Where do the Spice Girls, Evelyn Waugh and Bart Simpson hang out?

One answer might be Madame Tussauds (London waxworks) – I haven’t checked. Another is in my DVD drawer – I’ve remarked on multiple occasions that a look at my DVD collection will tell anyone that I’m a crazy mixed-up person! To help pass the Covid-19 lockdown I set myself the target of watching (for the first time in a few cases) every single one of my 100+ DVD collection, including Spiceworld and several Simpsons series. It’s a project that’s yet to be completed – I’m about two-thirds through.

But what if I could only take a few DVDs to the BBC Radio 4 desert island? Five of my boxed sets – some of the finest British TV drama ever IMO – would be at the top of the list. They’re all of a similar genre – loosely being classable as coming of age series. In broadcast order, with the original author and publication date(s) in brackets, the five are

  • The Forsyte Saga, BBC 1967, (John Galsworthy, 1906-21), 26 episodes, 21 hours. “Viewers remember the way the nation shut down each Sunday night for the event. Pubs closed early and the streets were deserted. The Church even rescheduled its evening worship services so that the immense audience could be ready for the start of the show at 7:25pm.” “It was not the first literary adaptation on TV, but it was longer and more ambitious than anything screened before, and it has come to represent every value and standard to which British TV has aspired ever since.” [Sarah Crompton, 2002]. A wonderful cast includes Kenneth More, Eric Porter, Susan Hampshire and Nyree Dawn Porter. Sadly it was made in black and white – the cost of colour was seen as unjustified in an era when few owned colour TVs. Amazon £89.95
  • The Pallisers, BBC 1974, (Anthony Trollope, 1864-79), 26 episodes, 21 hours. Another series set in Victorian England, this time following the aristocratic Plantagenet Palliser and his rise to Duke of Omnium and Prime Minister. The scale of this production is shown by Wikipedia’s ‘partial’ cast list, 81 names! Philip Latham and Susan Hampshire starred as Palliser and his wife. Among other well known names, Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons would later star in Brideshead Revisited. Amazon £99.99
  • Clayhanger, ITV 1976, (Arnold Bennett, 1910-18), 26 episodes, 26 hours. A wonderful coming-of-age series tracing the life of would-be architect, Edwin Clayhanger, from school-leaver to pillar of society. Peter McEnery stars, with Janet Suzman as Hilda Lessways, Harry Andrews as the terrifying then pitiable Darius Clayhanger and my favourite, Denholm Elliott as factory inspector, Tertius Ingpen. Amazon £18.48
  • Brideshead Revisited, Granada 1981, (Evelyn Waugh, 1945), 11 episodes, 11 hours. In contrast to the others here, written as multiple novels over and extended period, Brideshead was written in just six months. Brideshead Revisited is television’s greatest literary adaptation, bar none [Daily Telegraph]. Another brilliant cast including Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Diana Quick and John Grillo. Amazon £35.37
  • Strangers and Brothers, BBC, 1984 (C.P.Snow, 1940-70), 13 episodes, 12 hours. The series follows Lewis Elliott’s life and career from humble beginnings in an English provincial town, to reasonably successful London lawyer, to Cambridge don, to WW2 service in Whitehall, to senior civil servant and finally retirement. Shaughan Seymour stars as Lewis, Sheila Ruskin as his mentally troubled first wife Sheila and Cherie Lunghi as his second wife Margaret. Other cast members include Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Havers, Peter Sallis and Tom Wilkinson. Amazon £10.50

When thinking about this piece I was tempted to say that nothing on the scale of these series will ever be seen again. But in recent times we’ve seen Downton Abbey, reportedly Amazon’s highest selling DVD boxset of all time. I don’t own it so it didn’t qualify for the list above, but even if I did, it wouldn’t be there. Why not? When I watch it, or any of the Austen Bronte, Dickens , Hardy etc TV adaptations I’m always conscious that I’m watching fiction. With the five series above I’m watching real-life biographies, or so it seems to me. Just me? Comments?


Amazon [UK] links above are given for your convenience only – I don’t get any commission from you following them. Prices are correct at time of writing. Strangers and Brothers at £10.50 and Clayhanger at £18.48 should be no-brainers! Are any of these on Netflix? I’m not a subscriber so don’t know. If you know, please add a comment.

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