Did we like it?
A kind of Jackanory for adults, enhanced by Hugh Bonneville’s controlled but expressive performance as the central and only on-screen character, the bumptious, sanctimonious Charles Pooter.
What was good about it?
• Hugh Bonneville as Charles Pooter. As a diary, it is essentially a sequence of vignettes in which Charles Pooter recounts his mishaps of recent days. In the wrong hands, this could have been dreary, but from the very first scene with Pooter’s indignant frown that his diary should be as interesting as someone of more public esteem, Bonneville graces the protagonist with glassy, pleading eyes and a mouth that curls and contorts with outrage.
• Bonneville also conveys Pooter’s myopia such as believing that he and he alone is responsible for his motto of “home, sweet home”, and his hilarity at his own unwhetted wit after his friend trips over a boot scraper. “I should get the scraper moved,” he quips. “Or else I will get into a scrape!” And then collapses into paroxysm of laughter.
• However when he does fall over the boot scraper himself, the situation is flipped into one of shame and he tries to blame the passing butcher’s boy’s laughter at his pratfall for his malaise.
• But like so many classic comic archetypes, such as Captain Mainwaring and Hyacinth Bouquet, beneath the snobbery there is a humanity that prevents Pooter becoming a slapstick cipher. You share in his joy when he is invited to the Lord Mayor’s reception, despite the fact that it ultimately ends up in typical humiliation after he gets jealous that the common ironmonger also has an invite, drinks too much champagne and slips while dancing with his wife.
• Andrew Davies’ adaptation does exploit the visual nature of television. Pooter becomes obsessed with painting everything red – the coal scuttle, cutlery and the spines of his copies of Shakespeare – but annoys his wife by glossing the bath. And when he suffers a headache from the paint fumes, which he with assured obstinacy blames on “a chill”, he tries to cure it by soaking in a very hot bath. Inevitably, the red paint dissolves in the heat and initially the red water causes him to fret that he has pierced an artery. Yet the only enduring consequence is that he delivers this part of his monologue with his skin coloured crimson.
What was bad about it?
• Diary of A Nobody is a programme that could appear only on BBC4 (and possibly More 4, if included implicit criticism of the US), as the monologue to camera can become a little tedious at some points as the character of Pooter is being delineated despite Bonneville’s best efforts to flavour even the stodgiest moments.
• As with any literary adaptation, there is a sense that what is broadcast is the edited highlights segued together. And although it’s skilfully done, it does interrupt the momentum as Pooter lurches from one crisis of confidence to the next.