Dance To The Music Of Time
Many people who couldn't face reading the whole of Anthony Powell's novel sequence "Dance to the Music Of Time" were looking forward to watching Hugh Whitemore's abridgement for television, but I gather that a lot of them found that even that was a bit too long and complicated too. So for them, and for anyone else who has missed the whole thing, I bring you today a condensation of the complete Hugh Whitemore/Anthony Powell "Dance to the Music Of Time" in one newspaper column!
Exterior shot, smart London street. Nicholas Jenkins is letting himself in to front door. Interior shot of Jean, his girl friend, with no clothes on.
Nick: You've got no clothes on.
Jean: Haven't I? Gosh, nor I have.
Nick: Why haven't you got any clothes on?
Jean: Because it will make the viewers think that there is lots more sex and nudity to follow.
Nick: But there isn't?
Jean: No. Not a sausage.
Nick: Phew. Thank goodness for that. Now, get your clothes on before your husband, Bob Duporte, comes home.
Jean: Why did you mention the name of my husband? I know perfectly well what he is called.
Nick: I know, but if we don't keep mentioning names, and whether we are married or not, the viewers will forget who everyone is. By the way, were you at school with a chap called Widmerpool ?
Jean: No. Were you?
Nick: Yes, I was, as a matter of fact. Incidentally, I saw my Uncle Giles today.
Cut to seedy hotel on Brighton seafront, interior, lots of period detail. Enter seedy uncle.
Uncle Giles: Hello, Nick, fancy bumping into you here. Will you look after these papers for me?
Nick: Why, what are they, Uncle Giles?
Uncle Giles: My scripts for the next five episodes. Can't make head or tail of what's happening without them. Or with them, come to that.
Nick: Pleasure, Uncle Giles.
Enter Bob Duporte
Bob: Hello, Nick and Uncle Giles. Fancy bumping into you again after all these years.
Nick: Actually, I think this is the first time we've met.
Bob: Consulting script. You may be right.
Nick: I'm married now, you know.
Cut to country station at night. Steam train arrives. Close-up of porter.
Porter: Widmerpool ! Widmerpool !
Carriage door opens and Widmerpool descends balefully, accompanied by Miranda Richardson playing herself. He bumps into another passenger.
Passenger: Why don't you watch where you're flaming going?
Widmerpool: Because my name is Widmerpool and I run this railway, or at least I end up head of almost anything you care to mention, so I probably run this railway as well. And who are you, you nasty little working class oik?
Odo: My name is Odo Stevens, and I write short stories.
Widmerpool: Why on earth would a working class chap want to write short stories?
Odo: I'm not sure, but I think that Anthony Powell is totally incapable of portraying anyone proletarian unless he is like himself i.e. a writer with a curious name.
Widmerpool: Is Powell a curious name?
Odo: It is if you insist on pretending it's pronounced Pole.
Enter Nicholas Jenkins, holding kit bag
Widmerpool: Hello, Nick. I'm married now, you know, but I haven't any children.
Nick: Have you heard about the war?
Widmerpool: Heard about it? My dear boy, I am a major shareholder in it!
Porter: Come along, gents, please, come along! - Have you no homes to go to?
Nick: Peering closely at porter. My God, it's Charlie ! Charlie Stringham ! But you're...drunk! And we were at school together! I'm married now, you know.
Charlie: I must be even drunker than I thought. You look nothing like the Nick Jenkins I once knew.
Nick: Yes, but that's because I am being played by a different actor now.
Charlie: Well, it's lovely to see you again, Nick, whoever you are.
Enter Bob Duporte
Bob: Anyone here seen Quiggins?
I'm not sure if this quite wraps up everything. Maybe we'll have another episode tomorrow. And there again, maybe not. . . . .
Dance To The Music Of Time
Yesterday I brought you the first half of a condensed version of "A Dance To The Music Of Time". It wasn't meant to be the first half - it was meant to be the whole thing - but as anyone who has ever tried to condense "A Dance to the Music of Time" will testify (which, I suppose, means just me and Hugh Whitemore ) it does tend to go on a bit.
Anyway, on with the second half!
Story so far: lots of old friends keep bumping into each other and asking if they know Widmerpool. They generally do, but don't like him. Meanwhile, everyone is getting older.
Early morning. The scene is a bombed street in London. A man in black tie, holding a bottle of champagne and two glasses, wanders up.
Man: Good Gad. Where has my house gone?
Policeman: This your pile of bricks, sir?
Man: Yes. I only popped out for an all night party and popped back again at first light, and - my house has gone!
Policeman: Did you take your wife with you, sir, or is she ... in there somewhere?
Man: Did I take my wife? I don't know. What does she look like?
Policeman: Well, if she's in there somewhere, I'd hate to say what she looks like.
Man: Do you know Ken Widmerpool ?
Policeman: No, sir.
Man: Nor do I. I think we must be in the wrong play.
Cut to large rambling house. There is a sign outside: "This house was used in the filming of 'A Dance to the Music of Time'. £2.50 entry Wednesdays and Fridays". The sign is hastily removed. Nick Jenkins, in demob suit, comes to the gate. His wife comes running up the drive.
Nick: Hello, darling. I'm back.
Isabel: Hello, darling. What sort of war did you have?
Nick: I didn't like it much. People kept asking me if I knew Widmerpool. And I had the wrong tie on in one scene.
Isabel: Were you court-martialled?
Nick: No, but millions of viewers wrote in to complain. What sort of war did you have?
Isabel: Perfectly bloody. Daylight was rationed, you know. But I've had three children in the past three years.
Nick: That's awfully clever considering I haven't been here in the past three years.
Isabel: Oh, medicine can do so much to help these days, darling.
A figure steps out of the undergrowth. Oh, look - it's Uncle Giles!
Giles: Hello, you two.
Nick: Giles ! I though you were dead!
Giles: Am I? He consults the script. Oh, yes, - so I am. He dies.
Cut to a West End art gallery. Everyone is there.
Woman: Do you know that dreadful man Widmerpool ?
Pamela: I should do. I am married to him.
Woman: Oh, my dear, I am so sorry!
Pamela: Not half as sorry as I am. Do you know that painting by Poussin called "Dance to the Music of Time"?
Woman: Poussin ? That's French for chicken, isn't it? Can you imagine a British painter called Chicken?
Pamela: Well, we have painters called Constable and Sargent, and nobody thinks it's odd...
Widmerpool: Banging a table with his fist. Could we have silence just for a moment ? Thank you all for coming.... Nick Jenkins arrives, out of breath
Nick: Have I missed anything?
Woman: Hello, Nick.
Nick: I am sorry, I don't think....
Woman: It's Jean. We had an affair in the first episode.
Nick: Did we? I've got it on video but I haven't had a chance to watch it yet.
Widmerpool: ..... And in conclusion may I say that I shall shortly be going bonkers and running off with a charismatic young man called Scorp!
Sir Magnus: Why?
Widmerpool: It's short for Scorpion, I believe.
Sir Magnus: No - why are you going bonkers and running off with this young man?
Widmerpool: Well, I'm not sure, but I think it's because Anthony Powell can't think of an ending.
Nick: And doesn't know anything about the Sixties.
Enter Bob Duporte, Odo Stevens, Nicolas Poussin, and everyone who is not there so far.
Poussin: Excusez-moi, mais connaissez-vous Widmerpool ?
A condensed version of this condensation is available from this column. Please send a blank cheque to cover expenses.
The Independent Thursday Nov 6 1997 & Friday November 7 97