b. 23 November 1911, London, England, d. 6 February 2003, England. Educated at Oundle and in Lausanne, Switzerland, Saunders then worked in the film industry as a cinematographer and director. He also was a journalist and for a while was press agent for dance bandleader Harry Roy. After military service in World War II, he became a theatrical producer and staged Fly Away Peter (1947). He continued to work in the theatre and on 25 November 1952 his production of The Mousetrap, based on Agatha Christie’s novel, opened at London’s Ambassadors Theatre. The play was a result of a BBC radio play, by Christie, Three Blind Mice, commissioned in celebration of the 80th birthday of Queen Mary. The author revised it for Saunders as a stage play, which he promptly retitled because another play was already named Three Blind Mice. He cast Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim, ran it briefly and to poor response in Nottingham, then brought it into the West End and stepped into the theatrical history books. The show was still running in 2006 after more than 20, 000 performances.
Encouraged by The Mousetrap’s runaway success, Saunders produced more plays by Christie, including Witness For The Prosecution (1953), The Spider’s Web (1954), The Unexpected Guest (1958), A Murder Is Announced (1977) and Cards On The Table (1981). Among other productions of his, sometimes in collaboration and including farces and straight dramas, are The Reluctant Peer (1965), The Manor Of Northstead (1968), The Bride And The Bachelor (1971), Lloyd George Knew My Father (1972), another long-running show No Sex Please, We’re British (1974), and Move Over, Mrs Markham (1976).
Saunders, who was knighted in 1982, was active with the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, as president of the Society of West End Theatres, and on the board of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund. In 1972 he published his autobiography, The Mousetrap Man. His first wife died in 1976 and three years later he married Catherine Bayliss, better known as television personality Katie Boyle. Saunders retired in 1994 at the age of 82.