Books: Visions Before Midnight — Squire Hadleigh |
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Squire Hadleigh

A monarch operating within understood limits, Hadleigh (Yorkshire) is the perfect squire, paternalistically careful of his tenantry's welfare, beloved in the village, respected in the council, savage with the stupid, gentle with the helpless, gorgeous in his hand-made threads. In the current series, which in my house is watched with a pretence of scornful detachment somewhat nullified by the size of the bribes offered our elder child to hit the sack before it starts, Hadleigh has taken to himself a wife, played by Hilary Dwyer — one of those leggy blonde jobs with Botticelli shoulders and no bra.

Hadleigh himself is the British imperialist up to his old colonialist tricks on the soil of home: the palaver with the tenants is pure Sanders of the River, and when he sets about correcting a local injustice it's Bulldog Drummond Attacks. Just on his own, Hadleigh encapsulates the modem male dream of the cool aristo. Gerald Harper has oodles of athletic zip (his imitation of a horse in the Jean-Louis Barrault Rabelais at the Roundhouse was the only interesting thing in that entire weary evening) and a mannerist voice that issues in a succession of resonant simpers and shouts from an identikit aquiline profile in which the features of everybody from Leslie Howard in Pimpernel Smith to Stewart Granger as Beau Brummell are eerily conflated. You could guarantee ten million viewers on the strength of Harper, alone.

The other seven million (yes, seventeen million people watch this thing) are doubtless ensnared by the cunning stroke of calculation which gives Mrs Hadleigh a lower-class background. She has been saved from drudgery by a knight in a shining white V8 Aston Martin; and then again, she has qualities that the dollies born to the purple perhaps do not possess; and besides, who but the beautiful deserve the brave?

Rounding out the dream world is their body-servant, Sutton. Silent, omni-competent, his only ambition to serve his master until and beyond death, the utterly subtle Sutton brings Hadleigh messages on a silver salver while you and I pass each other the thin mints without taking our hungry eyes from the screen. Hadleigh is the last, plush gasp of the old England — a purgative draught of nostalgia which one sincerely trusts will leave its army of viewers fresh to do battle in the real world. Which is the world where the squires are dead or dying and the tailors are chalking suits for property developers.

19 August, 1973