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More Daphne du Maurier/Radio 4 drama

The second Daphne du Maurier dramatisation by Paula O’Shea on Radio 4 (broadcast yesterday) was not an adaptation of one of her stories but rather a chance meeting late in Daphne’s life on one of her coastal Cornwall walks between her – played excellently by Helena Bonham Carter – and a stranger (Bill Nighy) who is an authority upon her life.

Given that Daphne du Maurier speaks of doubles – just as in early life she adopted the name of Eric Avon and assumed the identity of a boy, in later life she was obsessively passionate for certain women like her American publisher’s wife Ellen Doubleday – it is possible this stranger did not exist but was in fact Daphne confronting herself.

In her final years Daphne was a sad, lonely, bitter person – as was reflected in her strange final novel Rule Britannia – I heard she would mount a hill overlooking the coastal path from Fowey to Menabilly and take pot-shots at the walkers.

Her departure from Menabilly when the lease expired was messy and the freeholders – the Rashleighs – eventually put her up at another house, the Dower House at Kidmouth.

All of this – and the speculation whether she had an incestuous relationship with her father Gerald – was not covered, but it was rather a look back at her marriage to General Boy Browning who fought in both World Wars and was the brains behind Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated paratrooper attack on Arnhem.

It was interesting to learn from the drama that Daphne despised her most celebrated novel Rebecca another double with the second wife in her shadow.

In passing it is worth mentioning how many actors and singers despise their most famous work(s).

Christopher Plummer so hated The Sound of Music he would call it The Sound of Mucus and Frank Sinatra apparently loathed My Way.

I am currently reading a novel in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle features and he felt strongly that Sherlock Holmes prevented his aspiration to write a different type of novel as he had to meet an insatiable public demand for more of the famous detective.

Daphne du Maurier was a complex, paradoxical character.

She was a free spirit and a nonconformist. She was obsessed that her husband was having affaires but had them herself, notably with the male owner of the house in which she stayed during the War.

Nonetheless, she was unswervingly loyal to her husband, defending his reputation vocally after the film A Bridge too Far shredded it.

She did not believe in divorce and criticised her daughter Tessa for having one. Towards her end she was lonely and depressed to the point of suicidal.

There were flaws and assumptions in this play but, above all, it paid inadequate tribute to Daphne the master story teller.

Her talent and legacy were the supreme storyteller.

Undoubtedly helped by her publisher Victor Gollancz’s editor Sheila Turner, she understood how to construct a readable novel – short chapters, not too many characters and – above all – a strong driving plot often shrouded in dark emotions.