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The Durrells Return
Bournemouth's best-known bohemian-expat family, the Durrells, are back on ITV for a 2nd series. The first series last year began with them living in Bournemouth just prior to making the decision to emigrate to Corfu in 1935. There is a new biography out this month as well, by a friend or acquaintance of the eccentric family. The Durrells Of Corfu, by Michael Haag covers more of the family's adult personal problems than Gerald did in his rather rose-tinted memoirs of his 5-year idyll age 10-15. His My Family And Other Animals was the basis of two previous tv adaptations, an ITV series in 1987 and a BBC telefeature in 2005. His 1956 memoir was criticised for sacrificing accuracy for comic effect. Season One of the ongoing ITV series was also criticised for inventing incidents. The main character is Louisa, the mother, played by a younger actress, and mini-dramas are scripted in for every family member. (Cf the Season 2 Episode 1 synopsis: 'Louisa tries to raise some money by selling homemade food, which attracts the attention of another Englishman. However, a former lover threatens the family's idyllic existence. Gerry comes up with a plan to breed otters, Leslie accidentally shoots Roger, and Margo considers becoming a nun.' )
Going by press excerpts and reviews, the new memoir gives more of the real background than either the 1956 memoir or the 2016-7 series. Older brother Larry for instance was newly married in 1935 and lived at his own place on Corfu, the White House - not a villa but a wealthy fisherman’s house on the shore. Gerald in his memoirs simply put the family under one roof for literary convenience, omitting all mention of Nancy. The memoirs’ older brother Larry of course was, or became, the distinguished essayist and novelist Lawrence Durrell (1912-90), best-known for The Alexandria Quartet (1957-60), which he had began during one of his return stints to Dorset. Originally Larry had been living with the family in England, but had been asked by Mother to move out and away after she found him in bed with Nancy, an art student he would marry in January 1935. ("You can be as Bohemian as you like but not in the house. I think you had better go somewhere where it doesn't show so much... I’m not having Gerry corrupted.") Nancy later said Larry ‘dramatised everything — mad mother, ridiculous children, mother drunk throwing fortune to the winds, hellish, foolish, stupid woman... beetles in the soup’.
He moved up to London with Nancy and then he went on ahead to Corfu, Nancy and the others following in pursuit, like many expats, of a cheaper, healthier lifestyle. The main problem was that Louisa, the mother, had become an alcoholic since the death of her husband in 1928 and had had a breakdown, and had little money left. In 1931 the family left London and bought a large Victorian mansion, Berridge House on Spur Hill Ave [between Penn Hill Ave and Canford Cliffs Rd] in Parkstone in Poole, and in 1935, a smaller house in Wimborne Road, Bournemouth. The 2005 BBC tv telefeature [screenshot left] only shows the one living room interior before cutting to their Corfu arrival [where the 1987 series began]; but the new series has location filming in Bournemouth and Poole [opening screenshot above]. As shown in Ep 1, Gerald’s unhappiness at a [shortlived] Bournemouth prep school was one reason for their emigrating. (He never attended another school, and after the war, first worked on a farm at Longham outside Bournemouth before training as a zookeeper.)
Gerry’s own memoirs were accompanied by two by his first wife Jacqui (her 1967 Beasts In My Bed and 1976 Intimate Relations offer a family portrait by an outsider), while his older sister Margo (1920-2007) had a go with a 1950s memoir, though this was not published until 1996, as Whatever Happened To Margo? She had not returned to England with the family in 1939, but the book deals not with her wartime adventures and marriage in Greece and South Africa but with her time as a landlady in postwar Charminster. This was where, with a small inheritance, in 1947 she bought a large house across the street from Mother's house on St Alban's Avenue in Charminster as a boarding house. Her sometimes eccentric tenants included her brother, to whom she offered free rent in 1951-2 when he was first married and struggling. (Jacqui’s family cut her dead in disapproval of the marriage.) He wrote his first book here, in the attic, on a rented typewriter.
Gerry would return here between animal collecting expeditions, which he documented in a series of books and tv documentary series. Despite their publicized differences of opinion and lifestyle, the family tended to live close to each other. Even the dedicated expat Lawrence (who called Britain 'Pudding Island') had his letters to Henry Miller edited for publication by a Bournemouth bookseller friend, Alan Gradon Thomas, whom he and Nancy would visit regularly on their return, at war's end, at the bookshop he owned [1936-56]. This was Commin’s 5-storey antiquarian bookshop [est. 1892] at 100 Old Christchurch Rd. (Gerry would also visit on his own return trips and described it in 'The Havoc Of Havelock'.) He and Nancy divorced but Larry returned to live at Mother's with Eve his 2nd wife [of 4] in 1947. On his 3rd marriage, he and wife Claude and their daughter Sappho in 1956 rented a small cottage outside Shaftesbury, then moved in with their bookseller friend Alan Thomas. Only Leslie left never to return, told he was unwelcome after a series of frauds, dying in a London pub in 1983, with family declining to attend the funeral.
When not dwelling abroad, Bournemouth remained the family's base, with "Mother" and Margo maintaining homes opposite each other on St Alban's Avenue until Mother's death in 1964. After his first book's success in 1956, Gerald tried to set up a zoo in Bournemouth, then in Poole at Upton House in Poole in 1957, with the animals kept in the meantime at Margo’s boarding house (with predictably chaotic results). Railing at what he called 'the constipated mentality of local government,’ he gave up, moving to Jersey in 1959. The Jersey zoo’s captive breeding programme would continue to flourish, with Gerry’s 2nd wife Lee, a zoology student, carrying on with it after his death from alcohol-related ailments in 1995.
Gerald wrote 37 books altogether, mainly humorous travel accounts in the style of Thurber. After the success of My Family And Other Animals, he wrote two more books on his Corfu idyll ("Like being pushed off the Bournemouth cliffs into heaven"), all now available in one volume as The Corfu Trilogy [2006]. The town makes occasional appearances in Gerald's memoirs, briefly in the opening of My Family And Other Animals, which he wrote here, and in Menagerie Manor, when he tried to set up his local zoo. Other local-interest pieces are "Ursula" in Fillets Of Plaice [sic] (coll. 1972); "The Picnic" and "The Havoc Of Havelock" in The Picnic & Suchlike Pandemonium (coll. 1979), and "Ludwig" in Marrying Off Mother (coll. 1991). "Ursula" features a visit to the Square & Compass pub at Worth Matravers, and "The Picnic" has the family for a postwar getogether at Lulworth (where Lawrence later wrote the first part of The Alexandria Quartet at a friend’s cottage). Lawrence’s own account of his time on Corfu is found in his 1945 memoir-travelogue Prospero’s Cell, which has an epilogue on how the island was devastated by the war.
























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