Tuesday 28 July 2009

My favourite villain

A rainy evening last night and I watched a couple of episodes on DVD of Granada's Jewel in the Crown. Despite the mega cast and faithful adaptation it's still not a patch on Paul Scott's quartet of novels. However it is nice to be reminded what TV with ambition and scope was like. Best of all Tim Pigott-Smith's rendition of one of the finest villains in post-war literature - Ronald Merrick. His suburban vowels, repressed campness and all-pervading chippiness are delicious and unforgettable.

Scott managed to come up with something fresh in the footsteps of Forster and Orwell and no-one has ever bettered his portrayal of the brittleness of the British Raj in situ. The social divisions within the ruling class are as acute as the racial ones between the rulers and ruled. It is so well drawn that it is as painful as it is perfect. Scott created his Indian colonial landscape knowing that the original had come to an end. That's what allows us to wallow a little -- it is historical so we need feel no guilt.

Guilt is not an emotion I want to encourage but sadly Scott was wrong in consigning all those colonial attitudes to the past. I am off to Zanzibar in a couple of weeks and could, should I so choose, spend my time being as Merricky as I like. White expat society in Zanzibar, and many other outposts of the poverty and development industry, is as far divorced from local culture and local people as anything in British India . These neo-colonialists will be snooty and condescendingly uncomprehending with me because I choose to spend my time with Africans in Africa. I have "gone native" and that's simply not "pukka". The language may have been tempered but the underlying attitudes are as raw as they ever were. The Neo-Cols really do seem to despise those they lord over. They just wrap it all up in ghastly management speak and KPIs. Whatever the dressing there are still, as Kipling said over a century ago, two worlds which shall never meet. Nonetheless I think I get a better deal with the locals than I ever would with the earnest sahibs and desiccated memsahibs of the poverty industry.


  1. Adam - you should read William Dalrymple's "White Mughals" for a take on how the original British expats in India - those before Victorian Values - embraced local customs (often literally). N

  2. Will take as Zanzibar reading. I knew William D at Cambridge