Right at the start of this tape, there’s a few seconds of something, before it’s overwritten by a new recording. It’s a slow pull in towards the Earth, looking like a TV production rather than a movie. It could be a lot of things, but I don’t know which. Any ideas?
Then, episode one of The Life and Loves of a She Devil, the adaptation of Fay Weldon’s novel about a betrayed wife taking revenge against her unfaithful husband and his lover.
Patricia Hodge plays Mary Fisher, a writer of romantic fiction.
We first meet her accepting an award from Edna O’Brien herself.
At an awards after-party, she meets Dennis Waterman as ‘Bobbo’ – I’m unclear whether they already know each other at this point, but they hit it off, despite him being Dennis Waterman in a terrible moustache. He’s a financial adviser, after Fisher as a client.
His wife Ruth is also there, played by Julie T Wallace. Obviously she’s gauche and clumsy, so she drops some wine glasses. You can tell Bobbo is scum for two reasons. First, he’s quite happy to flirt openly with Mary, despite his wife being there. And when he drops Ruth off at their house, to drive Mary over to hers, Mary asks “Aren’t you going to see her to the door?” Bobbo replies “I don’t think that Ruth is a natural rape victim somehow, are you darling?”
He is, at least, honest with Ruth about his new relationship with Mary. He’s one of those dreadful men who want an ‘open marriage’ but still tells his wife he loves her as well. Ruth’s natural reaction is to work harder at being ‘the perfect wife’.
There’s a cameo appearance from Sue Cook, interviewing Mary on Breakfast Time.
Once she’s let go of the idea of being the perfect wife, and Bobbo has told her he wants a divorce, and to sell the house, she becomes the She Devil of the title, and there’s a brilliant montage of her burning her house down by doing all the things the public information films tell us not to do – overfill the chip pan, drop lit cigarettes into a waste bin, but Fray Bentos tinned pies in the oven without opening them, putting an electric fire next to bedclothes (I presume this predates the regulations on flammability).
Ruth takes the children and leaves them with Bobbo and Mary, then leaves to begin her long plan of revenge.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 22nd November 1993 – 22:10
In episode 2, Ruth has become Rita Rooney, picking up randy old businessmen in hotels. Well, she picks one up, revitalises him with her passion, then moves on to get a job at an old people’s home, where Miriam Margolyes is another nurse.
The home just happens to be where Mary Fisher’s mother lives, played by the lovely Liz Smith.
She’s working her rejuvenating magic on Mother Fisher too, giving her more energy, and helping with her walking. Then she packs her off to see Mary, and in the meantime gets the nursing home to refuse to take her back, leaving Bobbo and Mary to look after her.
Then she starts to siphon money from Bobbo’s clients. And since life with Mary, his children and her mother isn’t the idyll he wants, Bobbo is soon seeing other women.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 29th November 1993 – 22:10
Another episode, another transformation, as Ruth uses the money she’s taken from Bobbo’s clients to start an employment agency for women called Vista Rose.
Throughout this show, the underlying mystery must really be why anyone finds Dennis Waterman attractive. He’s droopy, not particularly handsome, and is appalling to all the women in his life (although that’s on the page). I think this is a big piece of miscasting, as the part really needed someone a bit more obviously attractive, someone you could believe would have women falling in love just meeting him. Waterman just doesn’t do that.
Ruth’s scheme to destroy Bobbo continues. Using her employment agency she puts a young typist in Bobbo’s office, knowing he’ll start an affair. Then, when Bobbo discards her, Ruth sets up a swiss bank account in which to siphon off his clients’ money, then gets the scorned woman to withdraw the money, give it to her, then disappear off to a new life, leaving plenty of clues to implicate Bobbo.
Pretty soon, the police come for Bobbo, and it’s time for Ruth to take on another persona, as she works on the judge who will hear his case. She becomes Polly Patch, a disciplinarian nanny for the judge’s children.
She also embarks on some extreme facial surgery, having most of her teeth removed, and several inches removed from her jaw. Not one to watch if you’re at all squeamish about dentists.
Bernard Hepton plays the judge who, you might have guessed, falls for Ruth/Polly and her disciplinarian ways. But he prefers to get his kicks by beating his wife.
There’s another awards ceremony, this time the presenter is John Mortimer of Rumpole fame. This time, of course, Mary Fisher doesn’t win. Amusingly, the speech Mortimer gives about what an inspiration this year’s winner, Virginia Flank, is, is exactly the same one that Edna O’Brien gave at last year’s ceremony.
One of the doctors doing Ruth’s surgery is Stephen Grief.
Thanks to Ruth’s influence, the judge sentences Bobbo to 7 years – because Ruth’s plan needs time to complete.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 6th December 1993 – 22:10
In the final episode, with her lover incarcerated, Mary Fisher turns to her faith, and who’s that as her priest? It’s Tom Baker. Prudish Doctor Who fans might want to look away, since, given the nature of this show, his vow of celibacy will be sorely tested.
Especially since Ruth has become his new housekeeper, thanks to the Vista Rose employment agency.
She influences Father Tom to impose on Mary not to write her romantic novels, so she writes a new novel, dismissed by a bookseller as “a load of religious twaddle”.
And as Ruth undergoes her final transformational surgery, Mary’s financial woes force her to sell her beautiful house. And in a final, seemingly magical manifestation of the She-Devil’s powers, she’s hurled from her tower onto the rocks below, an apparent suicide.
And Ruth’s surgery has transformed her into the literal double of Mary Fisher. She buys Mary’s tower, and lives there with the newly released Bobbo, who’s now reduced to watching his wife, now a perfect double of Mary Fisher, seducing the attractive manservant. And to underscore his fall from power, he now sports an ill-advised ponytail.
This really is terrific. If it suffers, it’s in the production, shot entirely on video, with a few too many video effects, which do help to date it rather. But the story is solid, although I do wish Ruth had simply used her energies as a She-Devil simply to make other lives better, as she so often did in pursuit of her revenge. I didn’t like her transformation at the end, as I thought it diminished her own power and personhood, and also meant, of course, that Julie T Wallace was then reduced to a voice.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 13th December 1993 – 22:10
After this, there’s a trailer for Psycho II. Then recording stops, and underneath there’s some boxing with Chris Eubank. This was on LWT, so it was probably at the end of an older recording.
Then, there’s a short episode of Get Stuffed, the cookery programme for drunk students, by drunk students.
It seems at once prescient of YouTube, and yet falling short of the quality of YouTube videos these days.
This is followed by the start of For Real, looking at windsurfing. The recording stops shortly into this.
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