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to Margaret Forster (1938 – 2016): Remembering Georgy Girl from the Swinging Sixties.
(Editor's note: Hunter Davies's new autobiography, The Co-op's Got Bananas, published by Simon and Schuster on 7th April, is my Nostalgia book of the month in this issue...)
How sad it was to hear of the death of Margaret Forster at the age of 77
in February 2016. She was one of the most accomplished, popular and respected
authors of the post-war era. Her output of fiction, non-fiction, autobiography,
biography and feminist social history was maintained at high quality throughout
a long career that started with her first-published novel in 1964.
Her death was all the more poignant because it left her husband Hunter
Davies alone and mourning at the age of 80. Although he scaled great heights
himself as an author and journalist, Hunter Davies always hailed his wife’s
intellect and strength as being superior to his in every regard. He truly
worshipped the ground that she walked on.
In London in the Swinging Sixties it seemed that Hunter Davies and
Margaret Forster, married in 1960, were the epitome of a young, trendy, upwardly
mobile married couple with the world at their feet. They each seemed to have
the Midas touch: aged only in their twenties they each had seen a best-seller
book become a box-office hit at the cinema. Georgy
Girl was Margaret Forster’s second novel, published in 1965 and turned into
a film in 1966. Hunter’s breakthrough novel was Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, published in 1967 and released
as a film in 1968.
The publishers and promoters of those two books and films conveyed to the
public a promise of permissive ‘sex romps’: beacons of the fast-emerging post-Chatterley
society in which the fusty old customs and class barriers were being swept away.
Women were being ‘emancipated’; taboo subjects like adultery and unmarried
mothers could be written about more
Hunter Davies and Margaret Forster did on the surface of it belong with
the 1960s and 1970s ‘Beautiful People’: a house in Islington; working and partying
with the Chelsea set; editing the hip new Sunday Times colour supplement;
writing a biography of The Beatles. But at heart they were a young couple that
had met, courted and married in Carlisle, to which town they would later return
to raise their family of three children and present themselves to the world as
a hard-working, unpretentious and happily married couple. Margaret Forster was
an unremittingly down-to-earth character who kept her private life in
lock-down. Family and writing were the two essentials of her life and she
carried them out without fuss or self-importance.
Girl – the book and the film
Girl (Secker & Warburg, 1965) was such an instant success as a novel
that it was soon adapted as a film (Columbia Pictures, 1966). Lynn Redgrave made her lead screen debut as the virginal
and frumpy title character. Alan Bates, James Mason and Charlotte Rampling were
the main co-stars. The catchy theme tune by The New Seekers reached number 3 in
the UK singles chart, number 2 in the USA and number 1 in Australia.
Much as I enjoyed and still enjoy watching the film I would beseech you
to read the book. The writing is exceptionally fine towards the end of the
story when the young lovers Georgy and Jos (Alan Bates) wrangle over the
unsatisfactory state that their relationship has come to. Jos wants Georgy all
to himself, but Georgy has stubbornly decided to shut him out of her affections
and devote all her quality-time to Sara, the new-born baby conceived out of
wedlock by Jos and Meredith. The bitchy, pouting Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) is
Georgy's former flat-mate who has no interest in bringing up Sara and wants to
have her adopted.
The dialogue crackles at this stage of the book, not least when Georgy
receives pithy comment and criticism from her mother, from Peg (her neighbour)
and from James (her guardian and would-be lover / husband – played by James
Mason in the film).
The ride along the Thames in a riverboat is one of the key sequences in
the relationship between Jos and Georgy. Jos persuades a reluctant Georgy to
leave the baby in a nursery so that he can have Georgy's undivided attention
for a whole afternoon. Jos wants to see if they can rediscover the spark of
friendship that had caused him to give up on Meredith and to shack up with
The afternoon is a disaster. Georgy is determined not to enjoy herself.
Jos tries everything he can think of to woo her and get through to her but her
heart has turned as cold as a stone. The two young lovers are isolated in their
own frightened and uncomprehending private worlds. Georgy wonders why her
longing for Jos has evaporated so soon after winning him from Meredith. I don't think I love you any more. I want
to, but nothing happens. Jos despairs at women's apparent determination not
to accept him for himself but to force him into a role that he doesn't enjoy. All anyone wanted to use him for was as a
father. He vowed that for as long as he lived he would never sire another child
for blood-thirsty women to devour. Jos ends up declaring that he will pack
his bags and move out of the flat.
The film misses most of this. The riverboat ride is briefly seen, and
there are snatches of the actual dialogue from the book, but the poignancy and
insight is lost. Moreover, immediately after this, the film inverts, or omits
altogether, the events and thought-processes that lead Georgy to the altar with
To me in the film, Jos is inconsistent and unconvincing as a character.
Perhaps it doesn't help that Alan Bates often seems to look and sound like a
cross between Tony Hancock and Harold Steptoe. Jos does have some good moments
in the film that are variously embarrassing, funny or sad, and Bates plays
these scenes with aplomb. But somehow, the film version of Jos seems sketchy
and unrealistic. Does he fare any better as a book character? Not really. He
still seems insubstantial. I'm forced to conclude that Alan Bates did the best
he could with the role, but he was always on a hiding to nothing with Jos.
I can cite other sequences - not just the riverboat ride - where I would
urge you to read the book because the film doesn't properly replicate Margaret
Forster's plot or it doesn't do justice to the nuances of social and personal
interaction that are so skilfully and sometimes poignantly conveyed in the
Swinging Sixties ‘Permissive Society’
Hunter Davies afterwards admitted that readers must have felt cheated if
they had expected to find lots of raunchy and explicit sex in his book Here We Go Round the Mulberry Book. If
you watch the film you’ll see why: there is some snogging and mild innuendo,
but it was never going to cause notoriety for its leading stars Barry Evans,
Judy Geeson and Adrienne Posta.
In Georgy Girl the sexual
scenes and situations depicted by Margaret Forster in the book were forward and
daring by mid-1960s standards, albeit they would seem tame and commonplace
today. The sex scenes were muted and downplayed in the film. In fact as a
museum-piece the film, while containing some glimpses of 1960s fashion
(dolly-birds in miniskirts), prevailingly illustrates a London that in 1966 was
still surprisingly drab and staid on the whole. Perhaps this impression is
fuelled by the film having been shot in black & white, the generally dark
light (even in daytime) in which the action occurs, and the cramped interior
As a portrait of the Swinging Sixties the film Georgy Girl looks positively antique if you compare it to Blow-Up, released just a year later in
1967. In Blow-Up colour, youthful
swagger and hedonism hold sway. Meredith is the only character from Georgy Girl who (if colour were added)
could readily blend in to Blow-Up. But
while Blow-Up is vacuous, bored and
cynical, containing some insufferably long drawn-out and pretentious sequences,
Georgy Girl is engaging, appealing,
fast-paced and witty.
Lynn Redgrave won the hearts of a generation of British cinemagoers who
will always and ever think of her as Georgy Girl. Alas in 2010 Lynn Redgrave
passed away at the age of 67: her other notable films included Tom Jones and Shine. And now in February 2016 we have lost Margaret Forster, leaving
a stricken Hunter Davies to say “Goodbye to my Georgy Girl” and to lead the
many tributes to a deservedly much loved and respected author.
Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:
Remembering Saeed Jaffrey
Old Wine in New Bottles - "new" books by Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie
Remembering Ruth Rendell
Philip Larkin: His Maiden Voyage on The North Ship (1945)
The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar
Erle Stanley Gardner
Antony Sher: The History Man
Edmund Crispin, Crime Fiction Author
Computer Chess: The Imitation Game
P G Wodehouse
John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green
Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution
Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam
The Story of Edith Nesbit
Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert
Rebels With A Cause
Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective
The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas
The Bergerac Police Adventure Series
It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene
Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers
The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym
D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...
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