Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The 1971 BBC adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays


Schoolboys with long hair who fight, gamble and drink? They can only come from the early 1970s.

And indeed they do. This is a still from the BBC’s 1971 adaptation of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which I recently bought and watched on DVD.

I had watched it only once before – when it was first broadcast – yet I found I remembered some lines of dialogue. Asked me what I watched last night and I would struggle to tell you.

It has a rollicking plot that owes little to the book and it obsessed with flagellation. Tom Brown is framed for poaching and beaten in front of his house. The truth comes out and Flashman is beaten in front of the school and expelled.

Richard Morant’s Flashman makes a good villain. Even more enjoyably villainous is his father Sir Richard Flashman, a character unknown to Thomas Hughes, who is played by Gerald Flood. Trivia fans will be pleased to discover that he was the grandfather of the rugby player Toby Flood.

A word too for the good older boys – Diggs, played by David Hampshire, and ‘Madman’ Martin, played by Robin Langford – who threaten to steal the production at various points.

It may not feel like it to me, but 1971 was a long time ago and all the actors I have mentioned so far are now dead.

But the three reprobates in the shot above are still with us.

Taking them  from the right, Sunning (or ‘Apollo’ as East insists on calling him for his blond hair) was played by Richard Gibson. He grew up to be Herr Flick of the Gestapo in ‘Allo ‘Allo.

East was played by Simon Fisher-Turner, who survived Jonathan King’s attempt in this era to turn him into the British David Cassidy and is now (as Simon Fisher) a successful composer of film music.

Tom Brown himself was played by Anthony Murphy. His later career is described by an uncle with bracing frankness:
At the age of fifteen he had won an Emmy award for his starring role in the BBC production of Tom Brown's Schooldays.  And at twenty four, having starred in the tabloids as the heroin-addicted hang gliding husband of a Duke's daughter, he rebelled against the rebel in himself, gave up drugs, obtained a divorce, and entered a law firm. 
But I wondered how, in his mid-thirties, he could reinvent himself as a painter and survive with a new family in a grand old ruin of a house on top of a hill near the medieval city of Carcassonne with views of the Pyrenees.
Now I see that Anthony's painting embodies and transfigures the tensions, pain and glory of his time, of his Irish, English and Jewish heritage, of the rebel within the lawyer, the addict within the survivor, the rootless visionary brought through art and suffering to earth.
You can view his paintings on his website.

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