The latest Just William TV adaptation is set in 1953 and some people don’t like it because they think of William as a 1930s figure. Since the last William book was published in 1974, it seems perfectly reasonable to me; plus, it gives the set and costume designers a chance to show what they can do. This series is a must-watch for all those lovers of vintage out there, who can feast their eyes on carefully chosen fabrics, crockery, clocks and biscuit tins just like nobody actually had in their 1950s home because they were still getting by with pre-war stuff. There’s even bunting, without which it seems no home is complete. The boys wear pretty nifty knits, too.
So does it work? I was worried by the casting of Daniel Roche, fearing that he’d just be Ben from Outnumbered with a short haircut but thankfully that hasn’t happened. If anything this William, however surly and hard done by, gets on better with his parents than Ben does. That’s the big change from the books; the parents have been given lines and lives. In the stories, Mr and Mrs Brown are flat characters; Mr Brown at work or behind a newspaper, Mrs Brown forever darning socks. Here, they actually talk to William and Mrs Brown (the excellent Rebecca Front) has a rebellious streak! William’s motor-mouth grumbling is spot on, the music is perfect, Martin Jarvis narrates and as long as four boys are stalking in the woods with a dog, everything is just right. I don’t believe that the Brown family would eat in the kitchen and I can’t help regretting Bonnie Langford and Diana Dors. It was full of stars playing small parts and nice to see Denis Lawson as the headmaster.
More retro sets and knitted jumpers in Toast, adapted from Nigel Slater’s touching memoir. This time it’s the 1960s but the detail is all there; if you can see it for tears, that is. The use of Dusty Springfield songs for the soundtrack was inspired and when she sang her version of Ne Me Quitte Pas (which, may I point out, is about a million times better than Barbra Streisand’s) while young Nigel looked at his mother’s photograph, well, it was almost too much. Ken Stott was absolutely brilliant as the father. I’ve always thought him a good actor but never seen him give such a moving performance as here. Unmissable. Now I’m having to read the book again.