Eighties TV Season: Mapp and Lucia - Lobster Pots

Continuing a series of posts on 1980s TV series which haven't appeared here yet.

This is one of those posts which afford me great pleasure - in case anyone reading this hasn't seen this series I am delighted to be introducing you to a show which is such a delight. In fact this is a blog post which will rather write itself.

It's also one of those occasions when I will tell you not to bother reading my blog post but to go away and watch the show post haste - of course this is about the 1985 series called Mapp and Lucia. There was also another series of the same name in 2014 which is also excellent, just in different ways. There was also an excellent adaptation into radio plays and additional novels by Tom Holt and other authors. Holt's are excellent and authentic, but I haven't read the others.

The show has the advantage of working with quality source material, in the shape of the Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson. In fact I think you should go away and read them as well rather than waste your time reading my witterings. Benson, of course, belonged to a family which was famous for all sorts of things, but at the time its famous eccentricity rather tended to pass under the radar:

'[Talking about a novel called Apples of Sodom] ...its chief interest lies in the fact that its authoress was, at the same time, governess to the children of those unusually bizarre Benson parents, It isn't every day that the Master of Wellington College, later Archbishop of Canterbury, marries a basically homosexual bride half his age and they then produce between them, in conditions that the sensitive will prefer not to dwell on, three highly gifted and queer sons, among them EF Benson, to whom we owe the Mapp and Lucia books, and much else. There was also a homicidal lunatic daughter.' (Arthur Marshall: Life's Rich Pageant, 1984, pp 48-9)

In circumstances such as that, those genes were going to result in either disaster or brilliance, and it seems the boys got the brilliance. I literally cannot overstate the excellence of the books. Gerald Savory skilfully turned parts of the books into this series and it was directed by Donald McWhinnie and produced by Nick Elliott. I'm torn between thinking that with such quality in the original books it would have been difficult to make a pig's ear of the adaptation, and thinking that it was a remarkable feat to do so and retain the specific character of Benson's novels. They are very delicate comedies of manners, with very specific balances between the characters' personalities which could very easily be overdone and become a caricature if you weren't careful. Nonetheless the adaptation is completely successful.

In addition the show is blessed with a cast which can only be described as top drawer. I wouldn't quite say that Geraldine McEwan could turn me straight by purring into my ear but she's probably one of the women who could come closest. Her cat-like elegance is perfect for the role of Lucia. Prunella Scales gives an excellent performance as a very dumpy Mapp, and Nigel Hawthorn pulls off the remarkable feat of making the most unrealistic character, Georgie Pillson, come to life in front of our eyes without the slightest hint that we are seeing something that isn't real.

Much of the point of the Mapp and Lucia books is that they are not quite real: of course at this length of time the feeling of unreality has succeeded to a feeling that the books and adaptations depict a world which may have been real and has passed. Of course it wasn't real. Benson was himself very very gay indeed, and in the manner of gay men of the time did have lots of sex but much of it out of the country because male homosexual acts were illegal here then. For those with eyes to see, the books and series have a very gay sensibility indeed - we would nowadays say that they were gay coded, because it couldn't be said explicitly then. Georgie is not the most obviously heterosexual man, but I think my favourite character is the obviously lesbian Quaint Irene. I think she most reflects me in my flat refusal to wear a shirt and policy of just saying what I'm thinking. Had I been carrying on like I do in the thirties I would probably also have been called quaint and sent to the colonies. But the characters in Benson's books are upper middle class so don't get that fate.

The episode called Lobster Pots is the adaptation of several seminal moments in the books. Lucia and Georgie have been visiting Tilling from their homes in Risholme, but decide to stay permanently, to the despair of Lucia's main rival as queen bee, Miss Mapp. The episode culminates in Miss Mapp's attempt during a storm to steal Lucia's recipe for Lobster a la Risholme, during which she is 

interrupted by Lucia. At that moment the nearby sea defences burst and they are forced to sail out to sea on an upturned kitchen table. The episode ends with the remains of the table being found on the beach and the pair presumed missing at sea. Don't worry - I can let you know that they're not dead, but I'm not going to tell you what happens about the lobster recipe. Because obviously that's the important detail here.

There are other details in the episode which flesh out the sensibility of the show. Initially Lucia wants to move to Tilling but Georgie doesn't, although they do end up selling their respective houses in Riseholme. Much of this decision revolves around the complication that their respective servants have got engaged, the servants' wishes about moving and Lucia and Georgie's needs for their servants. This is certainly a period piece which can only be rarely carried out nowadays. Apparently King Charles was very shocked when he saw cling film for the first time so apparently there may still be people incapable of fending for themselves but they must be few and far between.

Do I even need to say that I have no criticism of this show and think you should go away and watch it immediately?

Proud to be a member of the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati and the anti-growth coalition. wesayenough.co.uk - tactical.vote - https://www.gov.uk/how-to-vote/photo-id-youll-need

This blog is mirrored at culttvblog.blogspot.com and culttvblog.substack.com (where you can still subscribe by email if you want). There is an index to posts on the Substack version at https://culttvblog.substack.com/p/index-to-posts

If you want to support me and this blog, you can buy me a coffee or a box set at ko-fi.com/culttvblog