Friday, 4 September 2009

Heathcliff, Darcy and Fruit and Nut cases

Like I suspect many of you, I spent three very pleasant hours of my bank holiday weekend lapping up the latest television “classics-in-a- nutshell” version of Wuthering Heights. This was a first class production with an excellent script and some superb acting. I enjoyed it immensely.
Apart from one thing.
And that is, despite my best endeavours, I couldn’t stop thinking as I was watching the programme about a somewhat quirky big-haired lady singer from the 1980s.
As I’m sure many of you will recall, the enigmatic Kate Bush had a massive number one hit with the song Wuthering Heights and because that tune is so much a part of my cultural subconscious, I was just waiting for the line “Heathcliff! It’s me, your Cathy, I’ve come home, I’m so co-oo-oo-ld, let me in-a your window. ” Which never arrived.
Apart from completely over- romanticising Heathcliff (who was actually somewhat of a bad egg) this song is just one of many examples of what I call P.C.R.C. (Popular Culture Rewriting Classics).
One of the best known examples of this came in the BBC adaptation Pride & Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. One of the scenes – described by the Guardian as “one of the most unforgettable moments in TV history” – sees Mr Darcy walk out of a lake with his clothes stuck to his body in a way that finally convinces Lizzie Bennett that he may well be the man for her (well that, and the enormous house she’s just seen that he lives in!)
I can imagine a lot of people – mainly female – who hadn’t read the book then flicking through the pages to see how Jane Austen described the scene in her usual, understated, subtle way. Well, I’m sure they would have been disappointed to find it didn’t exist – it was all in the TV script only.
And of course it’s not just in TV and film. I once heard it described that the definition of an intellectual is someone who hears the classic Italian song Oh Sole Mio and isn’t tempted in the last line to shout “Just one Cornetto, give it to me”.
Equally, Tchaikovsky might be a bit confused sitting on his heavenly cloud if he meets someone from our generation who says, “Oh you’re the guy who wrote the tune for Everyone’s A Fruit And Nut Case”.
And, if you were to ask most people if they know Anton Dvorak’s music, they may say they’ve never heard any of it. Ask them to whistle the tune for the Hovis adverts and they’ll realise they have.
So, Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak may be puzzled for being remembered for things they didn’t realise they’d written, but it’s the same with quotes. The character Sherlock Homes never said “elementary, my dear Watson”, while football star Jimmy Greaves never uttered the phrase “it’s a funny old game”– until, ironically, he did so because people told him that he did!
As for Humphrey Bogart, he never said the phrase “play it again, Sam.” This one is particularly poignant to me because it seems to be the stock phrase people say to me on hearing my name. (It could be worse, however. I used to organise a rock festival in the Midlands and I was once treated to a chorus by a band onstage of “We’re all going on a Sammy Holliday” to Cliff’s most famous tune).
But returning to Wuthering Heights, I do think that even if popular culture does sometimes add just a bit of extra spice, if it helps make people interested in the classics it has to be a good thing. So Emily, say a big thank you to Kate . . .

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