Producer: Martin Lisemore
Director: Peter Hammond
OUR MUTUAL FRIEND/Episode 1/Intro by Alistair Cooke
Good evening, I'm Alistair Cooke.
Tonight we begin a seven-part dramatization of the last complete novel of Charles Dickens, which he wrote when he was about in his middle fifties, five years before he died. It is Our Mutual Friend and before we hear any off-stage groans from Edwin Newman or any other curators of the language, may I say that probably nobody was more responsible than Dickens for fixing in the language an expression that any teacher of English will tell you is meaningless.
Mutual means of each other, obviously all friends are mutual. What he meant to say was our common friend, the friend we have in common But in the genteel Victorian times that phrase already began to suggest that your friend was a little inferior to you, so we're stuck with solecism. G. K. Chesterton said, No university man could have written such an ungrammatical title, but then no university man could have written the bookó with its wide range of high-life, imitation high-life, low-life, a whole social gamut of England, which very few college-bred types could have known.
Dickens wrote this work when he was in a frenzy of invention and there are certainly forty, fifty characters. Whereas only about fifteen of them are involved in the main plot, another twenty or, thirty just wander through attaching themselves to four other plots. Now to film this would have produced a chaos of whimsy and deep confusion. So our adapters Julia Jones and Donald Churchill chose to stay with the main dramatic plot and the characters attached to it.
Dickens had the idea of the story from noticing the number of handbills and posters stuck up on street walls and in pubs, offering rewards for people who could give information about the identity of dead bodies dredged up from the river Thames. And evidentially in those days there were enough of them to provide a full-time job for longshoremen. They were so called because they scavenged the long shore of the riverbanks, looking for bodies. And Our Mutual Friend begins with such a longshoreman: Gaffer Hexam. He's rowing out one night, looking for bodies. He's rowed by his daughter, he's about to have a quarrel with an old partner, Rogue Riderhood, and he will find a body that upsets a fashionable dinner party and makes two lawyers there go off in pursuit of the identity of the victim.
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