Milk in First (More)

Two papers today have independently quoted Evelyn Waugh on the issue of when to add milk to one's tea. In the Liverpool Echo there is a feature article on the subject that opens with the claim that "Liverpool is the UK’s tea-drinking capital, with the average Scouser downing four cups a day." The Huffington Post has a lower profile article on the social implications of milk and tea. Both quote Waugh's judgement that adding milk first was a sign of lower class standards. This quote may have become enshrined in the journalistic quote canon by its inclusion in Fortnum & Mason's guide to "The Perfect Cup of Tea":

This thorny question has divided tea drinkers for quite some time. Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing to do in refined social circles, but the reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this. When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table. Evelyn Waugh once recorded a friend using the phrase ‘rather milk-in-first’ to refer to a lower-class person, and the habit became a social divider that had little to do with the taste of the tea...Now that the days when one’s social position was judged by this sort of thing are long gone, you may pour your tea however you choose. 

For the source of Waugh's quote, see earlier post.

In other news, writer and Waugh admirer A N Wilson on a visit to Australia has compared his attitude to the past to that of Evelyn Waugh. This appears in the Sydney Morning Herald:

"I'm not at home in the modern world," says Andrew Wilson..."I'm much happier in the 19th century. The minute I open a Victorian volume of memoirs, a Victorian volume of letters, a Victorian novel, I feel at home...I don't want to sound like a bargain-basement version of Evelyn Waugh but there are so many things about contemporary life, from sort of plastic packaging to muzak and everything that are just sort of horrible and unnecessary and which didn't exist in those days. Of course you can turn around and say yes, and there were children dying of starvation and so on. And of course I know all that." 

Finally, the Daily Express in today's edition mentions Waugh twice. Once in connection with the favorite books of actor Sir Ian Ogilvy, best known for playing the lead in the 1970s TV series The Return of the Saint.  He includes Scoop among his 6 favorite books:

I love his wry sense of humour. He doesn’t push the jokes at you. The main character writes a country column and is then given a journalistic assignment to a war-torn country. It’s very silly.

Another article, reviewing a BBC Four Timeshift documentary on the history of the landline telephone, opens with a reference to Waugh:

The writer Evelyn Waugh had a great dislike of the radio, calling it ‘a detestable toy’ and refusing to allow one in his house. Dial ‘B’ For Britain: The Story Of the Landline (BBC4) included footage of a similarly jowly and furious man describing the telephone as a thundering nuisance. Lord knows what they would make of the ringtone and automated checkout. 

If they had looked further that would have found that Waugh also avoided using the telephone. Although he allowed one in the house, he preferred to communicate in written correspondence (which is one of the reasons he left so much of it).

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Another Norwegian Article on Brideshead

The recent new translation of Brideshead Revisited into Norwegian has engendered another article. See earlier posts. This appears in a Norwegian-language Roman Catholic  weblog and is written by Fr Oddvar Moi. The article contains a brief description of Waugh's early life and conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. It goes on to describe Brideshead, with a particular emphasis on its religious themes. Finally, there is a discussion of Waugh's opposition to the liturgical and other reforms following the Second Vatican Council. Most of the material would be quite familiar to English-speaking readers, but there a few original comments arising from its Norwegian context. For example, Fr Moi explains that after his conversion in 1930:

Waugh tried to live as a good Catholic in every way, although Pietist Norwegian Christians would probably find his continued high alcohol consumption and some other habits problematic.

The Google translation is better than average but be aware that it translates "messen" (Norwegian for the religious service of "Mass") as "fair" or "fairy". 

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Waugh on Desert Island Discs

Reader David Lull has provided the results of a search for Evelyn Waugh on the BBC database for the entire run of its Desert Island Discs program. Waugh was never a castaway and, if ever asked, he would have surely declined. He told composer Igor Stravinsky that he found listening to music painful and declined an invitation in 1949 to the premiere of a Stravinsky composition. On the other hand, he apparently liked hymns which he frequently works into his fiction as well as certain musical comedies--for example, he went to multiple performances of The Beggar's Opera and Kiss Me Kate.

He shows up on Desert Island Discs as the author of castaways' selections of a book they can choose to take with them (aside from the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare which are already there). Scoop, Brideshead Revisited (Greek version), Sword of Honour, and Vile Bodies were each chosen by one castaway and Decline and Fall, by two. The castaway who chose Brideshead has an additional Waugh connection. This is actor Peter Bull who was the owner of the teddy bear that played Sebastian's Aloysuis in the 1981 Granada TV adaptation of that novel. Another example of Waugh's selection was in the 2015 appearance of TV comedy writer Maurice Gran who would take the Complete Works of Waugh with him (apparently not planning to be shipwrecked until that project is completed). See previous post. It is not obvious why that selection did not turn up in Dave's search so there may be some limitations to the search function for "book" on the BBC database. Any of our readers knowing of other examples of Waugh's selection on the show are invited to comment below.  Tip of the hat once again to Dave for sending us his search results. 

UPDATE (20 April 2017): The Auberon Diary Twitter page has kindly posted the Desert Island Discs episode in which Auberon Waugh was the castaway. This is from 1986, shortly after he had left Private Eye and become editor of Literary Review. The presenter is Michael Parkinson. They discuss Auberon's childhood briefly. He describes his father as moody but not a bad-tempered person, and one inclined to melancholy. There was little music in their household, as his father was tone deaf and his mother not interested. He also mentions his hope to have the time to write the 3 or 4 novels buzzing around in his head after he retires. Alas, that didn't happen.

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Decline and Fall on YouTube

All three episodes of the BBC TV adaptation of Waugh's novel Decline and Fall are currently posted on YouTube. They may be watched on your computer without a UK internet connection. Here are the links:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

For those who do have UK internet connections, the entire series remains available on BBC iPlayer until 28 April.

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More Praise for BBC's Decline and Fall from the Spectator

The Spectator in a blog column by Douglas Murray has added to its earlier praise for the BBC's adaptation of Waugh's Decline and Fall. This follows Friday's transmission of the final episode of the series and focuses on that episode. But it opens more broadly with he declaration that the series as a whole was "a triumph.":

...I had always assumed that this earliest of Evelyn Waugh’s novels was un-filmable. The plot is slightly sketchier, the characters slightly more limited than in Waugh’s later novels. Which isn’t to take away from the fact that it remains one of the funniest novels ever written. And now here, amazingly, was a near-perfect adaptation. ... The cast was uniformly superb [and] by the final episode ... seemed to be moving to some heavenly (if also partly grotesque) harmony. ... Of course if you love a novel, it is hard not to watch any adaptation partly by looking for the mistakes.

Murray goes on to consider the case of the presentation of Prendergast's death. In the novel Waugh put this gruesome topic into the comic context of having Philbrick report it to Paul Pennyfeather in chapel by fitting it into the words of the hymn O God Our Help in Ages Past. That made it funny on the page but may not have worked so well on the screen. So the BBC adaptation came up with a more direct presentation of Prendy's demise. This ended with a macabre sight gag (not mentioned by Murray) which was one of the funniest moments in the series. And they saved a bit of the chapel scene beloved by Murray when Pennyfeather reports to Philbrick the escape of Grimes from Egdon Heath Prison to the tune of the same hymn. That itself was not as funny as Waugh's version of the hymn but was reasonable compensation for the modification.

In his conclusion, Murray seemed to agree:

Anyhow – they bottled giving Waugh’s version exactly, as they bottled a tiny number of other things. But it worked fantastically nonetheless, and I will more than forgive them for it. If the BBC can gather a cast of this calibre and make an adaptation able to please even the most pedantic fans, then the BBC is clearly doing something right. I’m tempted to say ‘for this be all thy sins forgiven.’ Which might be overdoing it, but this tour-de-force will certainly put any such sins to the back of the mind for a time.

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TLS Reviews BBC's Decline and Fall

In a departure from its usual practice, the TLS has added a TV column to its current issue. This contains Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's review, entitled "Vile Buddies," of the BBC adaptation of Waugh's novel Decline and Fall which concluded with last night's Episode 3. Douglas-Fairhurst's day job is Professor of English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, so this TLS column may be a departure from his usual reviewing assignment as well.

The review begins with an explanation of how Waugh, rather than meekly accepting his life as an accidental school master, "instead decided to rewrite it." This produced one of the funniest books in the English language with a "rogue's gallery of grotesques." But according to Douglas-Fairhurst:

...the most important character doesn't have any identifying features or even a name. He is Waugh's narrator. In an essay he published in 1929, Waugh praised Ronald Firbank's fiction for its switches between "the wildest extravagance" and "the most austere economy", and the same is true of his own narrative voice, which lets him describe appalling events without ever being touched by them. It is the artstic equivalent of the comedian's poker face.

While Douglas-Fairhurst does not suggest that this narrator could have been brought wholesale into the TV adaptation, he does find that

as scripted by the Rev creator James Wood, this is a curiously gloomy affair. Most of the time it sticks closely to its source, and whole lines are lifted straight from the page...Where it moves away from Waugh  is its unwillingness to trust the exquisite flatness of his narrative voice.

Small details are dropped and larger elements are spelled out--for example, the script does not leave it to our imaginations that Capt Grimes gets "in the soup", as Waugh discretely puts it, for being a pederast, but rather has him caught in flagrante with an adult chauffeur in the toolshed. And rather than having young Tangent "grazed" by a bullet, as written by Waugh, the TV version has him shot through the leg, with blood spurting out of the wound. These are elements of an "adaptation that is far too busy explaining Waugh's novel to listen to it properly." 

It is not clear whether Prof Douglas-Fairhurst had seen Episodes 2 and 3 when he wrote his review, as all his examples are from Episode 1. The adaptors faced a much larger challenge putting those later and significantly darker bits of the novel on the screen while still bearing in mind Waugh's admonition that the novel "throughout...IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY". In those episodes, the tinkering with the novel's details worked successfully in preserving Waugh's intention that the story overall should be "FUNNY." Moreover, as these things go, the adaptation comes out fairly close to the novel: the original story suffers relatively few  changes in its transference to the screen. No major characters are sacrificed and the plot, such as it is, comes through relatively unscathed. And right to the end, IT IS FUNNY.

Thanks to reader Peggy Troupin for providing a copy of the review.

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Biffing: A History

Today's Times notes the issuance of the UK paperback edition of a WWII history which has Wavian overtones. This is The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Churchill’s Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton. In his brief notice, Lawrence James explains:

The Castrator, a small explosive device placed under a lavatory seat, which detonated when raised, was one of the least known British weapons of the Second World War. A similar booby trap was contrived by Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook to destroy Apthorpe’s “thunderbox” in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. A bit caddish perhaps but, as Ritchie-Hook was forever insisting, war was about “biffing” the enemy and the latrine was as good a place as any to do it. Ritchie-Hook’s pugnacious philosophy and devilishly inventive spirit runs through Giles Milton’s wonderful book about the mavericks who were employed by the government to devise original ways of killing Germans. Milton gives a fascinating and lively account of their activities and contraptions and of how Churchill overrode objections made by what one inventor called Whitehall’s “abominable no-men”.

Alas, neither Ritchie-Hook nor Apthorpe (nor Waugh for that matter) are mentioned in the book's index.

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Times Previews Episode 3 of Decline and Fall

The Times has provided a detailed preview of tonight's final episode of the BBC's adaptation of Waugh's novel Decline and Fall. Not surprisingly, given the darker contents of the latter part of the novel, the preview by James Jackson finds less comedy in this episode as compared to the earlier ones:

The first 20 minutes of the final part of this Evelyn Waugh adaptation are tremendous fun. On the eve of his wedding ... Paul Pennyfeather (Jack Whitehall) is blithely unaware that he’s about to be plunged into his biggest crisis yet. At his bachelor lunch the hapless dupe is stuck over what to choose from the menu ... Yet that’s the least of his worries when, right there, he is arrested for trafficking prostitutes. Seven years of hard labour at Egdon Heath prison awaits ... It’s around here that things enter more bleak and maudlin territory, offering the sharpest reminders of the novel’s sadistic streak. If there’s some amusing liberty with the text when Pennyfeather’s escape plan is debunked by his fellow don-turned-con Captain Grimes — a contemporary wink referencing The Shawshank Redemption — things become downright grisly with the fate of the toupee-wearing Mr Prendergast. It makes for, tonally, a rather uneven conclusion to what has been an impeccably styled adaptation, graced by some top-notch performances — not least from Whitehall, playing it so unexpectedly straight.

Radio Times also offers a brief preview that is consistent with its earlier less positive assessment of the series:

...As this fairly lifeless adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant comic novel comes to a close, Paul (Jack Whitehall) falls head-first into a massive mess. He’s a naif, bribing bad men without thought, and he gets into trouble. ... Brace yourselves for a shocking bit of gore, and the line “I love you, but I’m worried that you’re sleeping with the Home Secretary”.

The Catholic Herald has also published what looks as if it might be a comprehensive review of the entire series, but to read it requires a subscription. The series concludes tonight on BBC One at 9pm.

The Daily Telegraph has meanwhile turned its attention to another adaptation of Waugh's novels. This is in an article which considers films with a Venetian setting, where it names the usually dismissed 2008 theatrical film production of Brideshead Revisited as one of the top ten in this category. This seems to be more for the extensive filming of locations in Venice, much of which involved material extraneous to the novel, rather than for the overall quality of the film itself:

This ... adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel doesn't quite live up to the reputation of the classic TV series, but features some handsome Venetian landmarks, including the Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Campo Castelforte, the Church of San Francesco della Vigna ... and Punta Sabbioni beach.

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The Caramanserai and Objets D'Arcy

The current issue of The Tablet has a feature length article about Frederick Copleston, SJ entitled "The Cleverest Jesuit". This is by John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University and University of St Andrews. He begins by describing the context of the English Jesuit community at the time Copleston entered it:

Fr rothschild sj is the first character to appear in Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies. He is an ambiguous figure, secretive and unctuous but learned and clever. Evidently Waugh was invoking a prejudicial stereotype familiar to his non-Catholic readers. Within a few months, however, he began to discover the Jesuits at first hand, beginning with Fr Martin D’Arcy SJ who provided instruction and received him into the Church before the year was out. Thereafter such phrases as “a very clever Jesuit” appear in Waugh’s letters and diaries without a sense of irony, often recommending D’Arcy or Philip Caraman SJ to some would-be convert. ... “Caramanserai” was coined to refer to Caraman’s company of converts, just as “objets D’Arcy” had been given to the sacred artworks acquired by D’Arcy for the adornment of Campion Hall, Oxford, of which he was Master from 1933 to 1945. Very quickly the image of the English Jesuits changed from one of agents of intrigue to participants in, and contributors to, an intellectual, cultural and spiritual renaissance centred on Campion Hall, and Farm Street Church, London. 

Most of these leading Jesuits were educated at Stonyhurst, whereras Copleston went to Marlborough, where he converted to Roman Catholicism in his final year, causing his discrete dismissal. This did not interfere, however, with his acceptance at Oxford:

As he later wrote, his time there (1925-29) “bore little resemblance to the life depicted by Evelyn Waugh”. The following year he entered the Jesuits and in 1937 was ordained a priest at Heythrop College (then in Oxfordshire), to which he soon returned to teach philosophy.  ... In 1967, the idea began to be discussed of transferring Heythrop College from Oxford into a secular university. Bristol, Nottingham, Oxford and Manchester were considered but London was judged to be most apt, in part because being a federal university Heythrop could preserve its identity as a college within it.

Copleston remained at Heythrop College until the mid 1970s and ultimately was named professor of philosophy by the University of London but he resigned shortly thereafter. Recently, the Jesuits have decided to end the relationship of Heythrop College with the University, based on concerns such as those previously expressed by Copleston with its ability to flourish independently from the political and economic goals of a larger secular institution. Prof Haldane's article concludes:

It is no accident that the age that produced Martindale, D’Arcy, Caraman and Copleston also produced Chesterton, Waugh, Greene and Spark. The lesson of history, however, is that while change overtakes us, equally nothing deep is ever lost. The task for laity and Religious, therefore, is not to take comfort in nostalgic reverie or lament a lost age, but to re-engage, be it under different circumstances, in the intellectual and cultural work to which those earlier figures were committed and to which they contributed so much ad maiorem dei gloriam.

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Final Episode of Decline and Fall

The final episode of the BBC's adaptation of Waugh's Decline and Fall will broadcast tomorrow, Friday, 14 April on BBC One at 9pm. The adaptation has been widely reviewed and mostly praised. Rosamund Urwin gives her assessment in the Evening Standard:

The wit, the worldly disdain and the whiff of misogyny that typify an Evelyn Waugh novel are present and correct in BBC1’s Decline and Fall. The only flaw in the three-part series, which finishes tomorrow night, is that half the cast don’t have enough faith in the script not to overact. 

Urwin praises Jack Whitehall's performance as "proving his range as an actor" while David Suchet as Dr Fagan and Anatole Taubman as Otto Silenus are "works of comic genius." 

But other cast members serve up a triple helping of ham, with more hamminess for pudding. If only the director had told them that satirical doesn’t have to mean silly. 

This week's TLS also offers what appears to be a review of the production. This is entitled "Vile Buddies" and is written by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Professor of Eng Lit at Magdalen College, Oxford. The TLS has placed the online version of the article behind its paywall, and we shall have to await the arrival of the printed version from those distant shores before we have his assessment. 

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