Sunday Serial #11

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.
You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.
So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..

Zoe picked up Parker and Lund’s property details and scanned them to remind herself why she’d previously objected to the rectory. Suddenly, on the back she saw something she’d missed before: Dylan’s sketch of Sharon Makepiece. Zoe held it up for Dylan to see.

‘Who’s this?’

The shock of seeing Sharon’s image in such incongruous surroundings made Dylan start.

‘It’s the estate agent who showed me round.’

‘I hope it’s not the reason you prefer The Old Rectory?’

Everyone laughed.

Zoe returned her attention to the property details. ‘Yes, I can see why you like it. In some ways it’s just what we want.’

Dylan leaned forward in anticipation of her qualification. ‘But?’

‘It’s right in the centre of a village!’

‘What’s wrong with that?’

Zoe sat back and folded her arms. ‘Don’t you see it as a potential source of conflict?’

‘No. Why should it be?’

‘Come on! This place Leefdale is an up market village full of smug little Englanders who think they’re the bees’ knees because for years they’ve won some poxy gardening contest. They’re hardly going to be delighted when we fill their exquisite rectory with inner city yobbos.’

Eric grinned and affected shock. ‘They’re not yobbos!’

Zoe sighed patiently. ‘Of course, they’re not. We all agree on that. But that’s how they’d be seen by the inhabitants of Leefdale.’

Toni wrinkled her eyebrows satirically. ‘That’s very defeatist of you. Why should these Leefdale people be insulated from reality?’

‘Ordinarily I’d agree. But by basing ourselves in the rectory I think we’d be giving ourselves and the kids unnecessary grief.’

‘So, to avoid that we have to hide them away. Is that what you’re saying?’ said Charles.

‘No, I’m not!’

‘Yes, you are,’ said Dylan. ‘That’s why you prefer Cold Dale Farm. It’s isolated and off the beaten track. The perfect place to hide them away!’

Zoe sighed and treated him to one of her “I’ve been unjustly misunderstood” looks. ‘I don’t want to hide them away. It’s just that I don’t want them put under any unnecessary pressure. They’ve all had crap experiences one way or another. The time they spend with us should be a period of relative tranquillity.’

‘Tranquillity yes. Isolation no!’ said Dylan. ‘Of course we want to provide them with a secure environment. But security isn’t just about feeling safe. It’s about having the confidence to go out and deal with the world as it is.’

‘I quite agree,’ said Charles, who had to be at Heathrow at 7.30am. ‘If they don’t get involved with a community how are they going to have any sense of social inclusion?’

‘I’m sorry. Did I get something wrong here?’ said Eric. ‘I thought the idea was that through art we were putting them on the path to being healed.’

‘Sure,’ said Dylan, ‘that’s part of what we’re trying to do…’

‘A big part, I hope!’ said Eric. He threw Zoe a look.

‘Yes. A very big part,’ said Dylan. ‘But not the only part. There’s also a social dimension to the work we do. Look, the people I met in Leefdale seemed very reasonable. I don’t think they’ll give us a problem. Anyway, I’m sure we can pre-empt any antagonism by involving the clients in the Magnificent Britain Competition.’

‘Now, that’s an excellent idea,’ said Charles.

‘I think it’s crap,’ said Zoe ‘Why should we let these Leefdale people dictate our agenda?’

‘Because we want the clients to feel included,’ said Dylan.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Zoe, ‘I still think Cold Dale Farm is much more suitable.’

Eric shook his head. ‘It’s very small.’

‘Nonsense. It’s got tons of land,’ said Zoe.

‘It has. But the house itself is tiny. We don’t need lots of land but we do need a good-sized house. And Leefdale’s rectory is huge.’

Zoe gave him a sharp look. ‘You weren’t interested in the rectory until Dylan suggested it.’

Eric looked slightly sheepish.

‘But Eric’s right,’ Dylan said. ‘I’ve seen the accommodation at Cold Dale Farm. There’s not much space for art and drama studios.’

‘But with all that land surely we could build an arts block?’ Zoe persisted.

Dylan shook his head. ‘Not unless we can talk the price right down.’

Eric laughed. ‘Would they come down a hundred thousand?’

‘That’s what they’d have to do,’ said Charles. ‘Otherwise, it’s way beyond our price limit. After all, I have to ensure that the Trust gets value for money. I’m sorry Zoe, but at that price I don’t think we’d be able to afford purpose-built studios. We need to just move in.’

Zoe grimaced. ‘It’s such a shame. The kids would love a big open space like that. They’d experience a real sense of freedom. And we could build a huge sculpture park.’

Dylan and Charles exchanged a knowing look. The creation of a sculpture park was Zoe’s obsession. Unfortunately, none of the units she’d worked in had ever possessed sufficient land to make her dream a reality.

‘Leefdale rectory’s back garden is big enough for one,’ Dylan told Zoe, helpfully.

But Zoe was adamant. ‘There’s not as much as land there as at Cold Dale Farm.’
Persistence was in Zoe’s genes. It had brought her great grandparents out of Poland at the height of the Pogroms when all their neighbours were telling them it was a mistake to leave. Their foresight had saved themselves and their descendants from Auschwitz, and ultimately enabled Zoe to be born. Zoe’s Catholic great grandparents had fled Northern Ireland for America in the 1890s but had pledged to return, and, indeed, had done so when the Irish Free State had been established. Zoe had told Dylan all this when they’d been lovers. He reflected on it now.

‘Cold Dale Farm’s too isolated,’ said Toni, who was impatient for a decision.

‘I agree,’ said Dylan, again surprising himself. Hadn’t he always said he preferred isolation?

‘All right,’ said Zoe. ‘You’re obviously not having Cold Dale Farm. But I do think that before we make a decision on any of these properties we should all be given the opportunity to go and view them.’

‘I don’t think we can do that, Zoe,’ said Charles.

‘Why not?’

‘You know very well why. We promised all the interested parties we’d be up and running by the summer. By the time we’ve viewed all the properties separately the one we finally decide on might have been sold to someone else. We need to make a decision now.’

‘But how can we make a decision if we haven’t seen the properties?’

‘We agreed to delegate the task to Dylan,’ said Toni. Behind her glasses her light grey eyes regarded Zoe scornfully. ‘I was perfectly OK with that. He is, after all, our team leader and he seems to have gone into everything very thoroughly. We must trust his judgement.’

Zoe was a drama therapist and an expert in assertion techniques. Reasonably but firmly she said, ‘I don’t mistrust Dylan’s judgement, but as we’re the ones who’ll be working there I do think we’re entitled to see what the conditions are like for ourselves.’

‘You could have come up to Yorkshire with me,’ said Dylan. ‘I invited all of you.’

Zoe’s expression became slightly tense. ‘I explained in the clearest terms why I couldn’t possibly do that.’

Dylan said, ‘That’s right. You did.’

But had it really been so impossible for her to renege on her speaking engagement at the drama therapists’ conference? He doubted it. Actually, in the circumstances he couldn’t understand why Zoe was going to be working with them at all. It was several months since he’d engineered the ending of their affair. His handling of the break-up had been clumsy and callous and it had come as a devastating shock to Zoe who, until then, had been completely unaware of his disenchantment with their relationship. In the months afterwards, although they’d continued as colleagues they’d barely spoken; and when Dylan was promoted team leader and assigned to establish the new East Yorkshire Inclusion Unit, he’d assumed they would never work together again. He was therefore staggered when Zoe applied for a place in his new team. What kind of a person after a break-up applies to work alongside their ex? It was so unusual he’d wondered if she’d done it deliberately to provoke him. At Charles’ insistence (and against his own better judgement) he’d agreed to appoint her. Of course, Charles may have taken a different view if he’d known that she and Dylan had once been lovers and of the acrimony with which they’d parted; but it wasn’t even suspected, by him or anyone else within the confines of their professional world. Yet why was Zoe kicking up such a fuss about the properties now, at this late stage? Could it be she was having second thoughts about working with him and was trying to wriggle out of her commitment to the new unit? He hoped so.

Zoe turned to Eric. ‘Don’t you think we should go and see for ourselves what these places are like?’

‘Hey, I’m cool,’ said Eric. ‘I was happy to leave it to Dylan.’ He wiggled his finger archly at Zoe in a faux reprimand. ‘So you can leave me out of this.’

Zoe grinned and tapped him lightly on the thigh.

Zoe and Eric? Dylan thought. Zoe and Eric? Surely not?

‘Look, I’m going to the states tomorrow, remember?’ said Charles. ‘I’m sorry but we’ve got to make a decision tonight.’

Their discussions continued until well after midnight. Eventually, Lord Sandleton, an experienced chairman and committee man, persuaded everyone to reduce the properties to a short list of two, which was then put to the vote. The Old Rectory at Leefdale received Dylan and Toni’s votes. Predictably Zoe voted for Cold Dale Farm. Dylan found it significant that Eric did too. Lord Sandleton exercised his casting vote in favour of The Old Rectory. It was decided to make an offer of £495,000 for the property.
Dylan, Eric, Toni and Zoe left the apartment together. In the street, all four lingered briefly around Dylan’s motorcycle. Toni offered Zoe a lift home.

‘No thanks,’ said Zoe. ‘Eric’s giving me one.’ She said goodbye, turned to go and then turned back to Dylan. ‘Well, you got what you wanted, as ever. I just hope it turns out all right. I’ve got a really bad feeling about it.’

Read on with the free preview below.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sharon guards a dark family secret.

Barbara is fighting to save her marriage.

Zoe is trying to sort her life out.

Louise is desperate to be recognised for who she truly is . . .

Unaware of the profound effect it will have on her and the rest of the village, estate agent Sharon Makepiece arranges the sale of Leefdale’s Old Rectory to Dylan Bourne, an art therapist and professional artist.

The Old Rectory is the finest house in Leefdale. Its renowned gardens are crucial to village plans for winning the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for the fifth consecutive year.

Barbara Kellingford’s father, Major Howard Roberts, is chairman of both the parish council and the Magnificent Britain sub-committee. While Barbara struggles to hang on to her husband, a top Tory politician, her father is embroiled in a bruising struggle of his own with the new people at The Old Rectory.

Zoe Fitzgerald is a drama therapist. Her role is to change lives, yet it’s her own life which needs to change most.

Louise Makepiece is determined to realise her dreams. But first she has to force her mother to leave Leefdale!

Dylan Bourne’s new job is killing his Art. And his romantic obsession seems to be affecting his judgement.

Barbara Kellingford knows that time is running out to save her husband’s political career.
Meanwhile, the tabloids are circling.

Leefdale. A story of inclusion and exclusion; local and national politics; press intrusion; the healing power of Art and the complex nature of love.

Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape

I’m pleased to welcome a guest writer to my blog today with a personal memoir of drama teacher Giselle Birke.

Actor, writer and teacher, Michael Murray was born in Stepney, East London.
He trained for the stage at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Under his Equity name, Michael worked for many years as an actor and voice-over artist. His career also encompassed teaching, writing and directing. Michael is a Drama in Education specialist and holds an advanced qualification in the teaching of drama: the A.D.B. (Ed). He also has an M.A. in Education. Michael now writes full-time. His latest novel, ‘Leefdale’, was published earlier in 2018.
Michael is the author of:
Magnificent Britain 2012
Julia’s Room 2012
Learning Lines? (A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors) 2014
A Single To Filey (A DCI Tony Forward Novel) (Amazon Bestseller 2015)
Leefdale 2018. Michael is also my other half and I’m delighted he’s agreed to my posting this fascinating article.

Giselle Birke was my first drama tutor and director. I remember with great fondness being directed by her in “The Crucible”, “An Elizabethan Evening” and “Tovarich”. That was in the sixties at the Toynbee School of Drama which was based at Toynbee Hall in Commercial Street in London’s East End. We were very lucky to have the beautifully appointed Curtain Theatre to perform in on the same site.

“Toynbee” as its students called it, was an evening drama school under the aegis of the Bethnal Green Institute. Giselle taught and directed there for many, many years. A great number of successful actors, some of them today’s household names, knew and were taught by Giselle.

Later, Giselle also became a colleague. After I graduated from RADA I became an actor and a qualified drama teacher. It was at this time that Giselle approached me and asked if I would help her work with the students at Toynbee. By then the school was in decline because of financial cut-backs and was being run single-handedly by Giselle on a shoe string. I would not be paid, but it was Giselle who was asking me, so how could I refuse? However, Giselle strove loyally to get me paid and a year later, thanks to her resourceful efforts, I was remunerated for my work. I cite this as an example of her determination in all things.

Giselle never spoke to me of her early years in Germany. And having read her book “Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape” I can understand why. In the book Giselle recounts an idyllic childhood spent on the large estate in north eastern Germany owned by her upper middle class family. But then the Second World War came and with it the destruction of her entire way of life; for example: her family were not supporters of Hitler but she was press ganged into the Hitler Youth.

Giselle’s memoir mainly chronicles her experiences of the Russian invasion. To escape the Russians she was forced to join with huge numbers of refugees and travel miles and miles through Germany seeking safety with her relatives: the “Colourful Characters” of the book’s title. Often she slept out in the open, existing, if she were lucky, on scraps of dry bread, riding on the outside of trains, and experiencing horrendous vicissitudes against a background of invasion by the Russian, American and British armies. As a beautiful, blonde 17 year old she was in constant danger of being raped. Indeed, she was nearly raped by a Russian soldier on one occasion and only saved herself by determinedly fighting him off. As I read Giselle’s book, time and time again I found myself asking, “How on earth did she endure this?” Yet all the while, amidst all of the chaos and upheaval, she continued to nourish and keep alive her dream of a better world in which she would fulfil her ambition of becoming an actress.

Giselle describes how her father and mother were ejected from their estate by the invading Russians. She became a displaced person but eventually managed to get to Berlin where she found employment as a nurse in a private clinic. However, she had to give this job up because of the unwanted attentions of a patient who was pressuring her to give him sexual favours.

With amazing courage for a young German woman after the war, Giselle, who spoke little English, decided to travel alone to England and settle here. And it is at this point that her account ends. One of the conditions of Giselle’s permit to settle in England was that she had to do domestic work for four years. She learnt English, studied drama in the evenings and later found work as an actress in repertory, radio and television and in films. She studied for and gained an LRAM and a Diploma in English Literature after which she became a drama tutor. As well as teaching and directing in the evenings at the Toynbee School of Drama she also taught at full-time drama schools.

When I first met Giselle in 1965 I had no idea that she was German. Her English pronunciation and idiom were so perfect. The story of how she came to England alone and attained such a command of English that she was able to achieve her ambition to act on the English stage is as remarkable, in its way, as “Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape”. Sadly, I fear that a sequel will never be written. I discovered on the Actors’ Equity Website “In Memorium” page for 2012 that a Giselle Birke passed away that year.

I had always admired Giselle: if I had known only half of her traumatic backstory my admiration for her would have been immeasurable. She was always passionately and profoundly anti-racist. Reading her memoir has enabled me to see why.

Giselle is a superb writer of English and her graphic descriptions of the collapse of Nazi Germany from the perspective of a displaced person are compelling and provide an important social and historical document. I literally couldn’t put this book down, it is so readable. I think the book would make a fascinating film. I do hope some enterprising screenwriter or director will read it.

If nothing else, “Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape” provides compelling reasons why, despite the imperfections of the European Union, we should remain pro-European. We don’t want to see another catastrophe like the Second World War bringing terror once again into the heart of Europe.

Goodbye Love Film!

We’ve been subscribed to Love Film in its several incarnations for years.

But Amazon sent an email a couple of months ago to inform us that the DVD-rental-in-the-post that we’ve enjoyed so much was coming to an end.

Yes, we have Prime and a subscription to Netflix and are overwhelmed with choice. But there was something about Love Film which made it special.

We rarely used it for trying to view recent films. It was the back catalogue we particularly liked.

And our final Love Film DVD has been brilliant.

“In Celebration” is a 1975 film directed by Lindsay Anderson.

It’s based on the 1969 stage play of the same title by David Storey.

Storey’s modern classic took audiences by storm and established him as one of the country’s most powerful playwrights.

The film’s director, Lindsay Anderson, also directed the stage play at The Royal Court Theatre in London.

The cast of the film is the same as the cast of the stage play.

Not strictly autobiographical, but rooted in the playwright’s Nottinghamshire mining background, “In Celebration” is set in a family home on the night three grown-up sons return somewhat reluctantly to celebrate their parents’ wedding anniversary.

The film stars Alan Bates and was shot in the Derbyshire mining town of Langwith. The Shaws (Bill Owen, Constance Chapman) are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and their three sons have returned home to take them for a night out at an expensive restaurant. Mr. Shaw is a coal miner of 49 years, who married a woman from a higher social class. He’s only one year off retirement. Mrs. Shaw urged her sons to abandon their father’s mining heritage in pursuit of corporate careers, but the results have not been positive. Andy (Alan Bates), the oldest, became a solicitor, but abandoned the work to pursue painting. Colin (James Bolam) was a former Communist party member, who has come to enjoy material (but not emotional) success as a labour negotiator for an automobile company. The youngest brother Steven (Brian Cox) is a teacher, married with four children of his own, who is writing a book, but has not produced any notable published works. The film examines the tensions which develop as the family reunite over the course of one evening.

The film was produced and released as part of the American Film Theatre, which adapted theatrical works for a subscription-driven cinema series. The play was re-rehearsed for three weeks before shooting and location scenes were filmed in the colliery town.

The sound quality of the film is flaky now but the acting is strong and powerful. The themes of the play still resonate strongly today and overall, we enjoyed the film adaptation of an excellent drama. Michael actually saw the original production at The Royal Court and was fascinated to watch the film and revive his memories of the original production.

We’d got several old films on our Love Film waiting list and hopefully we’ll be able to track them down on one of the streaming services.

But we’ll miss our DVD in the post and say goodbye, rather sadly, to Love Film!

Thanks for reading my blog today.

You might also enjoy BBC, BBC and BBC on Cabbage and Semolina Blog.

Please check out my Book of the Day.

Have a good day! 🙂



Prime Suspect 1973 | Final episode tonight

Yes, it’s Thursday again and tonight is the final episode of Prime Suspect. I’ve enjoyed this series and am looking forward to the ending. Meanwhile I’ve downloaded to my Kindle the original Lynda la Plante Prime Suspect novels to read again.

The Radio Times doesn’t like this series one bit:

It’s the final episode of an unremarkable prequel and by the end we still have no real sense of the woman and the police officer that Jane Tennison will become.

Well, I don’t agree with that.

We know that Jane is:

challenging received wisdoms at home and at work,






imaginative and


More details about Prime Suspect 1973 here.

9.00pm ITV

5 Reasons why Prime Suspect 1973 is so good.

If it’s Thursday, it must be Prime Suspect 1973.

This week (so it says in the Radio Times) we’re getting:

a 1970s wedding

“all floaty Laura Ashley dresses and big hats” as Jane Tennison is her sister’s reluctant bridesmaid.

Meanwhile DI Bradfield is obsessing over the East End Bentley family

even though Jane tells him he’s got it all wrong.

The plot in this wonderful adaptation of Linda la Plante’s novel, “Tennison”, is stodgy and predictable so why is Prime Suspect 1973 the highlight of my viewing week?

1. Costumes

The costume designer is Amy Roberts who, according to the IMDb website, was nominated for an Olivier Award for best costumes for the 2009 stage production of The Misanthrope starring Damien Lewis and Keira Knightley. Well, Amy certainly deserves an award for the costumes in Prime Suspect 1973. She’s captured the spirit of the era beautifully and the series is worth watching for the costumes alone.

2. Music

The music draws on some of the more obscure pop and rock hits (and misses) of the period: songs I haven’t heard in decades plus a few of the better known efforts. Mixed in are some original pieces specially composed for the series which blend seamlessly with the authentic sounds of the 70s.

3. Lighting

The lighting is the ultimate stroke of genius in the series. A drab lighting pallette conveys the depressed nature of the economic state of the country and reflects the low tech quality of the TV camera work of the day. Brilliant!

4. Acting

A strong cast including a couple of veteran household names (Alun Armstrong and Ruth Sheen) bring real commitment to their roles. They’ve got the attitudes perfectly and the ensemble playing of the various groups within the cast is exemplary.

5. Attitudes

Every prejudice that manifested all day and every day in the early seventies is captured authentically in this production. The embryonic feminism displayed by Jane Tennison is tempered by the chauvinistic prevailing norms of the era. Shocking levels of racism and homophobia percolate the script presented head on with no compromise. If nothing else, this series is a celebration of progress. Yes, of course, there’s further to go and more to do. But compared with thirty years ago it’s encouraging that attitudes have changed so much.

If you want more blasts from the past check out Cabbage and Semolina, my memories of a 1950s childhood.