I hope Diary Of A Nobody is in safe hands

Andrew Davies' BBC adaptation of Diary Of A Nobody cannot afford to let us down. After all, George Grossmith's novel is the most deeply loved comic work in the English language.

Diary Of A Nobody, starring Huge Bonneville as Mr George Pooter. Photograph: BBC/Clerkenwell Films/Nick Briggs

Pooter bumbles on to the Beeb this week with the first in a four-part dramatisation of George Grossmith's Diary Of A Nobody, the highlight of BBC4's much-welcome Edwardian season. Tuesday's first episode is preceded by The Real Mr Pooter, a documentary exploring the influences on the novel and examining the reasons for its enduring appeal.

Those reasons can be explained without too much difficulty. Simply, Diary Of A Nobody ranks among the very finest of English comic novels, right up there with Jerome's K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat, Waugh's Scoop, Waterhouse's Billy Liar and more or less everything written by Wodehouse. Furthermore, there may be novels that are more widely loved than Diary Of A Nobody, but surely none more deeply loved.

Grossmith's comic masterpiece, first published in weekly episodes in Punch magazine in 1888, inspires a curious devotion combined with a fierce discriminatory zeal. Former prime minister Lord Rosebery once remarked, "I regard any bedroom I occupy as unfurnished without a copy." No argument from me on that score. No guest-room bedside table is complete without it. To discover that somebody has not read it, one is overcome with evangelical desire to spread the word of Pooter.

For many of its hopelessly smitten devotees, unconditional love for Diary Of A Nobody is the true measure of a person. A fair few acquaintances of mine unashamedly admit that they cannot seriously consider a friendship with anyone who does not find the novel uproariously funny. One close friend actually goes to the lengths of using the book to vet prospective girlfriends in order to test whether their sense of humour is in working order. Rare is the Pooter adherent who doesn't return to the novel at least once a year; countless are the Pooter groupies who own multiple versions of the book. Myself? Eleven at the last count. Should a signed first edition ever come on the market, I'd almost certainly sell my house and live out the rest of my days in a tent on Hove beach.

On the face of it, Charles Pooter would appear to be a most unlikely literary hero, A petty-minded, buffoonish office clerk meticulously detailing his life of quiet desperation hardly sounds like a character to inspire unswerving fascination and dedication for 119 years and counting. But that would be to underestimate the masterful subtlety employed by Grossmith to draw us into Pooter's humdrum life and actually make us give a hoot. Pooter might be gauche, snobbish and more besides, but he's also a decent sort of chap. Even as we laugh at him, we are in sympathy because he's all too human.

Diary Of A Nobody is an often painfully funny novel. Painful, not only because we recognise the all too real suburban everyman in Pooter, as recognisable now as he was in 1888. More painful still because it's nigh on impossible to read the novel and not wonder, "Might there just be a little bit of Pooter in me?" It's worth bearing in mind that if you read Diary Of A Nobody and don't find yourself asking that very question, it almost certainly means that you're self-deluded and humourless enough to be considered Pooterish. In which case, you can count on some of the best-loved characters in British comedy for company, those whose blinkered view of themselves is forever in sharp contrast to how they are perceived by the world - Adrian Mole, Bridget Jones, Captain Mainwaring, Victor Meldrew, Alan Partridge, David Brent, Peep Show's Mark Corrigan ...

There have been two previous TV adaptations of Diary Of A Nobody, a Ken Russell version in 1964 and a 1979 version starring Terrence Hardiman. Neither exactly set the Thames on fire, although Arthur Lowe's radio version was something to treasure. There's every reason to be optimistic about this latest take on Pooter. Given the pedigree of scriptwriter Andrew Davies (Middlemarch, Pride And Prejudice, Bleak House) and director Susanna White (Teachers, Jane Eyre), the project would appear to be in safe hands. On the evidence of the series trailer, it would seem that we've finally found a TV Pooter to cherish in the shape of Hugh Bonneville. Watching said trailer, it struck me that I hadn't laughed so hard in months. Come to think of it, I haven't laughed that much since the last time I read Diary Of A Nobody.


Jon Wilde

The GuardianTramp

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