Thursday, 24 November 2016
543 The Woman In White
First viewed : 12 May 1982
I came very late to this adaptation of the Wilkie Collins classic detective novel, only seeing the last episode despite glowing critical reports for the adaptation.
I had a distinct memory of watching it at my gran's house but the simple fact that it was on a Wednesday rather than a Friday triggered some detective work of my own. The explanation began to dawn when I realised that the twelfth must be the second Wednesday of the month and therefore it would be the occasion of a Littleborough Rambling Club committee meeting. Moreover , given that the Club effectively shut up shop at the beginning of June it would almost certainly be the final one. The meetings were nearly always held at my gran's house so they didn't interfere with my mum's TV viewing.
Knowing I still had a file of LRC paperwork in the cupboard, I decided to do a bit of digging and managed to fill some gaps in my memory having long ago decided that the last six months of the club's existence were best forgotten. It turns out it wasn't a routine meeting but a Fourth Anniversary Social Evening , taking place four years to the date after myself and original member Patrick had drawn up a programme of where we were going to visit on Saturdays for the next couple of months. This was taken to be the date of birth of the club although we didn't start calling it a society until 18 months later.
To take the story forward from the Kessler post , the Club had been rocked by a couple more departures. At the AGM in January, Sean's brother Frank expected his ascension to the post of Treasurer to be confirmed. I was a bit suspicious of his enthusiasm for the post but said I'd give my vote to whoever amassed the most points ( two for attending a meeting, three for a walk ) over the year ; that's how anal it had become. Frank had carefully made sure he stayed just ahead of the competition for that purpose. On the night though, my sister made a spur of the moment decision to challenge him. God knows why; she certainly hadn't pre-warned me. I didn't know which way to turn . Frank had played by the rules but Helen was my sister and he'd annoyed me by criticising me for committing 50 % of the raffle proceeds to the Coach House Trust , a decision I'd had to take for myself because none of the others had turned up to a Civic Trust meeting where I'd begun selling the tickets. So I gave my vote to Helen and it swung it for her.
Frank understandably was incensed and immediately quit the Club. He wasn't a very useful member but it was silly to lose someone over less than a tenner. Moreover, he refused to co-operate with filling out the bank form for changing signatories leaving our financial arrangements in a state of limbo ( which had some future significance as we'll come to in due course ). Sean did not quit in sympathy so the Club staggered on. We were pinning our hopes on a printed programme, care of the secretary's mum, which had been long promised but finally materialised in April. Just before it came out though there was another resignation. Sean didn't turn up for a Sunday walk. Normally he'd come up with an excuse but this time he didn't . I can't remember whether he actually said "I couldn't be bothered" or just shrugged but it was obvious where the land lay. I couldn't duck the challenge and deliberately insulted him - the exact words would take too long to explain - to force his resignation. I think he might have been angling for that anyway. The whole conversation can't have lasted for more than a couple of minutes.
Of course with a printed programme out there, we had to carry on until the last date on the sheet but it would need a big response to save the Club now and when no one but me turned up for the first one, it was clear the end was nigh. Things were patched up with Sean so he came to the Social Evening ( Frank stayed out in the cold ) and we amicably agreed to stop the committee meetings and plan no more public walks until there was a good prospect of more support. There were no dissenters to this, just relief all round.
I stayed there until my gran arrived safely back from our house, hence my tuning in to The Woman In White. Collins's novel is cited as one of the earliest detective novels and here got the full Brideshead Revisited treatment in terms of its leisurely pace if not on quite the same epic scale. A young man Walter Hartright ( Daniel Gerroll ) is engaged as a drawing tutor to two women, Laura a young heiress ( Jenny Seagrove ) and her older penniless half-sister Marion ( Brideshead's Diana Quick ). Walter becomes aware of a plot to seize Laura's fortune involving her fiance Percival Glyde ( John Shrapnel ) and her uncle, the flamboyant Italian aristocrat Count Fosco ( Alan Badel who died a fortnight before the series aired ) using her likeness to an unstable young woman dressed in white with whom Walter had a strange encounter at the start of the novel.
By the time I came to it the plot appeared to have succeeded but Glyde perished at the start of the final episode while trying to cover his tracks. However Fosco was a more formidable opponent but Walter discovers by chance a deadly chink in his armour and most of the episode consisted of a battle of wits between the two with a final twist after the end credits. I was intrigued enough to buy the book a couple of years later .