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My favourite Dickens book is Our Mutual Friend. I love the 1998 BBC TV version, but recently had a chance to watch the 1958 BBC TV version. It was on sale at the BBC Store selling digital versions of programmes. That has in the last few days announced its closure. Luckily I bought this programme before they stopped more sales, and I’ve been able to watch it before my account is finally closed and I lose access to my programmes (yeah, great business model that one!). Like other customers of the BBC Store I have been offered a full refund of my purchases. And this 1958 version is also coming out soon on DVD, from Simply Media.

The 1958 version is 12 half hour episodes. Black and white obviously, limited in location work, though they do some interesting things with water that had me wondering quite how they filmed it back then! Our Mutual Friend is set largely on and around the River Thames, and concerns boatmen and their families.

In many ways this version is very authentic to the original novel. The biggest change they made is to reveal the big mystery right at the start, whereas the original novel, and also the 1998 TV version, take half the book to do this. I prefer the latter approach, but the former does work too, albeit to a lesser extent. Another change is that the 1958 version – unlike the 1998 version – seems to lose a lot of Dickens’ more nuanced dialogue in certain scenes. Since both TV versions are the same total length (1998 = 4 x 90 minute episodes) I don’t think this was necessary, and it is a shame, especially in key scenes.

The acting is variable in the 1958 version, unlike 1998 where it is uniformly of a very high quality. The four leads in 1958 are strong though: Paul Daneman, Zena Walker, David McCallum and Rachel Roberts. Indeed I would pick out the performances of the first and last of these as particular highlights. Also notable in acting terms are Helena Hughes as Jenny Wren, Fay Compton as Betty Higden, and a young Melvyn Hayes as Charley Hexam. However against those strong characters acting-wise are a number of very weak performances, for me anyway, particularly the actors playing Rogue Riderhood and Mrs Wilfer. I’m also far from convinced by Alex Scott in the key role of Bradley Headstone, a huge difference from the impression that David Morrissey makes in the 1998 version.

Despite these quibbles I found it a compelling programme to watch, although no doubt due in part to my love of the original Dickens source material. I rattled through all 12 episodes and 6 hours of viewing in just a few days. It definitely lent itself to binge viewing for me.

I would recommend this version to fans of Dickens and TV versions of classic novels. But I do think that the 1998 version is stronger. It has a much better sense of place with wonderful location filming, sets and design, is more true to the original novel in structure and dialogue, and has a higher quality of acting throughout. But the 1958 version, if you get a chance, is worth watching too.

Of course now I need to see the 1976 BBC version for further comparisons. DVD ordered …

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A very important part of my personal cultural history is that I’m a Doctor Who fan. I have been since I was 5, in 1978, and started to watch the series, starting with the first Romana 1 story, The Ribos Operation. And I was utterly hooked. This was the Tom Baker era, and for many years he was “my” Doctor, my favourite, though I watched and enjoyed all of the 80s Doctors Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.

Then the series went off air in 1989, and my fandom slipped. I stopped reading Doctor Who Magazine regularly, and it fell off my radar. And, though I’m really not sure how I managed it, and boggle now looking back, I even missed the 1996 TV movie broadcast on the BBC with Paul McGann in the role.

Fast forward to 26th September 2003, and the announcement that Doctor Who was coming back to TV, under the helm of Russell T Davies. I read that news on Ceefax, and years of suppressed Who fandom hit me like a tidal wave. Suddenly I was a fan rediscovering the show again, buying old DVDs, buying books to read, and even trying Big Finish audios. On our first day in our new house, while my husband helped the removal men, and I stripped old wallpaper from the walls, I listened to The Chimes of Midnight, with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. And boy, wasn’t it good!

And then it came back to TV proper in 2005. I was hopeful that Christopher Eccleston would be good. I was more worried about Billie Piper. Stupid me, I shouldn’t have worried. Both were superb, Billie a very pleasant surprise. I was sad to see Christopher Eccleston leave, but delighted with his replacement, who I’d watched in Casanova. And David Tennant soon became my all-time favourite, ahead of the mighty Tom, with wonderful audio (even if rubbish TV movie) Paul McGann third. And over the years companions came and went, and then there was Matt Smith. And now we have a Twelfth Doctor coming soon, whose casting is so exciting I am still pinching myself, not quite believing it can be true.

For the last few months my husband and I have been doing a weekly anniversary watch, picking a story from each Doctor to watch (or in the Eighth Doctor’s case to listen to – his audios are *much* better than the TV movie was). Here’s what we watched:

  1. The Edge of Destruction
  2. The Invasion
  3. The Sea Devils
  4. Genesis of the Daleks
  5. Mawdryn Undead
  6. The Mark of the Rani
  7. The Curse of Fenric
  8. Seasons of Fear
  9. Dalek
  10. The Fires of Pompeii
  11. Vincent and the Doctor

And then on Friday evening we watched a recorded version of An Adventure in Space and Time, the docudrama telling the origin story of Doctor Who. Oh that was glorious. Loved it. And tonight we have the 50th anniversary special to look forward to. I have a small bottle of champagne ready, and my Somerset husband has a bottle of cider ready to open. Bring it on!

And just in case all this isn’t academic enough I recently submitted a proposal to an academic conference to talk about the changing relationship of Doctor Who and its fanzines over nearly 50 years. And I’ve also in the past written a book history piece reflecting on one of my favourite TV stories.

But ultimately today is one of celebration for the fans of a wonderful TV institution. Long may it continue.

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Through the SHARP-L mailing list I learned about a recent BBC radio programme about audio books. It’s just under half an hour long, and worth listening to for anyone who reads books in this form, or is interested in book history in general. Issues covered include the practicalities of recording audio books, and the long history of audio books and readers’ experiences of them. It also touches on the continuing debate about whether listening to an audio book is an equivalent form of reading to using print books.

The only major downside for me was that there was no input from contemporary listeners of audio books giving their own experiences, with far more focus, for example via Germaine Greer’s example, on authors and how they viewed their books being turned into audio books. Though Dr Matthew Rubery provided academic coverage of some reader experiences, helping redress things somewhat. I’m planning to follow up some of his writings on this subject.

The programme can be listened to online, and also downloaded in MP3 format for keeping to listen to later.

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