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Russell Baker [imagemap with 7 links]

Russell Baker on White Teeth

Former New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker has been the host of Masterpiece Theatre since 1993. Mr. Baker introduces each program episode, and his personally researched and written comments add context and background to our understanding of the film we're about to watch. His comments frequently provide a uniquely American perspective on the mores and lifestyles of the British.

More commentaries by Russell Baker, as well as commentaries by his predecessor in the hosting chair, Alistair Cooke, can be found for select programs in The Archive.

Episode 1 - Plot Revealed Below!

The London we see in tonight's story is a far cry from the world of Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria. She's famous, you remember, for saying, "We are not amused." She would surely not have been amused by the people we are about to see tonight, but Dickens would have been delighted.

They include a World War II veteran who flips coins when he has to make important decisions, such as whether to kill himself; and a young Jamaican girl who spends her days ringing doorbells for Jehovah's Witnesses; and a middle-aged bridegroom from Bangladesh whose bride was chosen for him before she was born.

This Dickensian cast was created by Zadie Smith for her first novel, White Teeth. She was 21 years old and still a student at Cambridge when she began it. When she finished she was 24, and, because the book was a huge literary success, she had a lot of money. Zadie Smith is the daughter of a Jamaican mother and a British father and grew up in North London. Her book has been called a comical look at a country coming to grips at last with a reality it tried for a long time to ignore: to wit, that England had finally become a vibrant, multicultural society.

We are presenting White Teeth in two installments. The year is 1974. New Year's Eve is approaching. Some people expect the world to end when the clock strikes midnight.

First of two episodes, White Teeth.

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Episode 2 - Plot Revealed Below!

Archie Jones is a white Londoner who was trying -- unsuccessfully -- to kill himself until he met a black Jamaican girl named Clara one New Year's Eve, and found happiness, and married her.

His old World War Two II buddy Samad Iqbal, who comes from Bangladesh, had arrived in London at the same time for an arranged marriage with Alsana, a woman half his age -- whom he was meeting for the first time.

Archie and Clara eventually had a daughter they named Irie. The Iqbals had twin sons. Last time, we saw the twins parted in childhood. Their father wanted them brought up in his native Islamic culture, but could afford to send only one son back home.

As the story resumes, the children have turned into teenagers. The twins have grown up on opposite sides of the world. One is in Bangladesh; the other is in high school with Archie's daughter, Irie.

All three are ready to take charge of their own lives. Which means that Archie and Samad, Clara and Alsana are about to learn what trouble really is. In this case it involves a scientific genius who is about to present the world with an amazing new genetically engineered creature he calls "FutureMouse."

Now, "White Teeth," concluding episode.

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