Thursday, 3 November 2011

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

One of my favourite books, if not my all-time favourite book, since I was 21. Recently I bought the DVD of the BBC adaptation first broadcast in 1979.  I couldn't believe it - 1979!  That means I first saw the series only four years after I discovered the book, a second-hand hardback copy passed on by my university flatmate.  I was then the same age as Vera was when she learnt of the death of her fiance in the trenches of WW 1.

I am patient.  I have waited 32 years, until 2011, to see the final episode.  I missed it the first time round, which was before there was any such thing as recording equipment.  The repeat was broadcast sometime in the early 80's, when video cassette recording was the only option, and pretty primitive.  The clocks changed the day of the final episode, and it ended after two minutes of recording.  This was the occasion of one of the really furious, marriage-damaging rows in our life together.

I am patient.  I waited 32 years.  I bought the DVD online, and watched the last episode first.  It was moving, but I was disappointed not to see more of "G", the husband, the "Daisy" who replaced the dead "Passion Flower" in Vera's life, always to seem second-best, both to himself, seemingly, and to the discerning reader.

Then I started again from the beginning.  I still cry when these scenes are played out before me.  The story has the power to move me even now.  Vera lost her fiance, two close male friends, and her only brother in the First World War.  Her father later committed suicide.  Her best female friend, the writer Winifred Holtby (author of "South Riding" recently produced with Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role, on BBC1) died in her thirties of a kidney complaint, unseasonably young and in great pain.

Recently I heard Vera's daughter, Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams, interviewed by Mariella Frostrup on BBC Radio 4's Book Programme.  Shirley had an interesting insight about her mother, and why she wrote.

"It was her reaction to loss.  Her whole life was about loss.  Writing was an attempt to bring them back to life...." 

TV does an even better job.  As far as I am aware, the 1979 BBC production  is the only adaptation of "Tof Y" that has ever been made.  Even in my own lifetime, "South Riding" has been aired twice. The last one about 25 years ago with Dorothy Tutin in the lead.

Surely it is time someone went back to the life story of VB?


  1. I watched the 1979 TV original and thought it was fabulous......hope it can be 'aired' again.

  2. So pleased there is someone else who feels the same way!

  3. So, is it not a diappointment if you love the book, like so much tends to be?

    1. This one was not a disappointment. Old-style BBC, it kept true to the original book.

      Not like "Sherlock"!!

      With "Pemberley", interestingly, I thought the BBC version was actually better than the book.

  4. Oh joy! I am going to the new film of "Testament of Youth" next week. I've seen the trailer - it looks as though it is going to capture the essence extremely well.