Friday, June 30, 2017

Defence Against the Dark Arts Part IX: more Stalky and Molesworth:

After finishing the article about Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky and the Molesworth books, I found some associated works that I didn’t know existed:

Stalky & Co.  BBC TV series; made in 1982

Two more Molesworth books, written by Simon Brett and illustrated by William Rushton:

Molesworth Rites Again (1983)
How To Stay Topp (1987)

I found some reviews, and there were enough positive ones to make me decide to get them. They sounded at least worth trying. I bought a DVD of the TV series; I bought the books too as they were not in my library’s catalogue.

I wondered whether I had done the right thing, as dramatisations of books I like are usually very disappointing and tribute books are hardly ever as good as the originals.

The Stalky & Co. BBC TV series
I have always believed that books stimulate the imagination whereas films short-circuit it. However, I bought the Stalky DVD in the hope that it would add something to the stories.

I don’t know what people who have never read the book would make of it; my balanced opinion is that while it was not a complete waste of money and it was not so bad that I was outraged by the dramatisation, it is lucky that I had not expected too much.

Some of the stories are shown out of sequence, and only six of the eight have been included. I wish they had included The Impressionists instead of The Moral Persuaders, which was too painful to watch.

Although the clothes the boys and masters wear look authentic, as often happens some of the characters did not look at all as I had envisaged them, the masters Prout and King in particular.
Beetle, the character based on Kipling himself, was acceptable. Kipling had a full moustache by the age of 15, and I was amused to see Beetle with one too.

At least the series was made before political correctness and diversity for its own sake ruined many of the BBC’s productions: the characters were all white! The series was made as entertainment, not to promote political ideas and social engineering.

Much of the appeal of the book is in the narrative, and this is lacking in the films. The episodes are too short to do justice to the original stories.

There were also some changes that I thought were unnecessary. 

Just as some people must make their presence felt, some people must make their mark when adapting a book for the screen. They change the text just to show that they have made a contribution. I think that an author’s work is sacred, and while it may need to be condensed it should not be altered.

Anachronisms, unnecessary and inappropriate changes and lack of authenticity can all be very jarring. For example, the college is shown as a big country mansion – I loved the Victorian furnishings - whereas the school in the stories was based on Kipling’s United Services College, which was a converted terrace of 12 lodging houses. This in-line layout was what made the hiding of the dead cat and its unpleasant effects in An Unsavoury Interlude possible.

Kipling’s “twelve bleak houses by the shore”:

Rudyard Kipling at the college:

Photograph, facsimile, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) at the United Services College, Westward Ho, Devon. The showcase caption reads - "Rudyard Kipling seen with glasses, cap and moustache (centre) with other students at the United Services College, Westwood Ho, 1878/82".

The two new Molesworth books
Author and journalist Geoffrey Willans died in 1958 at the age of 47; artist and satirical cartoonist Ronald Searle died in 2011 at the age of 91.

The Molesworth books are among their best known works, particularly in Willans’ case. They are a very hard act to follow, but author and radio producer Simon Brett and cartoonist and comedian William Rushton have produced something clever and amusing that is worth reading, in the style of but not nearly so funny as the original books. 

Middle-aged Molesworth, now a husband and a father, gives his thoughts about subjects such as work, families and how to survive the adult world with the minimum of effort. He tells us what his some of his old schoolmates are doing: Basil Fotherington-Thomas for example (hello clouds, hello sky) is now a solicitor.

The main attraction of the originals is that they are all about school and schoolboys and they look at the world of adults from the perspective of young boys who have yet to enter it; writing about the world of adults from the viewpoint of adults does not work nearly so well. Something is lost in translation.
Even so, the books provide a small amount of entertainment. Good effort boys, 5 marks out of 10.

Simon Brett and William Rushton also worked together on a radio series based on the original characters, with Brett writing the script and Rushton playing the part of the adult Nigel Molesworth. I have not heard the programmes and probably would not enjoy them if I did. Without illustrations, the text loses much of its meaning.