Top Ten Costume Dramas

I was blown away by the BBC’s adaptation of Dicken’s Great Expectations – even my husband watched it, enthralled, and he never watches anything with even a hint of a toga or a bonnet. Beautifully shot, stunning cinemaphotography of the Fens, blissful acting – especially Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham. And you’ve got to love Ray Winstone – there’s something about that gravelly voice of his that makes him compelling, whatever character he takes on. And he was a complex Magwitch.

This is the first Beeb costume drama I have enjoyed in a while. It did something exciting and contemporary with a novel that was always meant to be popular and current. (And what a stunning Pip, both man and boy.)






So this got me thinking about previous costume dramas that have stood the test of time, or just stayed with me over the years.

Our Friends in the North  This definitely counts as ‘costume’ and was definitely dramatic. Who can forget Geordie walking away across the Tyne Bridge to Don’t Look Back in Anger? It caught such a chunk of Brisith culture, not just Northern, from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. It was big in every sense of the word. (And a future James Bond and Doctor Who in the cast.)

Pride and Prejudice – lots of bonnets, but brilliantly strong female characters that brought a whole new fanbase to Jane Austen (and Colin Firth).






The Camomile Lawn – So stylish and gorgeous… and a bit naughty

 The Duchess of Duke Street – I remember this rags-to-riches story from childhood, watching it religiously with my mum.








Also, When the Boat Comes In.








And then later, as a teenager, I moved on to Tenko, still watching it with my mum every week and learning about the horrors of POW camps in WW2.






But the greatest ever costume drama, the one I can never forget and have watched over and over on video and DVD and never tire of, as it is so faithful to the book, is of course … Granada’s Brideshead Revisited.

If you’ve never watched it, put aside many hours, and do it. Or read Evelyn Waugh’s sumptuous novel. You’ll never forget it.


Fun and Games

In the modern world where teenagers and parents separate out of an evening to TVs, XBoxes and laptops, Christmas is a time in the Duffy household when the family gets together and plays board games. Yesterday Son One and Son Two played Risk with their father. Son Two had world domination powers thanks to Call of Duty. This got me thinking of my childhood in the seventies when my brother and I played board games all the time, hooked up with the various lodgers and students who frequented our big Victorian house to help pay the bills of our one-parent family.

We had three telly channels, a cassette player and an early Casio calculator. That was as far as our technology went. So we played games: sardines, cards and a plethora of classic board games which were kept in the sideboard of our dining room. And which have mainly stood the test of time and been bought again for our kids.

So see below my Top Ten which have entertained, frustrated and caused many a sibling fight:

Subbutteo caused the biggest problem in my childhood home as I would trample over the players and snap off their bodies in a tantrum. And for our kids, it’s been Mousetrap – mainly because it never works how you want it to…

But there’s sopmething special about sibling arguments. There’s no one else in the world who shares those family dynamics and who you can love and hate in equal abandon. So switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead…

Solomon Browne

Remembering the brave Penlee lifeboat volunteers who perished at sea 30 years ago while out in 60 foot breakers attempting to rescue the crew of the Union Star off the harsh Cornish coast. I’ll never forget that tragedy as my older brother was a deep sea trawlerman then, fishing off that coast and beyond. It could easily have been him. We should never forget the power of the merciless sea and the bravery of those who will try their utmost to save others.

Remember the RNLI this Christmas.

No Flying Motorbikes

I’ve always been proud of our British road signage and still don’t know why we need sat navs. They are just annoying and very often inaccurate. I’ve been led up farm tracks and across fords, when there was a perfectly good parallel road. What’s wrong with a map and a brain when we have such simple, clear signs?

I was delighted to read the article on the BBC website about the designers of the road network signs, Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert. They straightened up the mess of Britain’s 1950s system and turned it into a design classic, producing two new typefaces, Transport and Motorway.

I can’t think of anywhere in the world, apart from those European countries who also use Transport, where road signs are as effective. Calvert’s and Kinneir’s were purposely made to stand out and be practical. This has worked well over the last 50 years; how often have you stopped to admire a road sign?

Well, you might now, so be careful…

And finally … John Craven’s Newsround

Next year, the BBC will celebrate 40 years of the trailblazing children’s news programme, Newsround. Like many British kids, I grew up learning about current affairs from John Craven. Unfortunately he is now remembered more for his array of comedy jumpers, than for his  news broadcasting.

But Newsround was a revolutionary idea that nearly didn’t make it off the ground. According to the show’s creator Edward Barnes, society believed that childhood was a golden age, a time when the young shouldn’t have to worry about the world around them. “Even within my own department there were people who said we shouldn’t be doing this,” explains Barnes, who was deputy head of children’s television at the time. “Why should we tell children about disasters and massacres and murders? They thought it was violating children’s innocence. There was a Victorian idea of childhood, that it is something to be protected and guarded – there was still a lot of that around at the time.” (

Finally, adults realised that children need access to the news so that they can make sense of the world around them and be outward-looking.

Because  of its late-afternoon scheduling, Newsround was the first news programme to break several momentous world events, including the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.

But it doesn’t stop with kids. If you are an adult and you don’t understand the intricacies of the World Trade Organisation or the Kyoto Agreement on climate change, then Newsround will explain the fundamentals in a simple, unpatronisng way.

One of the characters in my novel The Generation Game, an old lady called Wink, is a telly addict who never fails to watch John Craven’s Newsround  – just so she can keep one step ahead. And to comment on those jumpers.

The John Craven Years is being shown on Christmas Eve on BBC2 at 7.oo pm. Forget the sprouts and tune in.

How the Pill changed Britain

It’s now 50 years since the contraceptive pill was made available on the NHS. Before that, women were expected to get married young and bring up a family, while their husbands went out to work. There was no real choice if you were born into this country as a woman, despite the changes brought about by the war. Getting pregnant was always a worry, an overwhelming issue, before and after marriage.

So the Pill brought with it more options for women. They could put off having a family, go to university, have a career, be independent. Women no longer had to rely on men for contraception but finally had some real control over their own reproductive health and the direction of their life.

The Pill changed the male-female dynamics of society. Roles were less defined, boundaries blurred. It was a revolution. Obviously the widespread use of the Pill has had its drawbacks over the last half a century but the course of my life – now a 43 year old woman – would have run quite differently without it. Those women that went ahead of me in the 70s, who challenged the traditional roles of women, were able to do this because of the Pill. And because of those women I now have more choices in my life than any previous generation had in theirs. And my daughter too.

The trick is to be be wise in what you choose.

Farewell Baptist Times

Heard yesterday that the Baptist Times is wrapping up after 150 years in print. It will continue online but it won’t be the same as having the newspaper in your hand.

I’ve only recently started reading it, having resisted it for so long, thinking – wrongly – that it was stuffy. It’s not. It’s relevant, contemporary and challenging.  So I feel I’ve missed out but will continue to read online.