1 9 8 4 (UK)
1 x 120 minute episode
13 x 60 minute episodes
The Jewel in the Crown was a fourteen-part serial produced by Granada Studios and first broadcast on British television in January 1984. A lavish prestige production, it received critical acclaim and won several national and international awards.
Based on Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (four novels published between 1966 and 1975) the series focused on the final years of the British in India.
Set against the backdrop of WWII, and using the rape of an English woman as its dramatic centre, Jewel in the Crown charted a moment of crisis and change in British national history.
The serial itself was produced during a moment of crisis and change in British life: mass unemployment, the arrival of new social and class configurations tied to emerging political and economic trends all conspired to destabilise and recast notions of national and cultural identity in the early 1980s.
While often critical of Britain’s past, this show permitted a nostalgic gaze back to a golden age, presenting a vision of Empire as something great and glorious. The show seemed to offer reassurance to the British public and proved immensely popular with TV viewers in the UK.
Jewel managed to hold on to some of the formal complexity of the novels by employing voice-overs, flashbacks and newsreel inserts.
By the third episode, the serial’s central character Daphne Manners was killed off and only one character spanned the whole fourteen episodes (the evil security officer Ronald Merrick who dies in episode thirteen and only appears in the final part through flashback).
Filming in India for four months was not without challenges.
Although three weeks had been allowed as a reasonable amount of time for the crates of camera equipment etc to pass through Customs and into the country, the paperwork for three crates among a batch of 300 had been incorrectly completed, and Indian Customs men politely proposed that all 300 crates should be flown back to Manchester and re-exported.
With long and patient talking the problem was resolved, as was a later one involving beggars asked to be extras for a temple scene. Terms were agreed, and a coach was hired to take them to the town where the scenes were to be filmed.
But when the coach arrived, not only would the driver not accept such low-caste passengers, but the beggars themselves also refused – having decided that the true purpose of the trip was to whisk them to a hospital for vasectomies.
A fate almost as humiliating befell actor Eric Porter, there to play Count Bronowski, when he swam in the hotel pool in Delhi. His hair, carefully bleached silver for the old man role, turned bright green on contact with the chlorine.
Then there was extraordinary weather which delayed filming. Very high temperatures – 40° Centigrade in Mysore – affected everyone. In Simla for the Rose Cottage scenes there was snow, so Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Rachel Kempson waited to be called for their scenes in bed with hot-water bottles.
The two most powerful scenes were left to be filmed in England. One was the Bibigar Gardens rape of Daphne Manners, the gawky English girl, gloriously played by Susan Wooldridge.
Prejudiced reactions to the crime, blamed on her Indian lover Hari Kumar (played by handsome Art Malik) were a central theme, yet no suitable spot was found in India. The gardens had to be built in a disused quarry near Manchester.
The final scenes of bloody riots between Muslims and Hindus at the railway station at the time of Partition were filmed in a disused station at Quainton, Buckinghamshire, which was adapted with the aid of old photographs. In this case, there had been suitable Indian locations but producer Christopher Morahan feared faking such horrors might offend local people.
Just as Europeans had been rounded up to play wartime Brits taking drinkies in Mysore, back home 130 people of Indian origin were employed as passengers and members of a murderous mob, most of them wearing dhotis for the first time in their lives.
Magically the two sets of scenes were matched together. A party guest would step out of his car in India and arrive in Lancashire. A ball bounced by a child in a dusty India street was caught by Charles Dance’s Sergeant Perron in Manchester.
But catastrophe awaited. An hour after filming ended one night in January 1983 a fire raged in the warehouse converted into a studio near the Manchester production offices. All costumes and props (many brought back from India) were destroyed. No one was injured, and the props were all replaced. Only the artificial arm worn by Tim Pigott-Smith as Ronald Merrick caused worry – until the Roehampton limb centre rushed up another.
Not everyone was pleased with the end result. India experts including Enoch Powell and Salman Rushdie objected to aspects of Jewel. Mary Whitehouse was shocked (as was the point) by a scene in which Judy Parfitt’s mean-minded Mildred noisily made love with the fishy Captain Coley and was discovered by Dame Peggy’s sad old missionary, Barbie.
But critics were almost wordless with admiration for something almost too good for television. It collected all the year’s Best Drama prizes. Tim Pigott-Smith won the Best Actor BAFTA for his envious, sadistic and inadequate policeman Merrick, and Dame Peggy was garlanded for Barbie, the character she asked to play and whose tragic life became a judgement on events.
Her portrayal of the simple, sincere yet not-quite-the-right-class spinster, unwanted and finally unhinged, was outstanding.
Supt. Ronald Merrick
Sgt. Guy Perron
Count Dimitri Bronowski