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Paradise Postponed (1986)

Paradise Postponed is an eleven-part series, written by John Mortimer, and accompanied by his novel of the same name.  The first episode, 'Death of a Saint', was originally broadcast on 15 September 1986 (ITV).

Running time: 9 hours and 43 minutes


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Paradise Postponed is a complex, sprawling drama that explores the changing face of England from the perspective of a rural community, between the Second World War and the spread of Thatcherism. 

Zoe has a major role as Charlotte Fanner, the privileged but deeply unhappy daughter of an ill-suited aristocratic couple who preside over the southern village of Rapstone.  When we first see Charlotte as an adult in her early twenties, during the late 1950s, she is screaming hysterically.  Her mother, Lady Grace - a vain, fading society beauty - has been taunting her about her appearance (a frequent occurence in the Fanner household).  When Lady Grace was a young woman, she and her friends were 'brought out' into high society; in Charlotte's case, she remarks spitefully, 'there's nothing much to bring'. 

Only the kind words of the local Rector, Simeon Simcox, can calm Charlotte down as she sobs in her bedroom at the Fanners' stately home.  Old toys and horse-riding rosettes are scattered around the room; relics of childhood that point to Charlotte's sheltered upbringing and relative immaturity.  Her self-esteem destroyed by her mother's cruel jibes, the lonely young woman is at times overcome by misery and anger.

Charlotte - more commonly known by the tomboyish nickname 'Charlie' - is a disappointment to her glamorous, self-centred mother, who keeps a flattering portrait from her youth on permanent display.  Because her daughter is not considered beautiful and takes little interest in the silly fripperies that have long defined her own existence, Lady Grace is unable to love her or treat her civilly.  Charlotte's father, Sir Nicholas, is not unkind, but often seems indifferent to his daughter's difficulties.  He cannot understand why a young woman from a comfortable background is dissatisfied with her life.  Moreover, Charlotte has no brothers or sisters in which to confide and is unpopular among her peers, particularly the disdainful Magnus Strove and his friend Christopher Kempenflatt.

The two snobbish, vicious men jeer at Leslie Titmuss, the son of a lowly clerk at the Simcox brewery, during the Young Conservatives dinner dance.  As Charlotte looks on in shock, they throw food at Leslie, before hurling him into the Thames, ruining the hired suit he had worn with pride.

Charlotte is drawn to the socially inept but ambitious Leslie, having watched him being treated so appallingly by individuals she despises.  At first she believes he may be a kindred spirit: like her, Leslie is an outsider in their narrow-minded village.  They are united by their hatred of the ruling class.

As the couple grow closer, it is unclear whether they are genuinely fond of one another or act primarily out of self-interest.  For Charlotte, Leslie appears to offer an escape route from the cold, privileged world in which she has always felt alienated.  Leslie, on the other hand, wants to take advantage of the Fanners' social standing and connections in order to further his political career with the Conservatives.

When Charlotte announces that she is pregnant, the couple's families are eventually persuaded to grant them permission to marry.  Initially both sets of parents, acutely aware of the social gulf between them, are firmly against the match.  Simeon quietly intervenes, however, and the wedding goes ahead.  Charlotte had envisaged a quiet ceremony and trip to the cinema (the opposite of what her mother would wish for in the same position); Leslie insists upon a lavish affair, marking his entrance into elite society.

After their marriage, Charlotte and Leslie's lives diverge: she becomes heavily involved in left-wing political activism and social care, while he aims to be elected as the local Tory MP.  Transforming himself into the kind of bigotted bully by whom he was humiliated at the dinner dance, Leslie plots to undermine the village's confidence in the existing MP, the elderly, ineffectual Doughty Strove, at whose estate Leslie's mother worked for many years as a servant. 

Soon Charlotte's liberal views and association with the hippie movement embarrass her strait-laced husband and threaten to derail his rise to power.  In response, Leslie severely reins in his wife's freedom and imprisons her once again in the fetters of polite society ('get yourself a dress you can't see through...get yourself a hat,' he demands).  His commitment to his political career is so strong that Leslie is prepared to sacrifice his wife's happiness in order to fulfil his ambitions.

Several years later, the embittered Charlotte reflects on the breakdown of their marriage.  During an emotional argument with Leslie, who is now a Cabinet Minister and sole benefactor in Simeon's will, she accuses him of betraying his working-class roots by fawning over the upper class. 

'You hated them once, didn't you?  You really hated them, when they threw you in the river.  That was when I thought I could love you: when you hated them.  You were a person, I thought.  A real, living, fighting, kicking human person.  You weren't, of course.  It was just the hate I fell in love with.'

Charlotte's hatred of the upper class leads her to reject their opinions and way of life.  By contrast, Leslie takes revenge on his socially privileged oppressors by emulating, and then finally surpassing, them.  Rapstone's most powerful families become the victims of their own complacency as the brewery clerk's son strives to outshine them.

Deprived of a career in social services and filled with resentful feelings towards her husband, Charlotte dotes on the couple's son, Nicholas, who is largely ignored by his father.  Leslie's decision to send the sensitive boy to boarding school pushes her to the brink.  'Who else is there for me to talk to?' she despairs.  In her isolation, Charlotte takes a drastic course of action.

Charlotte and Leslie's troubled relationship is crucial to the development of Paradise Postponed's plot, particularly in the light of Simeon's will.  Brothers Henry and Fred are compelled to uncover the reasons behind their father's decision to leave his fortune to a Tory politician.  What interest could Simeon have had in the Titmuss family's fate?

The quest for the truth shakes the old-fashioned, class-conscious community of Rapstone to its foundations.


Rev. Simeon Simcox ... Michael Hordern
Dorothy Simcox ... Annette Crosbie
Fred Simcox ... Paul Shelley
Henry Simcox ... Peter Egan
George Titmuss ... Colin Jeavons
Elsie Titmuss ... Sylvia Kay
Leslie Titmuss ... David Threlfall
Sir Nicholas Fanner ... Richard Vernon
Lady Grace Fanner ... Jill Bennett
Charlotte 'Charlie' Fanner ... Zo Wanamaker
Dr Salter ... Colin Blakely
Agnes Salter ... Eleanor David
Doughty Strove ... Thorley Waters
Magnus Strove ... Dominic Jephcott
Jennifer Strove ... Marsha Fitzalan
Christopher Kempenflatt ... Andrew Bicknell


Director: Alvin Rakoff
Producer: Jacqueline Davis
Original music: Roger Webb


Many of the titles of Paradise Postponed's eleven episodes suggest a mock-epic tone, which is highly appropriate for a drama chronicling the effects of politics, religion, and social change on the inhabitants of a tiny village.  They include (in running order) 'Death of a Saint'; 'The Temptation of Henry Simcox'; 'Chez Titmuss'; 'Living in the Past'; 'The Wrongs of Man'; 'The Lost Leader'; 'And a Happy New Year to You, Too!'; 'Enigma Variations'; 'The Gods of the Copy Book Headings'; 'Faith Unfaithful'; and 'The Simcox Inheritance'.

The enormous scope of Paradise Postponed demanded a lengthy filming period, spanning March to November 1985, on location in Buckinghamshire and in TV studios.  In addition, Zoe and the other actors in main roles faced the challenge of ageing convincingly on screen.  During the course of eleven episodes, Zoe portrays Charlotte from around the age of twenty to almost middle-age.

In recent years Zoe has suggested that Paradise Postponed, as a landmark TV drama, was a turning point in her career.  It led to her working more often in television than had previously been the case; she has become an increasingly familiar face on our TV screens since the mid-1980s, most notably in two other high-profile series: Love Hurts and My Family.

Press coverage

'Miss Wanamaker, needless to say of a National Theatre actress of standing and repute, sounds as British as she is meant to be, and plays the part of a bitterly disaffected wife who detests her husband's policies on defence and unemployment almost as much as she detests him.' - George Watson, Hudson Review

'Moments of wit and precision glittered in the dialogue' - Catherine Heath, The Stage


Paradise Postponed & Titmuss Regained DVD (Region 1)

Paradise Postponed - The Complete Series DVD (Region 2)

Paradise Postponed by John Mortimer - novel written to accompany the series

Related links

Paradise Postponed overview - IMDB

Paradise Postponed overview - PBS (which broadcast the miniseries in the US)

Press release about Paradise Postponed DVD (includes photos) - The Associates PR agency

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