Swellboy on… British TV drama

Our man has delirious dreams about television talent

Image: © BBC, photographer Robert Viglasky

I am trying to make the best of having my foot broken and ankle chipped, but being attacked on the public highway is, to put it plainly, a bore. Nevertheless, in my current invalid state I am doing my best to cultivate a sort of Rear Window mood at the ancestral shack. I am a great fan of the Hitchcock oeuvre and I remember Slim Aarons telling me that when Hitchcock was casting around for a model for the set of Rear Window it was his New York apartment that was the basis for the room occupied by Jimmy Stewart, the photographer with the broken leg in the 1954 thriller. Indeed, Jimmy and Slim looked uncannily alike, a likeness so often remarked upon that towards the end of his life Slim used to growl, “Thanks…he’s dead!”

Of course, things are a bit different at Swellboy Towers: whereas Jimmy Stewart had Grace Kelly bringing him takeaway food from 21, I have Mrs Swellboy returning home with what she has scavenged from the local M&S food hall. And nor do I find much worth watching out of the rear or, for that matter, front window, so I have been spending some of my evenings, leg in a cast propped upon a low table, watching television, catching up on the shows that I should have seen so as to be part of the national water-cooler discussion (although I will have to buy a water cooler).


Instead I find myself totally bewildered: from what I can deduce, there are about half a dozen actors who seem to play all the parts in every drama on British television. Sometimes they adopt different accents and clothes, but they can’t fool me. I was glad to have the time to catch up on Dickensian and War & Peace, but kept getting into a muddle as to whether Tuppence Middleton was supposed to keep her clothes on or take them off; and whenever Inspector Bucket, played by Stephen Rea, came onto the screen I was disappointed that he was not wearing one of the flamboyant uniforms that he had favoured in War & Peace. And given his ubiquity, I just marvelled at how James Norton managed to change out of his early-19th-century uniforms and get over his wounds to appear as a clergyman sleuth in ITV’s Grantchester and then get into his T-shirt and best psycho-killer mindset to play the twisted imprisoned killer in Happy Valley. Only one thing remains the same for James Norton; whether playing Prince Andrei Bolkonsky [pictured], the Rev Sidney Chambers or Tommy Lee Royce, he is irresistible to women (I see him as a contender for the James Bond role).

However, the most confusing of all is Tom Hollander, who is brilliant as a suspicious, bitchy, bullying killer flitting from swanky resorts to war zones in the arms-smuggling drama The Night Manager. Confusingly, at the same time on the same day, he was to be seen playing a mild-mannered country doctor in 19th-century England who likes to wear a top hat that is about half a size too big for him.


Utterly bemused, I retire to bed, my head full of confused cocktails of plotlines ranging from comedy of manners to arms dealing, with a wardrobe of clergyman’s vestments and Tsarist court dress. The bewilderment continues even during my sleeping hours. Far from slipping into the calming embrace of Morpheus, I awake suddenly from a nightmare in which Tom Hollander entered a Trollopian drawing room and instead of indulging in polite badinage with Lady Arabella (Rebecca Front reprising her role as the pushy mother Anna Mikhailovna from War & Peace) pulled out a 9mm handgun and pistol-whipped her in the best Le Carré-for-TV manner.

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