Monday, 28 July 2008

Eric or Nyree?

The great Anglican debate does drag on so, doesn't it? Whether or not God hates gays and Jesus doesn't want women dispensing the blood 'n wafers is really of concern to very few. But never mind about all that: a much more interesting argument was raging forty years ago among eighteen million people in the UK, among one hundred and sixty million around the world in the years immediately following, and among untold millions in the years since.

No-one who watched the 1967 BBC TV adaptation of The Forsyte Saga every Sunday night for 26 weeks could fail to take a stance on the relative virtues of Soames Forsyte and Irene née Heron, then Forsyte, then Heron, then Forsyte again. The divide was not along gender lines: many women thought Irene tiresome and wet, and not all men were on the side of the arrogant and boring Soames. Perhaps the majority view was that neither would be any fun to know and that it was only the brilliance of the two actors which made watching them tearing bits out of each other week after week an experience to savour.

And watch them we did. First it was Saturday evenings on BBC2 from January 7 to July 1, 1967 and then it was repeated on Sundays on BBC1 starting on September 8; for six months after that, on every Sunday evening the pubs were empty and attendance at Evensong was very poor. Each instalment ended with a cliff-hanger, and indeed the bosses of one U.S. television station decided its viewers could not be expected to wait for the next episode, and showed the entire series in one chunk, which lasted twenty-three hours fifty minutes.

I have been watching it on rented DVDs and have reached Episode 13, just halfway, up to where the first generation of Forsytes has started dying off, not before time.

Where do I stand on all this, you ask? Well, I seem to remember that the first time round I identified with the younger set and rooted for Irene with her sensational wigs and impossibly long neck, but now my sympathy is all with Soames who had the rotten luck to fall in love with the wretched woman.

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