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 .      

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