Sunday, 17 August 2008

Fine Ales, The Spaniards Inn & Black Beauty: An Oddly Inspiring Mix

As I have so often said before, inspiration comes in many eclectic and often decidedly odd guises. I was sitting yesterday evening in the historic Spaniards Inn (Hampstead, London) imbibing a fine ale or two when I happened upon someone I had once known at school and hadn't seen since that time. Somehow my mind flicked back to that period and settled on a recollection of a particular TV show; one that, now thinking about it, probably marked one of the most pivotal moments in the formation of my predilections and thus the direction of my writing.

As incredible as it may seem it was an episode of the children's television series; The Adventures of Black Beauty. Originally shown between 1972 and 1974, in the London area at least, and based on the well-known children's classic by Anna Sewell. I don't think I've ever seen it since that period but it has stuck in my mind ever since.

The episode in question (and I've no idea of its title - I have seen it only once I don't think it's ever been repeated) had the two children that usually featured in a series coming across a large country house that to their knowledge hadn't been occupied for some years but that now housed some recent arrivals to their area. Curiosity aroused they go to check out these new people and come across a strangely quiet teenage girl sitting in the garden who is oddly reluctant to speak and hurries them a way. The girl is called indoors by a very stern looking older woman and in a later scene she is being instructed to write a series of letters to far-flung relatives say in how well she has been treated - that is obviously far from the truth as she is being shouted at continuously by the man of the house. An inheritance is mentioned at one point and also something about the girl coming-of-age and her signature then being required on various documents (cheques etc one imagines) from that time on.

The girl is referred to continuously as ‘stupid girl’ and in a still later scene the male figure (and as I recall one is never certain exactly of his relationship to the girl) says to the woman, (in response to her voiced concern as to “what will happen about the money once the girl comes of age”) that the girl needs a governess and suggests that the woman's sister (who remains unnamed and unseen) would be ideal in the role, saying; “…a few years of your sister’s discipline and the silly little idiot will sign anything she’s told to”… an entire garden of fantasies and possibilities flowered in my head seeded by that one single line… and still do to this day. It is the archetypal Victorian heiress, stepmother, governess melodrama - and to find it buried in a simple children's TV series, incredible.

Anyway, I would be very interested to know if anyone else out there can recall seeing that particular episode; as I say, I've seen it only once and I don't think it's ever been repeated, or if it has been I've missed it - perhaps someone at the television company woke up, smelt the coffee and had second thoughts about it, who knows?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is The Escape (available on DVD). Also notable as an early example of transvestism in children's TV, when one of the boys dresses up to impersonate the girl.