BBC Radio 7, 19-26 June 2010
Gaudy Night takes place in a girls college amid the dreaming spires of Oxford University. Life there follows its own rules, bounded by research, teaching and the inevitable backbiting that arises if a group of academics live and work together full-time. Most of them have wilfully turned their backs on the outside world, leading celibate existences while particpating in intellectual effort.
The tranquillity of this atmosphere is abruptly ruined by two things - the presence of a maniac possessed of tremendous strength who keeps sending poison-pen letters and terrorizing the academic community (lecturers and students alike); and the arrival of Harriet Vane (Joanna David) and Lord Peter Wimsey (Ian Carmichael), who together solve the case. Eventually it turns out to be a case of simmering resentment on the part of the servant Annie (Angela Sims), whose husband committed suicide when his academic research was proved wrong by one of the college academics.
Ian Carmichael made the role of Wimsey his own, his strangulated vowels and deliberately exaggerated marked RP pronounciation ('bed' instead of 'bad,' 'fess' instead of 'fass'), was very reminiscent of the accent he used while playing silly asses on film and television (e.g. Wooster in the 1960s hit The World of Wooster). As Harriet, Joanna David offered a reassuring presence as the narrator - although playing a secondary role to Wimsey, she always seemed like someone we could trust. The Oxford academics were played by a gaggle of radio grande dames, including Jill Balcon, Francis Jeater and Elizabeth Bell, all of whom lent their distinctive voices to the roles. They liked to appear authoritative figures; but as the story unfolded, it became clear that such authority was hardly justified. They had contributed to Annie's husband's death by humiliating him, although they had no inkling of what they had done. The ivory tower of academe had a destructive rather than an instructive effect on its inhabitants.
Adapted by Michael Bakewell, a stalwart of many an Agatha Christie adaptation, Gaudy Night contained rather too much plot-exposition, which hampered the progress of the narrative, but contained an unpredictable conclusion. Directed by Enyd Williams, it was a fitting tribute to Carmichael's long career (he would have been ninety this month).