Mapp and Lucia Ride Again

Mapp & LuciaThe BBC’s best New Year present in a long time is a new television adaptation of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels, set during the 1930s. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting these ladies, Mrs Emmeline Lucas and Miss Elizabeth Mapp are competing queens of cultural snobbery. Lucia, having vanquished all rivals in her native village of Riseholme, moves to Tilling after the death of her husband. Unfortunately, Tilling already has a ruler in the person of Mapp, and battle royal ensues. There’s also a foray into London society for Lucia.

For the purpose of this three-episode adaptation, the story is focused on Lucia’s first few months in Tilling. I highly recommend the novels for the proper full flavour.

Some aficionados will be tutting about how this series can’t possibly improve on Channel Four’s 1985 series, and it’s true the competition is daunting. It starred Prunella Scales as Mapp, Geraldine McEwan as Lucia, Denis Lill as Major Benjy Flint, and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie. But the BBC version, given that it’s shorter and more concentrated, more than holds its own.

Anna Chancellor’s Lucia and Steve Pemberton’s Georgie don’t do as much of the baby talk, but otherwise they’re completely believable. Miranda Richardson is brilliant as Mapp, fully expressing her suppressed rage, aided and abetted by touches of her Queen Elizabeth character in Blackadder II. And Mark Gatiss makes a perfect Major Benjy.

The other star in this series is, of course, the town of Rye in East Sussex, where Benson lived and wrote the novels. Tilling can be laid on top of the real Rye so exactly that you can work out which houses the characters lived in.

Mapp and Lucia is on BBC iPlayer. Get it while you can. Now then, I still have the last episode to enjoy. Au reservoir.

Auntie Beeb Knows Best: Songs Banned by the BBC

1191592_f520Please visit the source of this image for an excellent blog about censorship.

BBC4 recently broadcast a documentary about BBC censorship, Britain’s Most Dangerous Songs: Listen to the Banned. All in our own best interests, of course, as a kindly moral guardian. Looking back with hindsight, their reasons now seem a little threadbare, tending towards the maintenance of the social and political status quo. Here’s a full list of songs banned by the BBC.

This isn’t a review, but I do want to post videos of the songs that interest me most.

I’ve always liked George Formby, a serial offender in the 1930s with his cheeky innuendo, outrageous double-entendres and rampant ukelele. Not only did he offend the middle class Home Counties audience catered to by the BBC, he had the audacity to be northern.

Here he is with his Little Stick of Blackpool Rock.

Louis Armstrong’s cover of Mack the Knife, from The Threepenny Opera was banned in 1956 for its portrayal of the serial killer, MacHeath. I actually prefer the film version, but Armstrong’s cover made the song a popular success, and it is good.

I remember seeing the The Shangri-Las on television, with Leader of the Pack, banned in 1965. The song had teenage rebellion, motorbikes, sudden death, against a backdrop of violence between mods and rockers at British seaside resorts – no wonder the BBC hated it.

The BBC were particularly clueless about the songs on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, missing the drug references in everything except A Day in the Life, banned in 1967.

And now for something completely different – the Sex Pistol’s vicious assault on the monarchy in the year of the Silver Jubilee, 1977. At least that’s how the BBC saw it.

And finally to the latest furore from April last year when Margaret Thatcher died, her name so reviled in certain parts of the UK that street parties were held to celebrate the event, even while the Establishment gave her a state funeral. I was one of the people cheering.

A media campaign had been planned as early 2007 to send Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead to the top of the pop charts. It succeeded. This time the BBC didn’t ban the song outright. They played only the first 5 seconds.

Here is the clip from the Wizard of Oz.

Doctor Who’s Forgotten Genius: Delia Derbyshire 1937 – 2001

derbyshireDelia Derbyshire is most well-known, if she’s known at all, as the musician who transcribed Ron Grainer’s theme tune for the first Doctor Who into the electronic form we all remember. But she was also a pioneer in electronic music, producing effects on tape that weren’t replicated until synthesizers were invented.

Over the weekend, I’ve been blissfully wallowing in the 50th Anniversary programs, centred around The Day of the Doctor. It’s available on the BBC iPlayer for another 6 days. Just as interesting were a drama about the inception of Doctor Who in 1963, An Adventure in Space and Time, and a documentary about the Doctor Who phenomenon, Me, You and Doctor Who.

From the latter two I learned more about Delia Derbyshire, which prompted me to search out her other work. Here is her version of the theme tune. She was apparently much irked by later producers wanting to tweak it – she couldn’t understand why it should be changed on a whim.

Derbyshire should have had equal credit with Ron Grainer, who wanted it as well, but the BBC Radiophonic Workshop refused to credit the work of individual employees. This frustration was one of the reasons she left in 1973 after 11 years.

The soundtrack for a BBC documentary about the Tuareg people of N. Africa, Blue Veils & Golden Sands, is another example of her innovative genius. She used a bog-standard metal BBC lampshade to get the vibration effects, giving it a whack, then cutting off the first bit of the sound.

There was also some theatre work and a collaboration with David Vorhaus in a band called White Noise. In this 1969 track, Love Without Sounds, you can hear what an interesting singer she is.

Derbyshire left London in the early Seventies and gave up music, apart from a brief period in the Nineties. This is a BBC radio play about her life.

And here’s a Radio Scotland interview, in three parts, from 1997. She sounds so young.

Finally, here’s a clip from Me, You and Doctor Who, as well as some of her other music.

I’m very pleased that her work on the theme tune is at last recognized in the credits for The Day of The Doctor. Earlier recognition might have laid the foundation for a long and productive career.

Guilty Pleasures

One of the pleasures of television is Stephen Fry, and here he is talking about his own guilty pleasures. It’s 30 minute romp through the delights of Abba, Howard’s Way, darts, Wagner, swearing, Delia Smith, Stanley Unwin, Georgette Heyer, poetry, Led Zeppellin, Countdown, and Farley’s Rusks, interspersed with clips from Fry and Laurie.

Television Review: A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley – The New Taste for Blood (1/3)

A Very British MurderBBC4 Website: A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley
Lucy Worsley’s Website

Huzzah! Dr Worsley has a new documentary on the British fascination with gory murders and the culture in which the fascination flourished. She gives us three real murder cases from the first half of the 19th century. The first are the 1811 Ratcliff Highway Murders in Wapping, London, with seven victims. Then in 1827, the Red Barn Murder in Polstead, Suffolk, where Maria Marten was foully done to death by her lover. Finally, in 1849, the splendidly named Bermondsey Horror, in which Maria Manning murdered her wealthy lover, double-crossed her complicit husband, and ran off with the stolen loot.

Other television presenters orate while striding across iconic landscapes, or strike thoughtful academic attitudes against the sky. You know they’re posing and it looks silly. Not Lucy Worsley. She dives into the material and gets involved in the nitty-gritty. And how. She visits the crime scenes, handles the artefacts (the skin off the back of a murderer’s head), investigates exactly how the murderers were executed, and makes you feel like a privileged fly on the wall of a morgue.

In this episode she also took the part of Maria Marten in a recreation of a contemporary melodrama, operated and voiced her killer in the marionette theatre version, sang a folk song about the dreadful crime, and acted out the trial of Maria Manning as the lawyers, judge, and of course, Maria Manning herself. Yes, all of them.

If that was all, it would be brilliant entertainment, but there’s much more. She explores the social context of the murders and the shock they created. In 1810 there were only 15 murder convictions, and no real police force. Public anger at the ineffectiveness of the authorities led to reform, so that by 1849 there were uniformed police and a handful of detectives. The police used the new-fangled telegraph to send descriptions of the Mannings to Edinburgh and Jersey, which led to their arrest.

But main story is the development of murder as a gripping morality tale for the edification and entertainment of an increasingly literate population. Thomas De Quincey was the first respectable observer (opium, indeed all drugs, were legal then) to notice the phenomenom and its effects. Villagers in Grasmere, where he lived at Dove Cottage, went to extraordinary lengths to safeguard their homes after hearing about the slaughter of the Marr family in Wapping. Despite the fact that it’s 300 miles away. De Quincey wrote a satire on the public’s fascination, On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts, in 1827.

Apart from De Quincey, ballads and broadsides, puppet shows and melodramas, carried the news to avid ears, creating huge public interest in the trials and executions of the murderers. John Williams, suspect in the Ratcliff Highway murders, hanged himself in jail. Thwarted of a spectacle, the authorities carried his body by cart to the Marr’s house, where someone wrenched his head around so it was looking at the scene of his putative crime.

The executions of William Corder (Maria Marten’s killer) and the Mannings were both public, as was usual for the time. But they really pushed out the boat for the Mannings, carrying out the execution on the roof of the jail, so everyone could see. Charles Dickens booked a room with a view and held a party, while still lecturing the hoi polloi for their gloating enthusiasm.

The delicious frisson that earned the Mannings their 5 star execution may well have been due to Maria’s demonstration that a woman could be every bit as ruthless and devious as a man.

This episode was the groundwork, so to speak. The next one looks at how crime, science, and detection affected the culture of homicide in the Victorian Age. This is classic Worsley, and I am in Seventh Heaven.

Best Search Engine Term of the Day

Goes to… lucy worsley’s arse.

Hopefully this inquiry led to a review last year of the lovely Dr Worsley’s documentary on the roles played by women in the 17th century: Harlots, Housewives & Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls. In 3 parts, with links to the following 2 episodes.