Wednesday 18 November 2009

Murder Most English

Adapting crime fiction into successful television is a task that demands a great deal of skill. This is all the more so when you are talking about humorous crime fiction. Humour on the page doesn’t always translate effectively on to the screen – and humorous television can also become dated very quickly.

With this in mind, I started watching my new box set of Murder Most English with a degree of trepidation. This is the series based on Colin Watson’s deservedly acclaimed Flaxborough Chronicles. I missed it when it was first shown during my student days, so I wanted to see what I had missed.

The first episode is Hopjoy was Here – I covered the book in a favourable review a few months back. The screenplay was written by Richard Harris – not the actor, but a highly experienced tv scriptwriter, whose many credits include Adam Adamant Lives! The Avengers, Shoestring and Outside Edge. The lead detective role was taken by the late Anton Rodgers, backed up by a young Christopher Timothy.

Unfortunately, I was rather underwhelmed by the show. Rodgers and Timothy do a likeable job, but some of the acting of the supporting cast, including the prime suspect and the forensic pathologist, struck me as sub-optimal, to put it kindly. That trepidation seems justified. I will, though, give the other episodes a try.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Martin, I've found that some humor doesn't really seem to survive well through the decades. Others do all right. I can't really grasp the formula, but "I Love Lucy" is still really funny to me, although it aired 20 years before I was born. But then some more recent humor (1970s) doesn't seem as humorous to me.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Anonymous said...

Never seen the telly version, but the books were quite well done on the radio some years ago; the repeats still pop up frequently on BBC7.

- Mat C.

Deb said...

I love those Colin Watson books--and Hopjoy Was Here is one of the best; but you're right, Watson's understated humor, which relies heavily on irony and reader identification with the local detective, doesn't always translate well to the visual medium.

I wonder if there will ever be (or if there has ever been) an adaptation of Cynthia Harrod-Eagles's Bill Slider mysteries because they possess some of the same characteristics--a lot of the humor on paper relies on puns and irony.

Nan said...

I was sure I'd like this, but honestly we turned it off after about twenty minutes. Stiff acting, boring, and I just didn't care about the characters. Right now we are watching series two of Inspector Lewis, and boy is it wonderful! My husband actually said he likes it better than Morse! Imagine! But I know what he means. I like the relationship between the two fellows better. Sometimes it was as hard for the viewer to put up with Morse' moods as it was for Lewis. :<) This episode has connections to Morse which is such a treat.

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, yes, humour does tend to date quite quickly.
Mat - thanks. I've never really followed BBC7 but must check out for repeats.
Hi Deb - as far as I know, the Slider books have never been televised.
Nan, I too have been pleasantly surprised by Lewis. I'm hoping the other Murder Most English episodes are an improvement....

pattinase (abbott) said...

Acting is so much more naturalistic now-you notice it in movies, too.

Anonymous said...

Martin - It is so difficult to adapt even an outstanding series to television. Sometimes, it's almost as though the better the books, the more disappointing the series. Perhaps it's because the expectations are so high.

Martin Edwards said...

Patti - yes, even the excellent 1980s Wimseys look a bit dated now.
Margot - agreed, though there are exceptions. But it's a shame that, for instance, Liza Cody's books didn't adapt well to tv, despite their quality.