A very Richardsonian experience: New BBC4 series on the origins of the novel, starts 8th October at 9pm

A very Richardsonian experience

By Lynn Shepherd

I’m sure a lot of people will remember the BBC4 series A Very British Murder (currently available again on the iPlayer, incidentally). What you may not know is that BBC Arts has been filming a follow-up, which will start airing in the next couple of weeks. It’s A Very British Romance this time, exploring the origins of the romantic novel, and how our notions of love and marriage have evolved over the last 200 years. To the Beeb’s immense credit, they’re starting their jaunt through romantic fiction with Samuel Richardson. And that, dear reader, is how I found myself in Spitalfields, on a bright cold day in April, talking Pamela, passion, and pictures with Lucy Worsley.

Still

The house we shot the footage in must be one of the most popular film locations in London, judging by the people going in and out. It’s an 18th century house in Princelet Street that’s been stripped back to how it must have looked when it was first built, closets, candles, wainscots and all. I’ve done some filming before, but it’s always fascinating to watch the pros at work, and see how many takes it takes to capture even a few seconds of the finished article.

Making the literary interesting on screen isn’t always easy, but in Richardson’s case, of course, we have the illustrations to Pamela to help bring the text to life. Basing our discussion on prints of Highmore’s ‘novel-in-pictures’ gave Lucy and me the chance talk through the plot and themes of the novel, and then broaden the conversation out to 18th-century attitudes to love and sex, as well as the significance of the prints themselves, as examples of the ‘multi-media event’ that Pamela became.

The series starts on BBC4 on 8th October at 9pm and I think you’d enjoy watching it – I certainly enjoyed being part of making it.