FOR David Suchet, 2013 was a busy year. On television, the
distinguished actor reached the end of a journey as he made his
final appearance as Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule
Poirot - a journey that had lasted for 24 years, and 70 episodes,
and had a global following of 600 million.
Off-camera, he was doing something less conspicuous, but no less
demanding: committing 80 hours of voice recordings to tape for a
new spoken-word version of the Bible.
In the NIV Audio Bible, just released by Hodder &
Stoughton, the actor applies his famously sonorous voice to the
Bible in its entirety - all 750,000-plus words of it. Hodder
describes it as "the very first full-length audio version of the
NIV Bible spoken by a single British actor."
For Suchet, who spent 200 hours in a recording studio for the
project, it is the fulfilment of a long-held ambition. He first
read St John's Gospel for a multi-actor Hodder audio Bible in 1989
(coincidentally, the year when filming began on Poirot),
but always wanted to do more.
"As a performer, I wanted to use my voice," he says in the
Bible's accompanying notes. "I wanted to record all the varied
writings in the Bible in the hope that others might hear them."
Brought up in a mainly non-observant Jewish household, he
converted to Christianity in 1986 after reading St Paul's Letter to
the Romans in a hotel Bible. "I read it as a letter that had just
been sent to me through the post," he said recently. "By the time I
got to the end, I found a world-view that I had been looking for
all my life."
And yet his journey to faith has echoes of C. S. Lewis's famous
quip about being "the most reluctant convert in all England".
Suchet once described his own conversion as being "dragged, kicking
and screaming", into the Kingdom.
MORE recently, the 67-year-old has turned documentary-maker for
the BBC1 series In the Footsteps of St Paul, while his
hand was evident in the subtle but persistent references to
Poirot's Roman Catholicism in the ITV series. In 2012, he was
appointed a vice-president of the British Bible Society.
There is a further correlation between Poirot and the audio
Bible, in that both are cover-to-cover renderings of extensive
works. Suchet was always vocal about his desire to film every
single Christie novel and short story in the series before hanging
up his moustache.
This makes me wonder if he has a predilection for canons - a
collector's urge towards completion (he is also a keen collector,
incidentally, of fountain pens). Oddly, this notion has never
occurred to him. "I hadn't thought of that before, but maybe I
have," he says, sending a volley of laughter down the phone line
when we discuss the audio project. "Maybe I do have a bit of a
collector's mind. Maybe."
So why the New International Version, in particular? It was both
a practical and a personal choice, he says. "Biblica [the Bible
translation and publishing organisation, which holds the NIV
copyright] sponsored the whole thing; so it's what they wanted. But
it's also a wonderful translation. It's accessible. It's
"Being a Shakespearean, I originally would have liked to do the
King James. But today I think we have to go where the language is
accessible, without losing any of the gloriousness of the KJV. And
the NIV is the biggest-selling Bible in the world; so it has the
biggest outreach. But it also reads very well out loud. It's a very
In fact, reading aloud was one of the chief reasons why Suchet
was so keen to take on the project. The Bible often speaks of
"hearing the word of the Lord", he says, and he wanted to know
"what it would feel like to listen to it as a whole - continuously,
from beginning to end, in as many consecutive days as I was
Reading the entire work also reflects his sense of the text as a
single, coherent narrative. "It's a whole story that begins in
Genesis, and ends in Revelation."
SUCHET tackled the text, book by book, reading commentaries to
explore the historical context before preparing his voice
recordings. "I suppose it was like a huge Bible study. I would
study at home for hours and hours - I would say three to four hours
on every book, before actually speaking it, so that I knew that I
had, underneath me, a great confidence about it."
One of the surprises in speaking the text aloud, he says, was
the variation in pitch and tone which emerged naturally as he
prepared each reading. "I was very surprised at how emotionally one
could read the Psalms. Each one has a high emotional pitch of its
own, whether it be anger, or praise, poetry, imagery. They are full
of emotion, and I read them like that."
One of the passages he most enjoyed reading was "Jesus's talk in
John after the Last Supper, where he talks about himself being 'the
vine, and you the branches'. That was very lovely to read, because
I did it in a very soft, conversational style, very intimate, which
is how I believe it would have been done. I loved that."
Other sections, inevitably, were more challenging. "You really
need a jug of ice-cold water next to you while you're reading
Chronicles - to pour over your head rather than to drink, because
it's the most difficult thing. Name after name after name. . ." The
key to understanding such books, he eventually discovered, was to
put himself in the shoes of the chronicled individuals. "I realised
that every single name was a life, a human being . . . and that
made it easier."
WHAT did he make of the more theologically difficult passages -
the smiting of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel, say? He thinks for a
moment. "The bits of the Old Testament where you read about being
God being seemingly so cruel, the very bloodthirsty passages, were
"But that's all part of the great pattern of God's working with
human beings. And the way he works? I can't justify that. I
wouldn't even try to. It's not for us to do. 'His ways are not our
ways.' You just have to read them because that's what
And yet Suchet does not believe that the Bible is without error.
"I see the Bible, I hope, with a rational mind. I do not believe
it's totally inerrant. I do not believe that. I believe it was
written by human beings inspired by God. What it gives me is a lens
through which I can view the world."
This marks something of a change from the early days of his
conversion, he admits. "I've become more orthodox as I've become .
. . less Evangelical. I'm not an Evangelical Christian. I've become
far more orthodox and rooted in the historical Church. The more I
read, the more fascinated I am by early church history, by the
roots of Christianity.
"And I think it's very important that I'm not just swinging with
fashion. . . So my prayers now are rooted in the historical Church,
and that's where I'm most comfortable, because I'm touching the
faith, the belief, the words, of those who began it."
Suchet remains an Anglican. He currently worships at the Chapel
Royal in the Tower of London, a short walk from his home. Given his
stated orthodoxy, I wondered where he stood on the current
arguments over gay marriage and women bishops. But on these issues
- in public, at least - he will not be drawn.
"Especially in the press, I will not get into debate about
that," he says. Why? "Because I don't place myself in that
What he will say is that he finds the Church's current disunity
distressing. "What saddens me is that what's happening in the
Church is causing division. That's what saddens me more than
anything else - that whatever rules are made in the Anglican faith
have actually not helped unity with the other main branches of
Christianity, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
"One used to say the Anglican was the other side of the coin to
the Roman Catholic, but that's now becoming more and more separated
by choices that have been made."
He pauses. "The more I read, the more I realise that those in
leadership in the Church of England are going through a very, very
difficult time. I think the Anglican faith is at a major
crossroads. But it will find its way."
For the present, though, Suchet has other things on his mind.
His two forthcoming projects both revolve around church history.
The first is a world tour of The Last Confession, a play
about the 33-day papacy of Pope John Paul I, in which he plays
Cardinal Giovanni Benelli. The second is a new BBC documentary
about the Early Church, In the Footsteps of St Peter.
"I've just come back from Israel, Turkey, and Rome," he says. He
hopes that the series - to be screened later this year - will be a
corrective to popular images of the Apostle.
"Everyone talks about Peter as a bit of a bumbling man, a bit of
a failure. You know, he walks on water, then sinks. He takes Jesus
aside, and says he can't be crucified, and Jesus says, 'Get thee
behind me, Satan.' But he's actually a glorious personality. A very
mystical man, yet a humble fisherman.
"I met a man that I'd not met before - an extraordinary human
being, who was the leader of the disciples, and possibly the
greatest friend of Jesus."
He also hopes to reap the personal benefits of his recent
immersion in scripture for the NIV project. "I like to read the
Bible every day. I try to touch base with it on a daily basis,
though I don't always manage to do that - I fail more often than
"But what's lovely now is that, having read it all, the Bible
feels like an old friend. I find myself thinking, 'Oh, I know this
bit!', because I've actually read it out loud. And that's just a
lovely, lovely feeling."
The NIV Audio Bible read by David Suchet from Hodder &
Stoughton is available on six MP3 CDs at £39.99 (Church Times