Sunday, 4 January 2015


Mapp and Lucia is a British drama television series that was first broadcast on BBC One from 29th to 31st December 2014. The three-part series, adapted by Steve Pemberton and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence, is based on E. F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia collection of novels.

Anna Chancellor as Emmeline 'Lucia' Lucas
Steve Pemberton as Georgie Pillson
Miranda Richardson as Elizabeth Mapp
Mark Gatiss as Major Benjy
Felicity Montagu as Godiva 'Diva' Plaistow
Gemma Whelan as Quaint Irene Coles
Paul Ritter as Reverend Kenneth Bartlett
Poppy Miller as Evie Bartlett
Nick Woodeson as Mr Wyse
Pippa Haywood as Mrs Wyse
Katy Brand as Hermione 'Hermy' Pillson
Joanna Scanlan as Ursula 'Ursy' Pillson
Frances Barber as Amelia, Contessa di Faraglione
Jenny Platt as Foljambe
Gavin Brocker as Cadman
Soo Drouet as Grosvenor       
 Susan Porrett as Withers

                                E.F. BENSON (1867 – 1940)
Mapp and Lucia is a collective name for a series of novels by E. F. Benson, and also the name for two British television adaptations based on those novels.
The novels feature humorous incidents in the lives of (mainly) upper-middle-class British people in the 1920s and 1930s, vying for social prestige and "one-upmanship" in an atmosphere of extreme cultural snobbery. Several of them are set in the small seaside town of Tilling, closely based on Rye, East Sussex, where Benson lived for a number of years and (like Lucia) served as mayor. Lucia previously lived at Riseholme, based on Broadway, Worcestershire, from where she brought to Tilling her celebrated recipe for Lobster à la Riseholme.

"Mallards", the home of Miss Mapp—and subsequently Lucia—was based on Lamb House in Rye. The house had previously been lived in by Henry James and had a garden room overlooking the street (unfortunately a German bomb destroyed the Garden Room in World War II. The rest of the house is now a National Trust property.)

The novels, in chronological order, are:

Queen Lucia (1920)
Miss Mapp (1922)
Lucia in London (1927)
Mapp and Lucia (1931)
Lucia's Progress (1935) (published in the U.S. as The Worshipful Lucia)
Trouble for Lucia (1939)
The first three books concern only the protagonist named in the title; the last three feature both Mapp and Lucia.

In 1977 Thomas Y. Cromwell Company reprinted all six novels in a compendium called Make Way for Lucia. The order of Miss Mapp and Lucia in London was switched in the compendium, and a Miss Mapp short story called "The Male Impersonator" was included between Miss Mapp and Mapp and Lucia.

"Desirable Residences", one further short story featuring Miss Mapp, and previously having seen only one magazine printing in Benson's own time, was discovered by Jack Adrian in the 1990s and included in his collection of Benson stories, Desirable Residences.[1] A slight oddity about this very short piece, is that the town of Tilling was called Tillingham in the original printing, according to Jack Adrian's introduction to his collection. The characters of Miss Mapp and Diva Plaistow are clearly recognizable, however, as are their desirable residences. Miss Mapp, for example here lives in "Mallards", the fictional Lamb House that was always the Queen Castle vied for by Mapp and Lucia.

The character Susan Leg, appearing briefly in Trouble for Lucia, first appeared as a major character in Benson's novel Secret Lives (1932), which is similar in style to the Mapp and Lucia books.

Mapp and Lucia review – beautifully tart one-upwomanship
As two 1930s society mavens engaged in increasingly deranged warfare, Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson led us gloriously into a world of ludicrous standoffs and Italian hogwashery

Julia Raeside

A seemingly impossible task lay ahead of The League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton, judging by the number of people I’d seen expressing their terror at the thought of his new adaptation of EF Benson’s comic novels about Mapp and Lucia (BBC1), two 1930s society mavens engaged in all-out war for dominance of a picturesque Sussex town.

They couldn’t possibly like it if it wasn’t Channel 4’s 1980s version starring Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales, they declared. Although McEwan and Scales were brilliant, that’s no reason to place the books under glass, never to be touched again. It’s a self-sabotaging approach to believe only one actor can play a particular part. Can’t both Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone (not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch) be great Sherlock Holmeses? Well, if you did stay away, you missed a truly delightful piece of television and two splendid performances from Anna Chancellor, as melodramatic widow Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas, and Miranda Richardson, who gloriously inhabited the hoisted bosom and toothy fizzog of Elizabeth Mapp. More on those teeth later.

Pemberton’s nicely carbonated three-parter drew to a close, leaving me champing at the bit for more. More of Chancellor and Richardson’s beautifully tart one-upwomanship. More of the distractingly pretty Rye, its cobbles so perfectly suited to thwarting Mapp’s ungainly progress in low heels when trying to spy on her rival. More of the game supporting cast, including Felicity Montagu’s increasingly furious Diva, Mapp’s conscience and grudging ally. “One of us is going to have to dye,” barked Mapp at her friend when they turned up to a function in similar salmon pink frocks.

And definitely more of Pemberton’s clearly affectionate dialogue, with its acute ear for Benson’s subtly devastating zingers. The subtle chill of the Channel 4 adaptation is replaced with something warmer, perhaps in the palette of the production design or the performances of the supporting cast, but it by no means dilutes the acid that pours forth whenever the two women are in a room together.

Richardson completely transformed herself with the simple addition of some distractingly prominent teeth, as befits Benson’s description. Before seeing her in action, I couldn’t picture her in Scales’s shoes, but whereas Chancellor was riffing on a performance style she has used before, this seemed like something genuinely out of Richardson’s comfort zone. They contrasted each other flawlessly, one gliding over the cobbles while the other bobbed along clumsily, feeling every bump.

Last night’s final visit to Tilling (Rye’s fictional alter ego) began with Lucia’s ludicrously self-indulgent musical recital, to which she had graciously invited Mapp after weeks of social stand-off. “Beethoven AND tomatoes,” beamed Mapp tightly. “Yum.” As their gossamer truce dissolved, Mapp engaged in a determined plot to prove that Lucia was not in fact able to speak fluent Italian. It was an increasingly deranged campaign that saw Mapp, wild-of-eye, hair in disarray, hanging off the church tower spying on her insouciant adversary as she performed physical jerks in a striped bathing suit “like a wasp” when she should have been in bed with flu.

As if we hadn’t been spoiled enough for stunning female performances by the two leads, plus Montagu and Tuesday night’s excellent cameos by Joanna Scanlan and Katy Brand, the final episode was almost stolen by Frances Barber, who roared into town as Amelia, Contessa di Faraglione, to a suitably operatic change in the score. For a plot device brought in to merely disprove Lucia’s Italian hogwashery, Barber didn’t half make her mark.

Meanwhile, as the briefly banished Georgie Pillson, Pemberton allowed himself a tiny self-indulgence when his character overheard the staff speculating on his homosexuality and hairpiece; a small glimpse of an emotional inner life in an otherwise comically focused performance. His adaptation paced the plot neatly over three hours, inserting a new character at just the right point in the story.

As the episode reached its climax, a horde of extras took part in a behatted stampede, underscored by Zadok the Priest, when word got out that the Prince of Wales’s car was driving towards Tilling town centre. This flag-waving glee summed up the spirit behind the whole series. Everyone seemed genuinely, infectiously pleased to be there.

With Lucia’s decision to settle permanently in the town, Mapp was left to grimace as she dug in for the battles yet to come. I very much hope to see these future rumbles on screen, as I’d sit through another dozen rounds at least. Not goodbye then, but au reservoir, as they say in Tilling.

Christmas 2014: Can a new TV take on E F Benson’s cult Mapp and Lucia novels compare with the sublime 1985 series?

Students in the mid-1980s may have bonded over many things – their opposition to the Thatcher government, perhaps, or their collection of albums by The Cure – but comic Edwardian novelist EF Benson?

Such was the unlikely beginning to a beautiful friendship between Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton, when they first met at a drama college near Wakefield.

The gay son of a Victorian Archbishop of Canterbury, Benson remains best known for his Mapp and Lucia novels, a series of social comedies about warring upper-middle-class ladies in interwar Sussex. Hardly the sort of stories one might expect to grip the imaginations of northern working-class youth, then – and yet capture Gatiss and Pemberton they did. “When Mark came to my room and he spotted them [the novels] on my shelf we started coming out with all the catch phrases… ‘au reservoir’… ‘Quai-hai’… and the like”, says Pemberton. “That’s right”, agrees Gatiss. “To be sitting here doing it 30 years later is absolutely bizarre really, but brilliant.”

“Here” is up a cul-de-sac in the picturesque Old Town of Hastings in East Sussex, on the set of Pemberton’s new three-part adaptation of the novels, co-starring his old League of Gentlemen mucker, which is a centrepiece of the BBC’s Christmas schedule. The series has been filmed around the county, though the chief location is nearby Rye, Benson’s home town and the model for Tilling, the fictional seaside community that is the setting for a game of social one-upmanship (or womanship) between newcomer Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas and resident queen bee Elizabeth Mapp.

As Pemberton knows, his  version has a lot to live up to – namely the sublime 1985 Channel 4 series starring Prunella Scales as Mapp, Geraldine McEwan as Lucia, and Nigel Hawthorne as McEwan’s consort Georgie Pillson, a role now taken by Pemberton. “Anyone who has fallen in love with the books by way of that adaptation will possibly find it hard to accept different people playing those roles”, says Pemberton, and – as one of those people – I can only concur.

Scales’s Mapp was terrific, bustling Sybil Fawlty-like around Tilling with her shopping basket, in a constant fury at once again being out-manoeuvred by Lucia. And McEwan, with her cod-Italian phrases and eyes swivelling mischievously, has never been funnier. But it was Hawthorne’s Georgie who was the comic tour de force – fussing over his embroidery and delighting in the latest catty gossip. “It’s a huge pair of shoes to fill”, admits Pemberton, seated beside me in a Hastings side street, sporting a blazer, auburn toupée and moustache. “But I put that from my mind; he was superb in the role and I’m just trying to enjoy myself and be true to what Benson wrote as well.”

Pemberton has also been wise in his choice of leading ladies, Anna Chancellor, as Lucia, and an eerily Scales-like Miranda Richardson as Mapp. “There are not that many actresses who can do the drama and the comedy… it really isn’t easy to get that lightness of touch”, he says. “And physically they complete each other so well. It should feel like a boxing match where you don’t know which one is going to win.” “Anna looks like she comes from this period and she just slid so perfectly into this role”, says Gatiss. “I met her just before we started and she said ‘The terrible thing is that I think I am Lucia.”

Gatiss himself plays Major Benji, “ex-Indian Army major who drinks too much and talks about bagging tigers” and is given to yelling the aforementioned catch phrase of “Kway-hi!” (to be said when downing a dram), while of the supporting cast, Game of Thrones actress Gemma Whelan stands out as “Quaint Irene”, a pipe-smoking painter whose art outrages Tilling society more than her sexuality (Benson apparently based her on the Well of Loneliness author Radclyffe Hall, who also lived in Rye).

In fact the Mapp and Lucia novels were remarkable for their time in having two rather obviously gay characters – Georgie and Irene. “Benson’s entire family were gay [at least two of his five siblings were believed to have been]… that’s a sitcom waiting to happen”, says Gatiss. “It’s always had a massive gay following… quite rightly because it is very ahead of time… and Quaint Irene is absolutely in love with Lucia, and it’s just out there, while Lucia and Georgie that’s definitely a fag-hag relationship. But the weird thing about Tilling as a society is that they’re actually very accepting of their strange little foibles. And for the time that’s quite a foible.”

Other “foibles” include a flirtation with fascism. “They’re all in love with Germany and Italy and it’s that Miss Jean Brodie thing of half-admiring Mussolini”, says Gatiss. “There’s a whole unused plotline where they all become blackshirts, just because it’s fashionable.”

As filming wraps in Hastings, we’re driven the 12 or so miles back to Rye. Many of the locations being used will be familiar to fans of the 1985 series; the bonus this time, however, is, that the National Trust granted permission for filming to take place in Lamb House – the home of EF Benson (and before him of Henry James) and the model for Mallards, the house so fatefully rented from Mapp by Lucia,

Benson served as mayor of Rye, as does Lucia in Tilling, a perfect vantage point for observing the petty snobberies of this particular section of small-town life. “It’s absolutely timeless”, says Gatiss. “In fact a resident apparently approached the production team and murmured darkly that ‘If you want to know who the queen bee of Rye is now, I can tell you’.

“We’ve been filming in the church square and it’s so confined and tiny, everyone’s in and out of each other’s lives”, continues Gatiss. “Philip Roth was talking about why the life of academics is so riven with pettiness and nastiness and he says it’s precisely because the stakes are so low; that’s kind of what this is about.” “My kids are at primary school and it made me think of how that politics of the playground worked,” adds Pemberton, “which parents wanted to be the class reps and so on. I think it’s a universal situation. You had it in shows like Desperate Housewives.”

The triumph of EF Benson’s novels, as well as the 1980s adaptation, is that while we’re invited to laugh at these characters, we also feel for them, and it’s an attribute Pemberton hopes his version achieves as well. “Something we used to pride ourselves on in The League of Gentlemen was to bring pathos into it”, says Pemberton. Is Tilling another variation on Royston Vasey? “I suppose Tilling is the genteel version of Royston Vasey”, he says. “Vasey-by-the-Sea.”

‘Mapp and Lucia’ will be screening over Christmas on BBC1

 In 1950 the widow of Henry James's nephew gave Lamb House to the National Trust. Today the house is administered and maintained on the Trust's behalf by its current tenant. Some of James's personal possessions are on display, and there is an extensive walled garden, designed by Alfred Parsons at the request of Henry James, which is open to the public along with the house.
During summer 2014, Lamb House was used as the fictional "Mallards" for a new BBC TV adaptation of E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia. A temporary replica of the Garden Room was constructed for filming.

Lamb House was built in 1722 by James Lamb, a wealthy wine merchant and local politician. In the winter of 1726 King George I took refuge at the house after his ship was washed ashore at nearby Camber Sands. James Lamb gave up his bedroom for the King, while Mrs Lamb gave birth to a baby boy during the night. The child was named George and the king consented to be the boy's godfather.

A detached Garden Room, with a large bay window overlooking the street, was built at right angles to the house in 1743, and originally served as a banqueting room.[2] Both Henry James and E. F. Benson later used the Garden Room as a base for their writing during the summer months. The Garden Room was destroyed by a German bomb in 1940.

Benson wrote lovingly of both the garden and house, which he renamed "Mallards", in his popular Mapp and Lucia novels. Lamb House is the subject of Joan Aiken's supernatural book The Haunting of Lamb House (1993), comprising three novellas about residents of the house at different times, including James and Benson (both of whom also wrote ghost stories).

Other tenants have included, the novelist Rumer Godden, the author and academic A. C. Benson, the author and politician H. Montgomery Hyde, the publisher Sir Brian Batsford, politician William Mabane, 1st Baron Mabane,  the literary agent Graham Watson and the writers John Senior and Sarah Philo.

In the summer of 2014 Lamb House was transformed to become part of the set for the BBC's new adaptation of E F Benson's novel Mapp and Lucia. Having written the series at Lamb House and based it in Rye, it was fitting that the property be at the heart of the new adaptation as 'Mallards'.

The three part drama written by Steve Pemberton, also stars Miranda Richardson, Anna Chancellor and Mark Gattiss, to name but a few, with the help from some locals taking part too.

The production company with the help of conservation teams at the National Trust designed a set fit for Miss Mapp's exacting standards and Rye stepped back in time for a fun few weeks.

Recreating a piece of Lamb House history

Bombed during the Second World War, the garden room at Lamb House was recreated for the filming of Mapp and Lucia. The convincing set gives viewers a window into the history of the house. It's hoped that with the help of fundraising, boosted by the filming, Lamb House might one day be reunited with a garden room once more.

Visitors to Lamb House in the spring of 2015 will be able to find out more about the making of Mapp and Lucia thanks to a small display made possible as the result of location fees for the filming. The house also has personal possession belonging to Henry James on show.

 Mapp & Lucia (1985–1986)
The television series based on the three 1930s books, produced by London Weekend Television, was filmed in Rye and neighbouring Winchelsea in the 1980s, and starred Prunella Scales as Mapp, Geraldine McEwan as Lucia, Denis Lill as Major Benji Flint, and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie. There were ten episodes, (which aired in two series of five) broadcast on Channel 4 in 1985 and 1986.

 Mapp & Lucia (1985–1986)



Michael O'Sullivan said...

I will be sticking with my boxset of the 1980 series thank you very much. Its the best version of the 6 novels, with perfect casting even in the small parts. This this 3-parter was too rushed, anyone not knowing the books or the characters would be mystified.

Share my Garden said...

I was very eager to see this production as I was holidaying in Rye while filming was in progress. Miranda Richardson's performance spoiled this production for me, although I thought the other characters were well cast. I enjoyed Lucia's fabulous clothes most of all!

Brummagem Joe said...

A 9 out of 10 for effort but it wasn't quite as good as the McEwan/Scales/Hawthorne production. Some of the lesser casting didn't quite hit the spot either. Mr Wyse for example whatever his foibles does have "presence" so that he's never actually affronted in any way. Geoffrey Chater perfectly conveyed this quality in the earlier production while his replacement doesn't. Similarly the new Diva, Major Benjy and the Countess Fara Diddly-Owne were weaker although Quaint Irene was stronger. Anna Chancellor probably gave the best performance although even she couldn't equal that deliciously idiosyncratic voice.

Agnetta Austin said...

Very disappointing the new series Mapp and Lucia.
Beautiful realized as image , the script is missing connection and doesn't fallow the events as written in the Benson's books.
It is no compare whatsoever with he magistral perfect interpretation of the old series , but really, who -today -can compare with the actors of the golden age of TV?
In the 1984 series -every single actor was absolutely perfect chosen and we have to realize how splendid was also Denis Lill and Mary McLeod , James Greene,Cecily Hobbs,Geoffrey Chatter,Marion Mathie and all other actors together with the unique Nigel Hawthorne , prunella Scales and , sure, the splendid Geraldine McEwan.
The actual new series is just a small poor parody , a caricature of the so enchanting and funny E.F. Benson series book.

erable said...

I found the new series rather mean-spirited. Even when at their sniping best, the McEwan/Scales duo never seemed quite that rancorous. It's obviously no toss-up for me -- the first is still the best.