Poirot.

But it’s not as if he will be influenced by other actors as he takes on the iconic role.

Because Robert had never read an Agatha Christie novel nor seen David Suchet play the Belgian detective when he got the part in a play.

The actor, who is coming to three Midland venues in a new production of Black Coffee, reveals he is a late convert to the work of the murder mystery maestro.

Robert, who shot to fame in 1977 in the title role of Jesus of Nazareth, says: “Agatha Christie has never particularly appealed to me, so I had never read any of her books.

“When I was offered this role I asked my daughter, who’s a fan, which book I should start with and she suggested The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced Poirot.

“I read it and was surprised at just how good a writer she is. I thought it would be rather dull and pedestrian, but Christie was actually very skillful.

“I have probably caught parts of Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov and Murder on the Orient Express with Albert Finney because I know them. But I’d never seen David Suchet play Poirot in all the 24 years he did it.

“When I knew I was playing Poirot I caught his last ever episode, just because I was curious – you certainly don’t watch things to get tips.

“When you’re a young actor watching other people, the thing to do is to learn what not to do. You work out what doesn’t work and avoid it.”

Even Christie fans may not have heard of Black Coffee, her first-ever play and the only one which features Poirot.

Robert explains: “The trust looking after the Christie estate guard her work fiercely.

“They decided it would not be a good idea to let Black Coffee out while the Poirot TV series was on, as it would muddy the waters.

“But when ITV announced they were filming Poirot’s last case, theatre producer Bill Kenwright, who owns the rights, was allowed to put on a new production of Black Coffee.”

The plot concerns a quintessential English country estate which is thrown into chaos following the murder of eccentric inventor Sir Claud Amory and the theft of his new formula.

The cast include Liza Goddard, Gary Mavers and Ben Nealon. Black Coffee plays Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre next week, followed by dates at Malvern and Coventry.

For Robert, getting into ‘ze little grey cells’ of Poirot seems to have come relatively easily.

“I’ve had no complaints about my accent,” he insists. “For an actor that is the least problem we are faced with.

“If anyone can define to me what’s not Belgian about it, I would love to know.”

Robert looks slightly more stout than normal with the full costume on of waistcoat, suit and coat, but he hasn’t needed any extra padding.

He does, however, have a fake moustache.

“It’s very difficult to get your own moustache to look quite that artificial,” Robert points out.

Having already established that Robert isn’t a particular fan of whodunnits, he does admit to a fondness for Columbo.

Robert Powell will be starring alongside Liza Goddard
Robert Powell will be starring alongside Liza Goddard

“Even though you knew who the murderer was, that was always entertaining, though it became completely predictable by the end.”

He has played a detective once before, in 31 episodes of the 1990s TV series The Detectives, in which he starred alongside Jasper Carrott.

“Dave Briggs was a very bad detective, though I hope he was a funny one.

“I don’t count Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps as he was just an amateur reacting to events.

“I’m still in touch with Jasper, we are still great friends and talk often. He is like a brother to me.”

Another Midland connection for Robert is that his wife, former Pan’s People dancer Babs Lord, was born in Wolverhampton.

He plays it down, though, saying: “She has no family in the area.

“Her father was in the army and they found themselves in Wolverhampton, but it was only a brief stay.”

Robert met Babs when he visited the set of Top of the Pops with his friend Dennis Waterman. He fancied her but was too shy to ask her out for dinner on her own, so he invited the whole of Pan’s People.

Afterwards they exchanged numbers. Now they’ve been married for 38 years and have two grown-up children.

When they met, he was a young unknown actor and Babs was far more famous than him.

He has just embarked on a tour which will take him away from home for five months, most of which time he will spend with another woman.

Fortunately, Babs is also friends with his co-star Liza Goddard.

“Long tours are not really my cup of tea, so I’m not doing all the Black Coffee tour, which runs until September.

“It helps if you have someone with you who is of like mind, and I’ve done two previous tours with Liza. We are very old friends.

“When we get to a new town, we get the books out and see what castles, cathedrals and art galleries we can visit.

“It’s best not to spend too much time alone in your hotel room.”

Robert, who turns 70 in June, is back playing golf after he was forced to give it up when playing Nurse Mark Williams in BBC1’s Holby City.

“It was a 52-week-a-year job, so I didn’t get to play golf for six years,” he complains.

“But last year I got back into the game, which I love.

“Mind you, I won’t be carrying my clubs in my boot just yet, as it’s not really the weather for golf at the moment.”

* Black Coffee plays Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre from February 3-8. For tickets ring 01902 429212 or go to . The play also comes to Malvern’s Festival Theatre on April 7 and the Belgrade Theatre Coventry on May 6.