BBC Radio 4 Extra, 8 April - 5 May 2012
First published in 1891 and never out of print since then, Diary
of a Nobody records fifteen months in the life of Charles Pooter, his family, friends and a small circle of acquaintances.
It is set in and around Holloway, which at that time was a suburb of London of the impecuniously respectable kind: Pooter
himself is a senior clerk in the City, taking the bus every day and returning home at precisely the same time each day. His
leisure time is spent doing miscellaneous chores, talikng to his friend Going (who invariably comes round for a smoke), and
trying hard to keep out of the way of his long-suffering spouse Caroline.
The book's humour arises from the ways in which Pooter perceives himseif, and the
ways other people see him. As someone faithfully recording the details of his daily life, Pooter believes he is an important
person with something to say; what he does not realize is that much of what he says is in fact incredibly banal, the day-to-day
record of someone completely devoid of self-awareness. He is always getting into scrapes of his own making - for example,
painting the bath in red enamel without consulting wife, and then wondering why the paint peels off when he takes an extremely
hot soak. On another occasion he recalls the time at the Lord Mayor's party when he fell over - in Pooter's view this was
an unfortunate accident, when in truth he had actually drunk too much champagne. Pooter cannot understand the people around
him; his son William prefers to be called Lupin (an old family name), which for Pooter seems a fantastic decision. After all,
William is a fine yet simple name.
In this BBC production dating from 1977, the reader was none other than Arthur Lowe.
Whoever chose Lowe must have had Captain Mainwaring in mind, like Pooter, the well-meaning commanding officer is both vain
and pompous. On the other hand Lowe's Pooter came across as inherently likeable; he always thought the best of people
- especially his wife. Although many of his ideas were seldom thought through, they were always conceived with the best of intentions.
Lowe's performance showed the actor at his versatile best: although he spent much
of his career being typecast, first as Leonard Swindley in Coronation Street, and subsequently as Captain Mainwaring,
he was actually very good at accents - the common London tradesperson, the insolent clerk, the supercilious mayoral aide.
His performance was quite simply compelling, demonstrating to listeners why Diary of a Nobody has been so enduringly
popular since it first appeared. I will certainly be tuning in to the remaining episodes of this five-part adaptation.