1 9 7 5 (UK)
3 x 50 minute episodes
Debuting on Saturday 3 May 1975, this three-part BBC2 adaptation of Muriel Spark’s tragi-comic novel was set near the close of World War II and contained within the confines – more or less – of a girls’ hostel in London which was once a club for gentlewomen opened by Princess May of Teck, and still bears her name.
The hostel exists for “the pecuniary convenience and social protection of ladies of slender means”.
Intended as a temporary residence for girls under thirty, it has three residents – Greggie (Madeleine Christie), Collie (Rosamund Greenwood) and Jarvie (Valerie Lush) – who are obviously coming up to thirty for the second time, but by a discreet overlooking of the rules, they remain, along with the fittings.
These elderly residents provide some nice comic moments in their interactions with one another, and in those with the younger residents of the club.
Selina Redwood (Mary Tamm) is the club beauty and the only one slim enough to get through the lavatory window on the top floor – which provides a gateway to romantic assignations on the roof – fully clothed.
Plump Jane Wright (superbly played by Miriam Margolyes in her biggest television role to date) is full of literary aspirations and up to her eyeballs in books. Unfortunately, Jane is too big to fit through the lavatory window at all.
Anne Baberton (Patricia Hodge) is the owner of a fabulous Schiaparelli gown that is loaned out to the other girls whenever the occasion demands.
Joanna Childe (Rosalind Shanks) – the self-sacrificing daughter of a country clergyman (Edward Burnham) – gives elocution lessons in exchange for payment or extra ration coupons, and the sound of her voice permeates the Club.
Dorothy Markham (Sarah Nash) is the impoverished niece of Lady Julia Markham, the chairwoman of the club’s management committee.
Young aspiring author-cum-anarchist Nicholas Farringdon (James Laurenson) comes onto the scene and takes Jane to a bohemian party where poets spout their lines and drink beer out of jam-jars, and from there to his room, to talk about food – and Selina.
Jane is torn between loyalty to her employer a slightly dodgy book publisher and her newfound friend Nicholas, who she is supposed to be trying to weaken into letting his manuscript go for the lowest possible fee.
Nicholas is eventually (accidentally) martyred (he is killed in Haiti in 1960 while working as a missionary) which brings the days at the May of Teck Club back to life in flashback.
There is a great deal of ringing around of people who remembered him, mainly to create an interesting article (Jane is now a successful reporter for a leading woman’s journal) – and hopefully to make some money on his manuscript which nobody wanted to publish during his life.
Eventually, no one really remembers Nick. He was not a great and important literary giant, and he was not – eventually – a true martyr, even.
The series was repeated again on BBC2 in August 1976.