Monday, September 7, 2015

Sunday Evenings with Edward Gorey


Dear Dad,

I don't really think of myself as a creature of habit. I don't eat the same lunch every day. I don't take the same route when I walk the dog in the evening. I don't want to go to the same vacation spot year in and year out. I like new things. I enjoy different.

There's an exception, of course (as there is to every rule), and that is Sunday evenings. I think, even if I was lost in the wilderness or trapped on an island and I'd totally lost track of days and months and even years, I would know when Sunday evening rolled around. Because almost without fail, as the day fades into evening and the weekend draws to a close, the urge to watch Masterpiece bubbles up inside me, and I find myself craving a cup of tea and a good episode of Inspector Lewis or a nice costume drama. And it's totally your fault.

I'm sure there was a point in my life when I did NOT love a good BBC/WGBH mystery and/or lengthy period saga, although I can't really remember it. Masterpiece Theater and Mystery are, along with my accidental viewing of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the earliest memories I have of watching TV. Names like Morse and Forsyth and Jeeves seem to have always been in my scope of understanding. I don't even remember when I started actually watching Masterpiece and Mystery (although I remember that it was BEFORE they became one show) but I have very vivid memories of my evenings ending right about the time that either Vincent Price or Alistair Cook came on the screen to give a few hints about what events were about to unfold. I was allowed to stay up and watch the introduction long before I could understand the show that followed. I liked Mystery best. The travelling shot of what I supposed was meant to look like an old fashioned gentleman's library (Alistair's?) was ok, it had a catchy tune, but it had nothing on Edward Gorey's art, or for that matter, Vincent Price's creepy voice, still audible as I lingered on the stairs on my way to bed. I loved the fainting lady best of all, but the spiderweb fan in the ballroom seen was pretty awesome as well.

I still find myself a little shocked when the old, longer introduction doesn't play before mystery. It's been shortened and shortened again I know, but I always expect to hear the whole thing because that's how it plays in my head round about the time the kids go to bed on a Sunday night. It's like an internal alarm. Sunday evening has arrived!! Cue the Masterpiece! Make the tea!

More frightening still is that this disease seems to be catching. Last weekend Will suggested we rewatch an episode of Lewis "Because it's Sunday." I wonder how long it will be before the kids catch it? Evelyn is most likely to fall first, being, already, a fan of Miss Fisher and Jane Austen. It's contagious, or possibly genetic. Either way....

Bah Bah bum bum bum bum ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bum bum bum ba-bum bum bum

Who's making the tea?


Friday, September 4, 2015

A Masterpiece of memories

Dear Gillian,

In a round-about way, Masterpiece Theater gave you to the world.

My history with television was much different from that of your mother. You professor grandfather insisted his five children limit watching to an hour a day and then only to “quality” shows without violence.

At my house, we glued ourselves to the television for every slapstick humor or macho action series the three networks offered. I could sing the entire theme song to both The Beverly Hillbillies and Rawhide and knew every dogface serving with Sgt. Saunders in Combat.

One of my earliest memories was going to the appliance store in Los Angeles to pick out our first TV – a huge mahogany-doored, black-and-white sporting the Victrola dog on its base. We must have put it on layaway, because I can remember being bundled up for a walk where we stood outside the closed appliance store and stared at “our” television through the window. I could not have been more than 4 years old at the time.

(You still have a piece of that TV, by the way. Dad later made it into locker boxes for Mark and I. I passed mine along to you.)

By the time I got to college and met Cecile, I was a die-hard fan of junk TV. Then that beautiful coed with the dimples said we could cuddle on their couch while watching a new show on Educational Television.

I didn’t really care what was on the old black-and-white set in the Gibbs’ family room as long as I could have my arm around Cecile as we sat on the Naugahyde couch on a Sunday night.

But I was absolutely enthralled when a silver-haired English gentleman eloquently explained that there was so much more to Churchill than “Never in the field of human conflict…” My mom was one of the so few in RAF blue to whom so much was owed by many.

And thus began Episode 1, Season I of Masterpiece Theatre: The First Churchills. Throughout the winter of 1971, Sunday was my day of joy. Not only did I get to cuddle up to my sweetheart on a winter night, but I got to watch how John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, fend off his 17th Century political rivals as skillfully as he did the French invading Ireland.

I was hooked. We haven’t always spent our Sundays with a Masterpiece, but there were many memorable ones. As young marrieds, Poldark was almost a shared vice. We were, of course, swept up in the global excitement of Upstairs, Downstairs and we could not get enough of Lord Peter Wimsey in The Nine Tailors.

You should be able to speak Latin for all the hours Mom and I rocked you while watching I, Claudius.

There were other favorites, of course. Danger UXB is still, for my money, the most gripping wartime drama ever filmed. Jeeves and Wooster is among the funniest. Prime Suspect defined the woman detective genre.

We now get most of our British dramas on Netflix and have a Masterpiece-like addiction to the Swedish mysteries on Mhz network. Masterpiece is now split between Mystery and the dramas, so we dive in and out to taste what we like.

In my mind, though, there is only one Masterpiece Theatre. I can close my eyes now and feel the warmth of your mom’s head on my shoulder as the melodious voice of Alistair Cooke bids me “Good Evening. I know in an instant he will tell me some bit of history that I never knew I would want to know so much.

-- Dad