Xmas Television: Miss Mapp by EF Benson

published 1922



After the bills were paid and business was done, there was pleasure to follow, for there was a fitting-on at the dressmaker’s, the fitting-on of a teagown, to be worn at winter-evening bridge parties, which, unless Miss Mapp was sadly mistaken, would astound and agonize by its magnificence all who set eyes on it. She had

found a description of it, as worn by Mrs Titus W Trout, in an American fashion paper; it was of what was described as kingfisher blue, and had lumps and wedges of lace round the edge of the skirt, and orange chiffon round the neck. As she set off with her basket full of tradesmen’s books, she pictured to herself with watering mouth the fury, the jealousy, the madness of envy which it would raise in all properly-constituted breasts.



observations: A series called Mapp and Lucia is one of the big features of the BBC’s Christmas lineup this year, and (it’s so with any favourite books) fans will be clearing the decks, booking the sofa and planning to both watch and record it – while at the same time nervously wondering if the dramatization will be up to scratch. The fans include me - Mapp and Lucia were on my list of books that made me laugh recently:
Au Reservoir, darlings, time for some Moonlight Sonata - uno duo tre - a chota peg, and some homard a la Riseholme.
I haven’t seen the programmes as I write this, so there will be no judgement. There was a Mapp and Lucia series back in the 1980s, with Geraldine McEwan, Prunella Scales and Nigel Hawthorne doing great work (it never seems to be repeated, which is a shame) and I’ve always remembered the costume designer saying in an interview that when making pageant costumes she looked for curtain material of the 1920s, rather than authentic-looking brocades, because that is what the residents of Tilling would actually have used. The books are, of course, an absolute goldmine for clothes descriptions. In the past we have shown Lucia getting a special suit for Georgie, and Quaint Irene as one of our early trouser-wearing women.

The series is almost unique, I think, in one important consideration: EVERYONE who reads them must wish that Mapp and Lucia met earlier, and thus that the books were combined, and that they both lived in Tilling all along. Benson invented them separately, then combined them – this is usually a really terrible idea for authors, but not this time. Lucia starts out living in Riseholme, encounters Mapp during a holiday let, and later moves to Tilling. But really, it is sad that they weren’t there together all along, competing Queen Bees. I’m sure the TV series will simply change the inconvenient facts to suit the drama.

Benson wrote more than 100 books, and was part of a very productive family of siblings with strange lives, children of an Archbishop of Canterbury – he is well worth a look on Wikipedia.

He is very good at names: Mapp’s great rival is splendidly called Godiva Plaistow, Diva for short, and there is Daisy Quantock and Captain Puffin.

In case you haven’t guessed, someone else is going to turn up at a party wearing the same dress…. (the same thing happens in Cover her Face and The Fashion in Shrouds…)

A choice of two teagowns here (the point of the teagown, btw, was that it was loose so you didn’t HAVE to wear stays or corsets, but it was smart enough for an informal party). The first one, from an early 20th century French fashion magazine, looks far too lovely, so I have also chosen one that is out of era and doesn’t really fit the description, but I feel is channelling the spirit of Mapp and the obviously-meant-to-be-hideous dress. This one is from the 70s, designed by John Bates, from Christine’s photostream here.


Comments

  1. There is definitely something about those series, isn't there, Moira? And I would guess this particular set of stories translates very well to the screen, given the witty dialogue and the visuals. I'll be really interested to know what you think of the new adaptation when you see it.

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    1. Thanks Margot - the advance previews are very promising, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll enjoy.... and the clothes look good in the stills released so far!

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  2. Ah, I wonder how long until this hits Australian TV. My cat George is better known as Georgino mio... ;-)

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    1. No wonder he lliked his biretta - I think Georgie P would have an eye for a smart vestment too....

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  3. It was very funny, well written by Steve Pemberton (of The League of Gentlemen) and well performed by the entire cast. A total joy from start to finish. Can't wait for tonight's episode.

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    1. I enjoyed it too, I thought there was some great acting and wonderful facial expressions....

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  4. Moira, anyone who writes close to or over a hundred books merits a closer look in spite of the abundance of clothes descriptions. I'm beginning to notice those things now!

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    1. Thanks Prashant, I like to think of that. I notice eg Westerns more because of you - blogging reaches far and wide...

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  5. Happy to say I missed this......result!

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    1. Still another 2 epis to catch up on Col....

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  6. Have heard of these (the novels) but that is about it. I hope you have enjoyed the new series.

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    1. Yes I did, Tracy, it was very well done and true to the spirit of the books, and the acting, setting and (of course) clothes were wonderful. I hope there's going to be more....

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