On Sunday I watched a programme in a series I seem to have missed: Books That Made Britain. This one was East Anglia: The Scene of the Crime. It was introduced by Martha Kearney and the poor woman had little to do but walk about on windswept beaches putting in noddies for her interviews. The question was: why has an area with a low crime rate been the setting for so many fictional murders? The best answer came from one of the authors, who said that seeing a beautiful scene, he had to put a mutilated corpse in it. As Martha Kearney said, not what would occur to most of us but the point was the contrast between peaceful beauty and horrid murder.
I will leave aside my indignation that there was no mention of Margery Allingham, who set so many of her stories in Suffolk. This programme was boring; half an hour really dragged. Sorry, but I don’t find comments from members of a book group at all interesting or enlightening. The author interviews were better. A good wheeze would be to watch this with the sound off, just to see those incredible East Anglian skies and the mysterious, crumbling coastline. Absolutely beautiful to look at. I kept thinking of David Copperfield and the wreck scene but there was no mention of it.
Several other episodes are still available to watch and rather than give up on the series, I’ll try Rye.
What a contrast with Andrew Marr’s excellent Paperback Heroes ! The third and final episode was about the rules of spy fiction, starting with Le Queux and ending with Charles Cumming. It was all very interesting, especially when authors (John le Carré, Somerset Maugham, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene) had themselves worked for British Intelligence. Good to see Len Deighton getting due respect and how is it that I’ve never read Eric Ambler? Perhaps the most important thing Marr had to say came at the very end: ‘It’s time to talk about snobbery.’ Not snobbery in books, but about books; the idea that genre fiction is somehow inferior to literary fiction. Marr argued that these books have a great deal to teach us about the world and about ourselves and are very worth reading. Hear, hear! This reminded me of a comment in yet another programme I watched recently, about the late and much lamented Sue Townsend. Her publisher (? someone who worked very closely with her, anyway), pointed out sadly that a brilliantly funny book like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, the best selling book of the whole 1980s, would never win the Booker.
There’s a new adaptation of The Moonstone on BBC1. Oddly for a period drama, this is scheduled in the early afternoons, so I’ve set ‘series record’ to catch up in the evenings. My problem with any new TV version of the book is that I have such strong memories of a black and white version shown in 1959, with Patrick Cargill as Sergeant Cuff. I was very young and found it frightening. When I came to read the book years later I still saw Cuff as looking like Cargill, so it must have been a good series. Everyone else seems to have forgotten it as there’s very little information on IMDB and I can’t find a picture of Patrick Cargill in the role. I can’t judge after two episodes but so far this version is lacking the fear factor. At least it’s made me want to read the book again.
I’ve also caught up with Virago: Changing the World One Page at a Time. Oh dear. This programme did the publishers no favours. In fact, if you consider yourself a feminist, watching it could change your mind. Yes, Virago has published some good books which might not otherwise have been available. But changed the world? No.