BBC Radio 4, 1-8 July 2012
The schedulers of Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra certainly provide ample opportunity
for critical reflection. Marilyn Imrie's adaptation of Diary of a Nobody was broadcast not long after Arthur Lowe's
1977 reading of the same text, inviting a comparison between intepretive styles as well as performance.
Listening to Lowe's reading of the text, I became aware of just how close the Grossmiths'
portrayal of Mr. Pooter was to the actor's screen persona, as portrayed in Coronation Street and Dad's
Army. Although from a modest background himself, he believes he has become part of London's gentry. having
moved to a suburban house (called The Laurels) while holding down a clerk's job in the City. He is so self-absorbed by
this image that he cannot see the truth about his own life, nor can he understand what his so-called 'friends' Cummings
and Gowing actually think of him. Pooter is a Victorian Captain Mainwaring - a fundamentally kind person, yet obsessed
by the idea of rank.
Johnny Vegas' Pooter seemed to me quite different. Although trying to cultivate a
'middle-class' London accent, his northern vowels kept breaking through; try as he might, he could never become part of polite
society. Both his friends and the tradespeople treated him with amused contempt, even though they themselves lacked personality.
This was cleverly emphasized in the production through doubling: Adrian Scarborough played Cummings and the tradesperson Horwin,
while Stephen Critchlow played Gowing and another tradesperson Borset. Compared to them, Pooter emerged as a rather lovable
person - especially when he sang "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" at his son Lupin's (Andrew Gower's) engagement
However Imrie and adapter Lynch made a bold decision to recount the Diary
of a Nobody from Mrs. Pooter's (Katherine Parkinson's) perspective, rather than her husband's (as in the Grossmith text).
This gave us an insight into the rigours of her life as she tried to support Mr. Pooter, while understanding at the same
time how his impulsive nature inevitably caused trouble. If only he could keep his mouth shut, then perhaps there would be
no fights with the tradespeople, or drunken revels with the ironmonger after the Lord Mayor's party. But it was part of Pooter's
charm; if he did keep quiet, then perhaps he would not emerge as such a lovable person. This is what kept Carrie sane; she understood
his fundamentally benevolent nature.
The adaptation was graced by some lovely music, arranged by Faze Music, which
was simultaneously accurate in terms of period, yet had a playful feel that helped guide the listener's responses.
I look forward eagerly to the second part.