AUDIENCES enjoying the mysteries of Agatha Christie’s Love From A Stranger at the Lowry next week will have a little puzzle of their own to sort out.

For among the cast is an artist with a Christmas number one to his name.

Gareth Williams, who plays Hodgson the gardener in this new touring production which opens in Salford on Tuesday, was a member of the vocal group The Flying Pickets who topped the charts in Christmas 1983 with a cover of Yazoo’s Only You.

Gareth and fellow members of a fringe theatre company formed the Flying Pickets after appearing in a play together and he remained in the group for seven years.

“I look at that time as a wonderful interlude in my acting career,” said Gareth. “It happened sort of accidentally and we had a wonderful time. There we were, six guys in our 30s earning a decent living for the first time in the entertainment industry.”

The Flying Pickets were regulars on Top of the Pops appearing alongside the like of Duran Duran and the Human League.

Only You was even named by Margaret Thatcher as her favourite record.

“I put that down to her ignorance,” said Gareth. “Somebody asked her if she liked Only You when it was Christmas number one and she said ‘oh yes it’s my favourite record’. Well she would wouldn’t she as she was trying to be popular and be down with the kids.”

After his time with the group, Gareth returned to the stage appearing in both musicals and plays in the West End and on national tours.

“I do wonder how that might have affected my acting career,” he said. “When I went back to acting after seven years I really had to start again as people had virtually forgotten about me.”

Born in Stretford, Gareth is heading back to his roots in this new production of a lesser-known Agatha Christie story.

“Without giving too much away, I think can say it doesn’t start with the discovery of a body and then spending the rest of the play finding out who did it,” he said. “It’s a bit more subtle than that.

“The stranger in the title arrives in the first half and it’s not so much a question of has he done it but who is he and what’s he going to do? That’s the mystery in it. And, of course, there’s a twist at the end.”

Before getting the role of Hodgson, Gareth admits he wasn’t a massive Christie fan.

“I’d watched Poirot and Miss Marple on telly but I’d never sat down and read one of her books until I started this,” he said. “But I’ve read a few now. They are of their time but the writing is very good and she’s very funny, it’s nice stuff to read so I’m hooked now.”

Now 68, Gareth described Hodgson as ‘a nice little job’.

“In the second half the play is set in cottage in Sussex and I come with the property,” he said. “I do contribute to the plot by uncovering some evidence along the way and I bring on a bunch of flowers every now and then.

“When you get to my age that’s lovely. It’s nice to have old men’s part just toddling on and off.”

So would he be persuaded to rejoin the Flying Pickets? The group has had over 30 members over the years and continues to tour.

“I think I’ll stick to my gardeners now,” he laughed.

Love From a Stranger, the Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, July 10 to Saturday, July 14. Details from 0843 208 6000 or