Article published on October 6, 2015.
I’m sitting in a marquee, just across the road from Hampton Court Palace and being transported to 18th century Cornwall. Yes I’m at the first ever Radio Times Festival and sitting in on the session entitled “The Making of Poldark” which is taking us from the novels through to the recent television adaptation.
On the stage are a panel of people all closely associated with Poldark – Andrew Graham, Winston Graham’s son , writer Debbie Horsfield who adapted the novels for television, executive producers Karen Thrussell and Damien Timmer from Mammoth Productions and two members of the cast Beatie Edney (Prudie) and Ruby Bentall (Verity). Chairing this discussion is Alison Graham (Radio Times TV Editor)
They began by saying that the production team were the ones who had started the ball rolling and had suggested doing a more recent version of Poldark. They approached Andrew Graham and persuaded him to agree and Debbie Horsfield was chosen to do the adaptation. Debbie is known mostly for writing original contemporary drama so she was an unusual choice and she herself wasn’t sure whether she could do it but as soon as she read the first few pages of the first novel decided . . . she could. Although quite nervous at first she now feels that she is working with Winston Graham and they are on a journey together.
She also feels that the books , although set in the 18th century are really quite contemporary with stories around social injustice, inequality of women, conditions in the mines and the environment of Cornwall. The only changes she has had to make involve making the story a little more accessible to the audience of today.
It was during the Second World War that Winston Graham conceived the idea of the Poldark novels, as Andrew Graham explained. His father had apparently been a coastguard and often spent hours patrolling the beach at Perranporth (Hendrawna in the novels). During this time he began to develop the idea further. Demelza he based, to some extent, on his wife/Andrew’s mother, Jean, but Winston Graham didn’t really see himself as Ross!
Andrew also revealed that his father had felt very strongly that his writing should picture Cornwall as it really was and not romanticise it as he felt some other writers did in their storytelling. He particularly didn’t like those who wrote of the Cornish as wreckers luring ships in order to then steal their goods. All his research showed that the Cornish would take goods from a ship if it was actually wrecked but they didn’t lure them in deliberately.
He also told us that his father had kept diaries but they were very boring to read as they only recorded how many words he wrote, how many tennis sets he’d played and what the weather had been that day.
Everyone on the panel said they had been taken aback by how popular the current tv series had proved to be and were now in the throes of filming the second series down in Cornwall. In fact they whetted our appetite by showing a very brief clip from the beginning of the second series.
Apparently they had started the first series just at the time of the critical reaction to the TV version of Jamaica Inn – you may remember the complaints about not being able to hear the actors because they felt they were mumbling. In order to ensure this didn’t happen on Poldark a voice coach had been employed for the actors and there was always someone listening to the dialogue to make sure it was clear.
Although we could have sat all afternoon listening to the panel, the session concluded with a special treat which was a clip of a brief interview with Aidan Turner as himself, complete with short hair and an Irish accent (Ross Poldark for anyone who doesn’t know), which left the audience with a bit of a buzz and a resolution to revisit the novels whilst counting the days to the second series.
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