For blog items from previous years [2005-08], see links near foot of home page.
WW2 At 70 Update: With Remembrance Day just past and 2009 the 70th anniversary of the start of WWII, the TV screens have been full of war dramas and documentaries. I’ve added to our “Wessex At War - On Screen” webpage (which launched in June with a writeup on a docudrama about the D-Day campaign, Overlord) details of local-interest film war films. (We already have a page up on local-interest novels set in wartime, in our “Setting The Scene In Wessex" series: The WWII Era In Local-Interest Literature.) This film-TV productions guide is in something of a ‘Notes & Queries’ format as we still don’t have full particulars of some productions (partly due to the MOD’s traditional secrecy). I’m hoping the listing will encourage readers to supply more details. Go to “Wessex At War - On Screen”
Film-TV Productions Quarterly Update: Added to the chrono-listing of productions, old and new, which have scenes shot in the region: The Sound Barrier 1952; The Saint 1964; The Avengers 1966; Man In A Suitcase 1967; Department S 1968; Return Of The Saint 1978; No Child Of Mine 1997; The Real Jane Austen 2002; The Lost 2006; Speed Of Light 2007; Patrol Men 2009; Fathers of Girls 2009; The Echo 2009; The Harsh Light of Day 2009; Zombies of the Night 2009; A Day Of Violence 2009; Tour de Force 2010. For details, production chronology page is here.
The Next Chapter? The Echo has a feature today [16-Oct-09] titled “A New Chapter In Dorset Tourism?” which suggests Dorset may be ‘missing a trick’ by ‘ignoring the literary pound’ - not recognising the value local authors have in promoting tourism. It cites how Sweden and Botswana have benefited from Wallander and No I Ladies’ Detective Agency, Sweden getting an estimated 25 million euro p/a, and tourism to Botswana nearly doubling. The main local authors named are Hardy and Blyton, whose value is said to run into the millions, or be ‘unquantifiable.’ Other authors cited are TE Lawrence, John Fowles, Tolkien, and Minette Walters. The piece says ‘The biggest problem is trying to quantify just exactly how much money’ they are worth to tourism ‘in these recessionary times.’ Actually, the biggest problem is building up the literary scene so it includes (among other things) what the international examples cited above offer – an ongoing televised series of popular novels which have a distinctive local setting. First things first …
Bournemouth Literary Festival: The theme of this year’s Bournemouth Literary Festival [12-18 Oct] is "lifelong learning." This was originally a key phrase devolving from the government’s 1990s promise its focus would be on “education, education, education.” Lifelong Learning is the idea you keep on learning after school-leaving age, after college, after university, throughout your career. In fact, it logically continued into retirement – as with the U. Of The Third Age, the international volunteer organisation (quite active locally) whose members must be at least age 50. Below are a dozen local-interest writers who remained active beyond the half-century mark.
The earliest known writer with local links, who was still active in writing and teaching at age 50, is probably Alfred (849-901), king of Wessex. Though he died soon after reaching age 50, he deserves inclusion, this being a ripe old age back then, the equivalent of at least 80 by modern standards. Besides defeating the Danes, Alfred was known as the ‘father of English prose writing,’ writing, editing, translating documents like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and till his death generally encouraging literacy and schooling throughout Anglo-Saxon England.
Poet Laureate Alfred (Lord) Tennyson (1809-92), whose bicentenary is currently being celebrated on Wight, where he spent much of the last three decades of his life, was a favourite for school selections of inspirational poetry suitable for boys, from his Arthurian Idylls to his own final elegy for himself, "Crossing The Bar," based on a Solent boat trip while ill.
The writer closest to having a similar impact on educating youth would be (Baron) Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941). He founded the Boy Scouts, after an experimental camp in Brownsea in 1907, the basis of his bestselling manual Scouting For Boys, written when he was 51. (In 1912, he married a local girl, Olave, in Parkstone when he was 55 and she, 25. Olave later wrote the memoir Window On My Heart.) Another local Scout pioneer, this time of the Sea Scout movement, was Herbert S. Carter (1880-1956?), who was 5-times Mayor of Poole and in the 1930s the author of a handful of sea-adventure novels for boys. Cullingford's History Of Poole notes that "A great traveller, keen yachtsman and pioneer of the Sea Scout movement, his main concern was the advancement of education."
The next person to have a comparable impact on developing a love of reading was probably Enid Blyton (1898-1968), a part-time Swanage resident, who launched her Famous Five series when she was 51, in 1949, based partly on her children's own play-adventures around the Purbeck hills and Poole Harbour. (The landscape matchup is now the subject of several guidebooks, e.g 'Kirrin Island' = Brownsea.) The series was hugely influential, establishing a genre where unsupervised groups of children had adventures.
The playwright, scriptwriter and novelist R.C. Sherriff (1896-1975) later in life moved to a farm on the west Dorset coast, at Thorncombe. This may have been as key footage for his best-known film script The Dam Busters had been shot nearby, at Fleet Lagoon. A WWI veteran (the basis of his classic anti-war play Journey's End), Sherriff was by temperament a shy academic. He preferred the company of students to the show biz types he met as a dramatist, and used his scriptwriting payments to set up a scholarship at his old Oxford college. His published radio play The Long Sunset, set in the disintegrating Roman-British villa society, was a by-product of his time down here and his interest in the country's archaeological heritage.
Booker and Nobel Prize winner Sir William Golding (1911-93), was formerly a teacher in Salisbury who used his observation of schoolboys running amok on field trips to local hill forts as the inspiration for examining various primitive mindsets. As well as the protagonists of his early novels (the quickly-degenerating schoolboys in Lord Of The Flies, and the doomed, simple-minded Neanderthals of The Inheritors), he continued with this theme of the dangers of not learning or adapting in his post-50 novels. He kept writing till his death age 70, his life and work the subject of a new biography [Sep 09]. His novel The Spire is based on the building of Salisbury cathedral, exploring his pessimistic world-view in the context of mediaeval thinking, and is currently being filmed.
J R R Tolkien (1892-1973), having holidayed in Bournemouth in the 1950s (often staying at the Miramar Hotel, where he died), retired to a bungalow in Poole in 1968. It was during the late 1960s that his fantasy novels became an international cult, and he spent his last few years answering letters from young fans, liaising with film producers who wanted to adapt his work, and assembling his final works like The Silmarillion. In media appearances, he himself became a cultish figure, the epitome of the pipe-smoking eccentric Oxford don who unites a love of ancient manuscripts with popular fiction, an inspiration for fantasy writing to expand into a major genre.
Frederick E Smith, best-known for 633 Squadron (filmed 1964) and 1970s-90s sequels, moved from South Africa (where his first novel was banned as anti-apartheid) in the 50s to Bournemouth, where he later wrote a locally-set novel about a mature affair, The Wider Sea Of Love, and in the 90s became editorially involved with Bournemouth-based Writers Forum magazine, including helping judge competitions to encourage new writers.
(Baroness) P D. James (1920-), best known for her crime novels about poetry-writing Scotland Yard commander Adam Dalgleish, has based a number of novels on local settings she discovered while visiting relatives down here, such as The Black Tower (1975), her 1982 The Skull Beneath The Skin, and her 1992 s-f novel The Children Of Men. She was made a peer in 1991 to help represent writers’ interests via the House of Lords. She is still writing age 89, and has just [1-Oct-09] published a guidebook, Talking About Detective Fiction, based on her own fifty years experience, with proceeds going to Oxford’s Bodleian Library.
Dr Andrew Norman [1943-], a Poole GP who turned fulltime professional biographer in 1983, has since used his medical diagnostic skills in the writing of half a dozen local-interest biographies - of TE Lawrence, Enid Blyton, Thomas Hardy, Conan Doyle, and most recently, Jane Austen and Tolpuddle Martyr George Loveless.
The award winning author of children’s and adult fiction, Jane Gardam (1928-), was appointed an OBE this year for her life’s work, which includes educational documentary work for radio etc. Her recent (2004-) novels and stories about the retired solicitor nicknamed Old Filth, such as the just-out The Man In The Wooden Hat (recently serialised on Radio 4), are partly set in the Donhead villages of north Dorset.
Update: Also being serialised on Radio 4's Book Of The Week 26-30 Oct with intros spoken by the author (still active at age 95) is Dear Mr Bigelow: A Transatlantic Friendship, a new [1 Oct] collection of 1950s letters by Bournemouth Council worker [then at the Pier Approach Baths] Frances Woodsford [1913-], who later worked as an archivist. These letters, saved for posterity, were to a wealthy American widower she never met (a la 84 Charing Cross Road), describing in an insightful style her life in Bournemouth, 1949-61 - what she called "the Bournemouth Soap Opera. " [More info onsite here]
WWII And Local Literature: This month is the 70th anniversary of the start, in September 1939, of a conflict which would affect everyone living in the Wessex region - men, women, children. I've put up a webpage on some of the ways this was covered in local-interest literature since 1939, as part of our "Setting The Scene In Wessex" series: The WWII Era In Local-Interest Literature
Behind The Fringe: The biggest media story in the area at present [Sep 09] is the Lib Dems in town - the only national Party Conference in Bournemouth this year or next. As usual, there is a programme of Fringe talks open to the public. Some of these are sponsored by media organisations including the New Statesman, which was co-founded in 1913 as a political weekly by Fabian Society co-founders Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who had longstanding connections with Bournemouth.
As Beatrice Potter (1858-1943), BW stayed here as a teen in 1875, when a spell at an Anglican boarding school on Bath Road precipitated her ‘crisis of faith.’ In 1886-8, she spent three winters here with her convalescent father, in a clifftop lodging house below the Royal Bath Hotel, doing her first published writing here. She also recommended the town to her convalescing future husband Sidney Webb (1859-1947), a London council worker whose Fabian essays impressed her. (His stay at ‘The Osborne,’ a boarding house opposite the Royal Exeter Hotel prompted his observation of the low ‘moral and intellectual atmosphere’ of the idle well-off.)
Together, the Webbs wrote a score of social-research textbooks which established the Fabians as an early think-tank outlining reformist policies that helped establish the Liberal and Labour Parties in Westminster, where Sidney became an MP, a Minister, and then a peer. While they suffered from the same infatuation with totalitarian government as other interwar intellectuals, their books would help inspire Labour’s postwar welfare state. (Both were buried in Westminster Abbey.) In later life, when they were established in London (where in 1895 they founded the LSE), the Webbs would return to stay at the Highcliff Hotel, where many Party and Fringe events are now held.
There was also a Bournemouth Fabian Society from 1892 (re-established twice since, lastly in the Fabians’ centenary year, 1984), which brought in speakers like TH Huxley and the Empiricist philosopher Herbert Spencer, who was an influence on Beatrice. Another Liberal politician, Baroness Shirley Williams, grew up partly in the area, which she describes in her new memoir Climbing The Bookshelves, out Sept 24. (Her mother, the political activist Vera Brittain, had a 2nd home at Lyndhurst, and Shirley went to school in Bournemouth and Swanage.)
A Radical For All Seasons: With the current cynicism re MPs, concern about gov’t secrecy, threats to press independence, talk of parliamentary reform, and the LibDem conference here next month with its New Statesman-sponsored etc fringe events reflectiing such topics, some new media coverage of John Wilkes MP seems timely. John Wilkes (1725-97) was the scandalous founding ‘father’ of radical journalism who fought the government over such issues, and drove the PM of the day, Lord Bute, to resign and retire down here (to Highcliffe manor). History Today has a feature on him, “The Original Parliamentary Reformer - John Wilkes’ Way”, while our own earlier local-interest blog item is here, with link at the end to our web-page on the Wilkes-Bute affair.
Bournemouth Airshow Final Update: Despite variable weather which led to several flight cancellations, the 2009 show, now claimed as the largest UK event of its kind (4 days, over 1 million spectators), went off well, with a series of videos already posted online, and another official DVD in the works. The first-evening's over-hyped fireworks fizzle however got the most press coverage, all negative front-page stories, usually with embedded video clips (cf Times, Telegraph, Indie, Mail, and Mirror).
'Bournemouth Bomber' Docudrama Update: Aired 6th August on ITV1 (Meridian), this 1-hr reconstruction of the largest police case in local history, part of Tern TV's Real Crime series, revealed some new details. Evidently the police suspected the culprit was, as in a previous case, a policeman; on the other hand, the actual perpetrator was a former electrician whose wife had died of strangulation while he was present, yet he was never charged, and he has already been quietly freed 6 years early.
In '07, I did a web-page in response to a CSI producer's suggestion they'd "love to do a 'CSI Bournemouth' ” [blog item here], proposing this case as having the key 'CSI' plot ingredients. I updated the page last year after Tern TV's researcher contacted me.
See 'The Bournemouth Bomber Blackmail Plot - A Real-Life Local 'CSI' Case'.
Artists' Local Links: The Echo's Weekender magazine item, ‘Our Venus On The East Cliff,’ that a painting on show locally is by one of the PRB group, who is the subject of a current BBC biopic drama. ‘Venus Verticordia,’ which hangs in Bournemouth’s Russell-Cotes Art Gallery/Museum, is by DG Rossetti, one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the painters who wowed Victorian England with their giant canvases, vivid imagery, and controversial choice of subjects, sending people like Dickens into a rage. The BBC’s drama series on the PRB, Desperate Romantics [BBC2, Tuesdays at 9pm], however seems destined for the same instant camp status as their Bonekickers. The BBC has been getting criticised for driving drama down-market [see previous item below], here presenting the PRB anachronistically as if they were a boy-band, to try to get teens interested in art (cf reviews in the Times and the New Statesman .... Where’s Ken Russell just when you need him?)
The series is based loosely on a book of the same title by Franny Moyle, but the PRB’s success and real impact was covered in June in BBC4’s 3-part docu series The Pre Raphaelites: Victorian Revolutionaries, which Moyle herself exec-produced. This is not yet out on DVD, but another overlapping BBC docu-series, which also did not suffer from the BBC’s fatal trendy-vicar syndrome, Jeremy Paxman's The Victorians–Their Story in Pictures is out [with tiein book]. The final episode of this, shown in March, ‘Dreams and Nightmares,’ was part-shot at the Russell-Cotes, which Paxman praised as "a feast." He ended the series with the invitation to see the paintings for yourself - "they're hanging on a wall near you."
The conurbation actually has much better claims to artistic involvement than the PRB link. Bournemouth and Christchurch have always had their share of artist visitors, as has the surrounding countryside. Currently, Poole Museum's exhibition ‘Discovering Poole - An Artist's Haven, 1890 - 1950’ shows how the town and area attracted artists from Bloomsbury Group members to Augustus John and his Alderney Manor Circle (detailed in Poole Historical Trust’s art-book Art In Poole & Dorset by Peter Davies, 1987). And today there are many modern modern artists resident in the area: Dorset Visual Arts Org also has a map showing the location of artists all around Dorset, whose work is on public display annually during Dorset Arts Week.
BBC Drama Row: A brouhaha has erupted regarding the over-centralised way BBC Drama is managed. (The closest drama production base to here is Bristol.) Last week, the BBC Trust issued a report which said that many license payers "don't feel the BBC provides adequate content for their nation, region or community". A veteran writer-producer, Tony Garnett, attacked the Beeb for creating a version what Hollywood calls development hell – the creative equivalent of having your work jammed in the photocopier. In this case the jam-up can last several years while BBC executives (dozens of whom earn more than the PM) have meetings, go to conferences, on holidays etc. and in the meantime blow hot and cold on projects as they try to second-guess their superiors’ latest whims. The head of BBC Drama’s naive response, 'If people don't like BBC drama, they should come and speak to me,' and a public endorsement of the status quo by a few current A-list scriptwriters (who said they couldn’t see any problem) has triggered an online debate about the need for more regional control. Locally, one (probably inaccurate) statistic bandied about is that the entire license fee money from the Bournemouth area goes to Jonathan Ross (who has a holiday home in Swanage).
Normally, any groundswell of protest is swallowed up by a pre-packaged ‘consultation exercise.’ But the prospect of the BBC’s present high-rise structure being dismantled, after next May’s election, by the Conservatives, who are currently calling for the Head of Drama’s head, so to speak, has clearly made some realise the days of wine and roses may soon be over. AFAIK, there is no plan yet in place for a devolution of drama-commissioning power to the regions, but as they say in TV, stay tuned.
BBC Gracie Fields and Enid Blyton Biopics: BBC4’s series of showbiz biopics is ‘doing’ (I think that’s the right word) yet another local-interest figure. Gracie! sounds like the title of a 50s sitcom but is to be “a romantic comedy about the singer and comedienne” Gracie Fields [1898-1979]. In the 1930s, she had a holiday home called Showboat [now demolished] at Sandbanks, before WWII forced her to move abroad as she had lost her citizenship. (I don’t think the film will be as much of a comedy as the BBC publicity quote simplies). A scene for one of Fields’s films, the 1938 Keep Smiling, was shot at Bournemouth Pavilion. The drama will star Jane Horrocks (who proved she could sing in different styles in Little Voice). Meanwhile, the BBC4/Carnival Films Enid Blyton biopic, currently titled 'Enid Blyton's Great Adventure', is going ahead, with Helena Bonham-Carter now cast, and I imagine scenes will be shot locally for this as the Purbecks were so important in the genesis of her Famous Five stories.
More Ladies In Bonnets: BBC drama serials involving ladies in bonnets remain popular despite official announcements period drama is being cut back. The BBC has found a solution to the fact it has run out of Austen novels (a new Emma on the way is a holdover from a previous commissioning regime), in its Sunday-evening adaptations of works by two other women writers, Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-65) and Flora Thompson (see our earlier item on Flora Thompson in Bournemouth). The first two series of Thompson's Lark Rise To Candleford being both a critical and ratings success, a 3rd BBC series is in production, probably kicking off with another Xmas special like last year's, but inching the story along without rushing any fences in case a Series 4 proves viable. (It uses a standing set.) The BBC remains as fond as ever of nostalgic heart-warming Xmas specials, and the hit period drama from last year, Cranford, is getting a 2-parter, with Judi Dench et al recently [mid-June] back on location at Lacock in Wilts to shoot high street exteriors. (TV Xmas drama specials for some reason are always shot in summer, usually necessitating artificial snow being used while the actors swelter in their heavy costumes.)
The two series are set at opposite ends of the Victorian Era, seeing it from a female perspective, which was not that unusual. (Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd, being considered for remake by the same BBC team that did his Tess in 2008, has a mid-Victorian setting, in the 1860s. There are also 2 rival movie versions planned of George Eliot's (Mary Anne Evans) 1872 Middlemarch, set c1830 and televised by the BBC in 1994.) BBC's 'The Cranford Chronicles' has interwoven strands from three novels and a nonfiction reminiscence by the author. It has an early Victorian setting in the 1840s, as the start of the Industrial Revolution sees the railway pushing out from Manchester, which "bring fears of migrant workers and the breakdown of law and order" [BBC press release]. Lark Rise, adapted from two novels, is set officially in the mid-1890s (i.e. costumes and sets are patterned for this decade). But this is merely a reflection of its autobiographical basis (the teenage "Laura" figure is based on author Flora Thompson, born 1876). Otherwise it's rather timeless, set in a rosy yesteryear (no dire poverty here) of self-enclosed village life. This would in fact vanish with the new, 20th, century - partly as many of the new generation, including authors like Flora Thompson, moved out as the Victorian age brought greater mobility and work opportunities. This continuing TV trend at least means interest in other 19th-C. authors as alternatives to Austen will also continue, perhaps leading to discoveries by TV producers of other women writers from this key era of social change.
Tolpuddle Martyrs & Comrades: The 2009 Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival & Rally a month from now [July 17-19] is a suitable moment to announce the BFI’s upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release, on 27th July, of Comrades, the rarely-seen 1986 widescreen docudrama re-enacting the events of 1834 the Rally commemorates. After it had almost disappeared from view for 15 years, a restored print of the 3-hour film, shot in Dorset [at Tyneham and Dorchester] and Australia, was finally shown in 2009 on FilmFour. (It will also be screened at the Rally.) The U Of Exeter’s Bill Douglas Centre has details of the various extras on the DVD. A biography of one of the Martyrs, George Loveless, was recently published by Poole-based biographer Dr Andrew Norman, uncovering new information.
Louis MacNeice documentary: The final episode of BBC's 6-part series A Poet's Guide to Britain focusses on "Woods" by Louis MacNeice [tx 8/6/09 and Sat 13/6/09]. LM attended Sherborne School 1917-21, and drew on this for his poem, which specifically mentions Dorset. Though most of his life was spent elsewhere, he returned to the area in 1957, when he bought a holiday home on Wight from JB Priestley. The presenter characterises "Woods" as "an Irish poet writing about a Dorset woodland and the place woodland has in the British psyche." As this is part of the Beeb's heavily-promoted Poetry Season, it may well be repeated, but in the meantime you can watch it on iPlayer: Watch A Poet's Guide to Britain: Louis MacNeice's "Woods" online.
WW2 At 70: This year is the 70th anniversary of the start of WWII in 1939, its long-term impact reflected in its massive media coverage ever since then, in all media from newspaper coverage through memoirs, book-length histories, radio and tv docus, and now websites, as well as fictional and dramatic versions. Now the D-Day commemorations are upon us (complete with controversy as politicans jockey for front seats), current coverage has increased. This is as good a time as any to start adding coverage of local-interest works in a regular slot, i.e. a dedicated webpage to which items can be added.
"Wessex" was a key part of what we might call the "home front line" in WWII, the region having in fact played a major military role since Napoleonic times. The webpage will mainly cover onscreen depictions, for films shot and/or set here greatly outnumber locally-set novels. I'll add new listings of relevant selected films with the latest addition at the top, blog-style. First item up is a D-Day docudrama, the BBC's choice of film to commemorate the 2009 D-Day 65th-anniversary [BBC2, 6.6.09, at 0015].
Latest addition: Overlord (1975) Director Stuart Cooper, EMI / Imperial War Museum
Go to "Wessex At War - On Screen" page
LeCarre Adaptation: A Murder of Quality, the 1962 novel by John LeCarre, is being broadcast this week on R4 as part of The Complete Smiley strand. LeCarre evidently used his time at Sherborne School to create his “Carne,” a deadly little class-ridden 1950s provincial town where the school staff turn on each other. Smiley, whose own upper-crust wife came from there, is called in after a teacher’s wife, the daughter of a wealthy Bournemouth family, is murdered. The novel is the 2nd and perhaps the least-known of the series, and out of print. (It was made into a 1991 ITV telefeature, starring Denholm Elliot - who replaced Anthony Hopkins - shot at Sherborne, but the DVD is also out of print.) BBC iPlayer listen-again link [valid till 6th June]
Happiest Days DVD: Casting around for lighter news and works in these depressing and cynical times, I thought we’d mention the long-awaited DVD release this month of the classic British comedy The Happiest Days Of Your Life, starring Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford. If you don’t know it, they play the heads of, respectively, a boys’ boarding school and a girls school, which ‘the Ministry’ accidently billets together. The plot, from a 1947 stage play, belongs to the wartime-shortages era which also inspired the Ealing comedies. It’s also the forerunner of the St Trinian’s films (Joyce Grenfell as a sportsmistress etc). It was filmed slightly outside our normal coverage area [Liss, south Hants] but under the circumstances I thought I’d stretch the point. (Liss may have been used as nearby was the first co-ed public school in England, Bedales nr Petersfield, which may well have suggested the story premise, as such 'progressive' schools were then associated with anarchic pupil behaviour.)
Bear Grylls New Chief Scout: Professional adventurer Edward “Bear” Grylls has been made the new Chief Scout, at 34, the youngest ever. Described in the Echo as “Dorset action man Bear Grylls,” BG grew up on Wight [on whose cliffs he learned to climb], the family then moving to Dorset. (His late father was a Conservative MP, his widowed mother Lady Grylls still living near Wimborne.) The Boy Scouts of course had their first camp in 1907 on Brownsea in Poole Harbour. The extensive news coverage of this appointment is partly the result of the controversy surrounding BG’s TV series Born Survivor, which had to be re-edited after complaints BG was not surviving using the extreme methods shown (eating insects raw etc) but was even staying in a luxury hotel.
New Blyton TV Biopic: BBC4 is filming a feature-length biographical drama on Enid Blyton, who spent summers locally and used the Purbeck landscape for her Famous Five stories, the screen adaptations of which have also often been shot here. This is part of the same strand which earlier ran similar 90-minute dramas on Barbara Cartland, Mary Whitehouse, and Fanny Craddock [who went to school in Bournemouth]. These dramas tend to focus on the difference between the public image and the usually single-minded, often ruthless, private personality, and it’s been suggested the result will not be all suitable for young children, or adults who want to retain their childhood illusions.
Hardy On Screen: Rumour has it that the BBC’s Wessex Tales series of 6 feature-length dramas, location-filmed in 16mm colour in Dorset from his short stories, is to be released on DVD August 3rd. This is welcome news as they used a variety of talent, but have been so rarely seen since 1973 they were believed by many to be lost forever.There is also a proper widescreeen DVD release in the US of the 1967 Dorset-filmed Far From The Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, and Alan Bates, and some are hoping this will be issued here in the UK. (Earlier VHS and DVD releases have been cropped to 4:3 or 16:9, despite what it says on the box.) There are also rumours BBC is to film a new version of FFMC being written by David Nichols, who did BBC’s recent 4-part Tess.
Update: In the meantime, a feature-length student production of Far From The Madding Crowd has been made for DVD release by staff and students of a Sherborne school.
The Re-Rise of Reginald Perrin: This weekend sees the launch of a “re-imagined” BBC1 version of David Nobbs’s novel which became the basis of a cult sitcom of escape from boredom of mid-70s suburban-commuter routine and ennui. (Its dialogue routines gave rise to popular catch-phrases like his boss CJ’s “I didn’t get where I am today by –.“) This new version, scripted by Simon ‘Men Behaving Badly’ Nye and Nobbs himself, seems to have lost its local-interest aspect, where the story led to Reggie’s faking his suicide in the same manner as Hardy's Sgt Troy, leaving his clothes on a Dorset beach -- Chesil Bank in Nobbs' novel, and West Bay in the TV version, this forming the speeded-up title sequence of every episode. Reggie then relaunched his life as a tramp on the road to Lyme Regis, toying with adopting names from a crossroads sign - “Barry Bridport?” “David Dorchester?”. (He soon ends up in the garden of the Three Horseshoes Inn at Burton Bradstock.) Despite the fact its star Martin Clunes lives in West Dorset, the beach used this time was in Sussex (go figure).
However remakes often boost interest in the original, which is fortunately available on DVD uncut (along with 3 followup series), unlike the original BBC video boxset abridgement, which had many of the Dorset scenes cut out. And hopefully David Nobbs’s 1975 source novel, now out of print, will be reissued! (If anyone sees a new edition, let me know and I’ll put up a link.)
Update: Halfway into the series, the only local reference so far seems to be the scene where Reggie falls asleep in front of the TV and tells his wife he thinks he was watching "CSI Bournemouth." (Hmmm, I wonder where that idea came from...)
City Of Vice rerun: This local-interest C4 series, which I mentioned previously (I also voted for it in the Writers' Guild awards as best original drama series of 2008), is being repeated late on Wednesday evenings on More4. (It's also now on DVD.) The local-interest aspect is that it is about Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones (based partly on his Dorset upbringing). Here we see the novelist in his other role as a social reformer, organising as a London magistrate c1750, the city's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, tackling murder and brutality with the help of his blind brother John. (True!)
Nuts In May: The Mike Leigh BBC Collection 6-DVD boxset released this month [April] contains a local-interest cult film set and shot entirely in Purbeck: Nuts In May (1976). Leigh is regarded as a master of satiric realist improvisational comedies, and this is one based on that great British institution, the Camping Holiday. Though the commission was inspired by the producer's youthful memories of dire camping hols here, Leigh avoids the family-camping setup. Instead, he goes for a modern childless wannabee 'trendy' 1970s couple: bumptious and self-important Keith, and his folksinging childlike wife Candice Marie (Leigh's wife Alison Steadman), whose woolly bobble hat seems symbolic. Settings include Sandbanks Ferry, the Purbeck Hills, Lulworth, and Corfe. More details on our “Purbeck On Screen” page. Nuts In May is also being shown on BBC4 Sunday 19 April, followed by an interview with Leigh, and both of these are likely to be repeated.
Vera Brittain biopic: A BBC Films feature adaptation is in development of VB’s Testament Of Youth (previously adapted by the BBC in a widely-shown 1979 serial with Cheryl Campbell as VB). This 1933 memoir covers the early life of the writer, in particular the WWI experiences that led her to become a pacifist. She later moved to the New Forest, and her daughter, Shirley Williams, who became a LibDem MP (now a peer), went to school in Swanage and Bournemouth.
Lennon's Aunt Mimi biopic: Sam Taylor-Wood is currrently directing a drama about John Lennon's Aunt Mimi, who acted as a surrogate mother to him. In 1965 he bought her a bungalow at Sandbanks overlooking Poole Bay, where she died (she's buried at Broadstone). Nowhere Boy starring Kristin Scott-Thomas is based on a memoir by Lennon's half-sister Julia. It's not being shot at Sandbanks (the bungalow was demolished), but may include locally-set scenes. Lennon himself spent happy days on local visits, sailing in the harbour area (see our 2006 blog item on this, here).
Looking Forward To 2009, Mediawise
As spring approaches once more, it's time again to consider what we have to look forward to during the coming year in terms of local-interest media as new works are announced. (As well as publisher's spring lists, April with its better weather brings new shoots, i.e. in film-TV terms.) Hopefully 2009 will see more interesting projects in local-interest terms than last year. A number of film and TV works announced in 2008 proved a forlorn hope in terms of getting them shot locally. (Details here - scroll to page end).
The 2008 production with a local connection I personally found most original was not actually set in the region, but concerned the London career of Henry Fielding, as founder of the Bow Street Runners. Fielding grew up in Dorset and maintained links with the area. The same year (1749) he began his crimebusting initiative he set his most famous work in the West Country (and London), Tom Jones, which has been adapted for the screen twice using Dorset locations. C4's 5-part City Of Vice was shortlisted as Best Drama Series in the Writers Guild awards, lost to BBC's Cranford, but won the Royal Television Society Judges' Award. Fielding was a remarkable character, and the drama makes evident the serious purpose behind his wide-ranging social satires like Tom Jones. (No sign of a 2nd series yet, but at least it's out on DVD.) As far as upcoming original historical dramas go this year, ie not adaptations of novels, one of potential interest is 1066 from Tiger Films. This covers the rise and fall, over 50-odd years, of the Godwin dynasty which produced the last Saxon king. The Godwins were Earls of Wessex, so there should be some local interest here.
The 2008 production I found most disappointing was BBC's Bonekickers, where the region's wealth of archeo-historical heritage was simply used in each case as the basis for a token plot hook setting up a melodramatic stock conspiracy plot. It sought to address contemporary sociopolitical issues while at the same time trying to be tongue-in-cheek, a balancing act always hard to do. (Gladys Mitchell - the Great Gladys, as Philip Larkin called her - managed it for decades with her cult series of 66 detective novels about a Home Office crime consultant based in the New Forest, often whimsically adapting local heritage while writing about social themes then taboo.) Negative viewer and press reaction led to a planned 2nd series of Bonekickers being cancelled. The fiasco motivated me to do a separate web page trying to analyse what went wrong with suggestions how to handle this developing new genre in future [read feature "Bonekickers And Beyond: The Wessex Archaeo-Mystery Drama"]
The new archeo-adventure genre is a
spinoff of Indiana Jones by way of The Da Vinci Code, and there are bound to be more
projects upcoming here. No sign yet on the production slates of Ridley Scott's Stones,
a thriller in which Stonehenge suddenly 'triggers' like the monolith in 2001, in this case communicating
with other ancient megalithic sites. In the meantime, Dorset gets a cameo role in The Genesis
Secret, a fate-of-the-world-hangs-in-the-balance thriller by Sean Thomas being published
in April, with no doubt a film or TV version to follow. In the related forensics-drama genre,
last year I did a separate web page on the notion of a British CSI series based in Bournemouth,
which a US producer had mentioned in a promo documentary for the franchise. ("We'd love to
do a 'CSI Bournemouth.' ") Well, no sign of this so far, but a British TV documentary is
reconstructing the real-life forensic-detection case I outlined as the basis of a suitable pilot
episode, the Tesco Bomber/Blackmailer Case. I've updated a few details since the production company
contacted me with a research query after seeing the web-page [Would
You Believe 'CSI Bournemouth'?]