« Fortyseven | Main | Platterback »

The Scrivener: A Tale To Treasure

...And let's not forget the interfering magenpies, dancing pigeon, pregnant mantis, nesting swallows, aggressive heron gull, one-eyed tortoise, stolen goldfish, snakes in the bath, and the scorpions... the wriggling squawking panoply is well nigh endless...

Brian Barratt recalls the deliciously entertaining TV series 'My Family And Other Animals', first broadcast by the BBC 25 years ago.

Some televsion serials linger comfortably in the memory. One such is the 1987 BBC TV 10-episode version of 'My Family and Other Animals', based on Gerald Durrell's book of the same title. It tells of the great naturalist's idyllic boyhood years with his family on the island of Corfu in the 1930s. I rate it alongside 'La Gloire de mon Père' and 'Le Château de ma Mère' because, like those films of Marcel Pagnol's boyhood, it so splendidly evokes a way of life long gone. And it involves us in so many smiles and laughs, and some tears, with its motley array of characters, creatures and encounters.

The landscapes of the island of Corfu are more green and luscious than those of Pagnol's Provence, but both provide picturesque backdrops for the activities of somewhat eccentric families and the childhood of exploratory boys. 'My Family' has the additional richness of sandy beaches, rocky coastlines and glorious seascapes.

Yes, I know, the Durrell family were well off financially, and this story is not at all typical of families in the 1930s. But what's wrong with enjoying the idiosyncrasies of a good humoured and delightfully dotty middle class family and their friends?

Brian Blessed is excellent as the Greek taxi driver, Spiro, who takes them under his wing and finds new houses for them (three in succession — a large one with plenty of bathrooms; a larger one to accommodate Larry's weirdo arty friends; and then a smaller one to deter odd old aunts from visiting). There are just two occasions when we hear the full power of his famous stentorian voice. Hannah Gordon gives an understated but sensitive portrayal of the whimsical and somewhat scatty mother. Darren Redmayne is engaging as the boy Gerald who is curious to the point of obsession. As one of his brothers says, if it wriggles, Gerry will bring it home in a jam-jar.

There are many lovingly remembered and skilfully observed snippets of conversation, such as those between him and the kindly but sometimes boring (to adults) naturalist, Dr Theodore Stephanides, who is his tutor for a while. As another reviewer has implied, you'll quietly smile every time you hear someone say: 'As you know...' Then there is a delightful misunderstanding when the boy hears Mr Kralefsky, another tutor, say several times, 'I must go and see Mother' and eventually realises it is not a euphemism for going to the lavatory. They are among the succession of well-meaning tutors who fail to divert Gerry from his abiding fascination with the world of Nature. Much to his mother's initial alarm, he is also befriended and helped by a self-confessed murderer who eventually visits for afternoon tea.

Let's not overlook Gerry's brothers Larry (Lawrence), dedicated to his writing and later to become a celebrated novelist; Leslie, who in the story spends a great deal of time shooting; and his sister Margo (Margaret) who suffers from two problems: she has acne and she keeps falling in love with men whom her older brothers do not necessarily approve of.

Some characters and sequences in the original story have been omitted, and others expanded, with no loss to the delightful tale. The chronology has been changed and a different ending created, again without spoiling the story.

And let's not forget the interfering magenpies, dancing pigeon, pregnant mantis, nesting swallows, aggressive heron gull, one-eyed tortoise, stolen goldfish, snakes in the bath, and the scorpions... the wriggling squawking panoply is well nigh endless.

The background music is hauntingly lovely, in some ways reminiscent of the well known music used in the Australian film 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', though without the tacit menace.

The whole thing is enhanced by utterly remarkable footage from the BBC Natural History Unit. Who else, for instance, could film a fight to the death between a praying mantis and a small lizard watched by two gigantic toads and beneath the watchful eye of an owl, in a boy's bedroom?
This article is an extended version of a review I posted at Amazon UK in March 2009. It is now September 2112. I've just watched 'My Family and Other Animals' for the third or fourth time and I shall no doubt watch it again. It might not be the 'best' or 'greatest' TV serial, whatever those terms mean, and I don't like the word 'favourite' because favourites change over time, but this is a story to treasure and return to time and time again.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2012


To read more of Brian's columns which are also delciously entertaining please click on

And do visit his ~Web site


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.