Film No 45 (2014) : Goodnight Mister Tom

Mr TomWhen I was a child, just starting to get interested in books, my authors of choice were Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfeild, SE Hinton and later some classics. Neither Jacqueline Wilson nor Michael Murpurgo books had appeared yet, nor had Michelle Magorian‘s ‘Goodnight Mister Tom‘. It was first published in 1981 and I didn’t read it until one of my children had to study it at school and I needed to keep up. (I find myself increasingly having to run to stay level with my kids these days). I found the book to have an enduring story, fragments of which often scoot across my memory several years later. I have seen two stage productions of the work and enjoyed them immensely. The film version of ‘Goodnight Mister Tom‘ was released in 1998 and shown on TV over the Christmas break.

William Beech is evacuated from London during WW2, and billeted with Tom Oakley (John Thaw), a widower whose cottage overlooks the churchyard. Tom and William form an unlikely friendship, to the extent that when Tom does not hear from William once he has been returned to his mother, Tom sets off for London to find him. What he discovers is deeply shocking, but Tom will not be deterred in his efforts to give the boy a better life.

John Thaw is suitably curmudgeonly and Nick Robinson (not that Nick Robinson!) puts in a fine performance as the young William, gradually coming out of his shell and throwing off some of the anxieties he has brought with him from the city.

Filmed in Turville, Bucks (less than 10 miles from where I live, but I’ve never been there), I am sure the film affords a romanticised and somewhat sanitised interpretation of the evacuees experience. Nevertheless, as 108 minutes of entertainment, I loved it. ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ has earned its place as a modern classic; both the book and the film will be ones for sharing with my grandchildren one day.


Book No 14 (2014) : Last Bus to Woodstock

woodstockConsidering I have lived in Oxford for the best part of 20 years, it has taken me an inordinately long time to get around to reading an Inspector Morse mystery. ‘Last Bus to Woodstock’ was given to me as a birthday present by a friend, to help with the 50/50 challenge.

To start with I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to read the book without constant flashing images of John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis, as per the TV series. But that didn’t happen at all – because the characters I imagined were completely different from Thaw and Whately. My Morse was tougher, sexier, more vibrant – and my Lewis was nowhere near as insipid as his ITV counterpart.

Sylvia and her friend are waiting at the bus stop one night, but decide instead to hitch a ride. Sylvia is later found murdered, in the back yard of the Black Prince pub. Morse and Lewis john thaware assigned to the case and eventually uncover the truth behind the events leading up to the death.

The plot to the murder mystery is intricate and tightly woven. However, I had some severe misgivings about the book. Firstly, I found it extremely frustrating that the clues were not planted throughout the narrative to allow me to work out whodunit. I don’t think I am a particularly dense reader, and the perpetrator turns out to be a character that has paid a fairly minor role in the drama. Morse has the details worked out by the end, and all is revealed in the last 20 pages. But, how frustrating. If there is no way to figure out the mystery, it just makes Inspector Morse (and Colin Dexter) seem like smug, supercilious know-it-alls.

dexterWhich brings me to Colin Dexter. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘Last Bus to Woodstock’ was published in 1975 and social attitudes may have changed, Dexter’s portrayals of women are at best disparaging, at worst verging on the misogynistic. Females are either angels or whores, Morse is attracted to a young nurse in uniform and there was an uncomfortable sense that some of the characters felt that young Sylvia may have been ‘asking for it’ based upon what she was wearing.

Colin Dexter’s work has been highly praised but, if this book is indicative of the rest of the series, I am not a fan.

One thing I would add is that this actual book is of a beautiful quality. This edition, published by Pan, has smooth, creamy white pages, super-clear font and a lustrous cover. A joy to hold in my hands.