Downturn for the Abbey

We watched the last two episodes of Downton back to back last night. The only way to watch the programme is via a recording so that you can fast forward through the interminable adverts. The scripts for the fourth series are better than for the third which were better than the ludicrous second, but goodness they take a lot of swallowing. The Dame Nellie Melba storyline was quite bizarre – maybe they had to adjust it when they realised Dame Kiri can’t act (i.e. speak dialogue convincingly). Whatever, it was simply not credible that anyone, not even the Earl of Grantham, a kind of dim-witted country solicitor, would have treated Melba like a servant. She was one of the most famous women on the planet! Melba was more used to singing to kings, queens and emperors, and expected to be treated very much as their equal. I know that the British upper classes can be the rudest of any tribe of people, but for anyone to walk out during a Melba performance in order to play cards was too ill-mannered even for this lot of uncultured slobs posing as aristos. It was also rather tough on Dame Kiri, though one has to confess she looked terrified and sang embarrassingly badly. The producers doubtless thought the acres of press coverage it bought them made it all worthwhile.
But the whole series has become irksome, from Dame Maggie’s pantomime dame to her Humpty-Dumpty buffoon of a son – I’m secretly hoping he loses everything in the great financial crash that is some seven years off and thereafter has to earn his living chopping wood. Talking of wood, Michelle Dockery’s turn as Lady Mary is a one-note performance without any light and shade, a character she has made as expressionless as her face and voice. She is almost as bad as Elizabeth McGovern (the Countess) who drifts through every scene mumbling her lines, unfocused, and generally giving the impression of being on some kind of medication. Compare them with the sublime Penelope Wilton (Mrs Crawley) – who can bring a tear to the eye with just a glance – Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes the housekeeper), Mr & Mrs Bates (Brendan Coyle and the excellent Joanne Froggatt) and poor Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle). Still, the Americans will lap it up and think it is really how the upper-classes lived in 1920s Britain. But we are giving up on it. Downturn has passed its sell-by date. And, by the way, what’s happened to Baby George? And why, in an age when simply everyone darling smoked fags, does only one character (the devious Thomas) light up? Ah – of course! American sales. Silly me.

Cosima Wagner

I came across this article from August 1894 in To-Day, a magazine edited by Jerome K. Jerome. Richard Wagner had died just 11 years earlier and this encounter with his formidable widow fully justifies her reputation as the Queen of Bayreuth. She was a notably unpleasant human being with even stronger anti-Semitic views than her […]

Andre Previn R.I.P.

André Previn was the most complete musician I have ever met – I was lucky enough to interview him on three occasions.  Everything seemed to come so easily to him, laid back and apparently effortless whether in the role of conductor, classical pianist or jazz pianist.           He was also a marvelous raconteur, and one story […]


Irene Scharrer

Hymn for Today

Idon’t dislike all modern hymns – or ‘worship songs’ as they are called by the people who sing them – but I dislike most of them. The words are generally as unmemorable and as undistinguished as the latest teenage lament being belted out over the PA system in my local Co-Op. ‘Love’ and ‘Jesus’ are […]

TWO PIANO RECITALS – a famous name and an unknown

  I went to two piano recitals last week: one by a famous international artist, the other by a young man who is still a student. They could not have been more different. Nor could my enjoyment of the two events. The first was given by Sir András Schiff at the superb Saffron Halls, the […]

RIAS insurers – Ridiculous, Insulting And Silly

A few years ago, I was comparing quotes for house and contents insurance. One company called RIAS seemed to be a good deal – it specialised in insurance for the over 50s – but fell at the last fence as it couldn’t provide the minimum level of financial cover I required for one area. They […]

THIS MONTH’S PARODY (Dec 15) In the Workhouse – Christmas Day

IN THE WORKHOUSE – CHRISTMAS DAY This is the correct title for the monologue / poem better known as ‘It was Christmas Day in the Workhouse’ published in 1879 by George Robert Sims (1847-1922). It is a powerful indictment of the conditions of the Victorian workhouse.                         […]

THIS MONTH’S PARODY (Nov 15) Jack and Jill

JACK and JILL A favourite nursery rhyme but what is it all about? The origins are obscure and remain disputed. Some think it refers to Cardinal Wolsey (Jack) and Bishop Tarbes (Jill), others that it’s about Charles 1’s attempts to tax liquor, Jack being a half pint and Jill (gill) being a quarter. But I […]


The Italian pianist Roberto Prosseda invited me to take part in a symposium in Cremona during the annual festival in which luthiers and piano manufacturers from all over the world congregate for their annual exhibition. I had never been to Cremona before. The hotel was a stone’s throw away from the imposing duomo – the medieval […]

THIS MONTH’S PARODY (Oct 15) The Vanity of Human Wishes

THE VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES The Tenth Satire of Juvenal was adapted by Dr Johnson (1749). It’s a poem of 368 lines, the first ten of which are: Let Observation with extensive View, Survey Mankind from China to Peru; Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife, And watch the busy scenes of crowded Life; Then say […]