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Du Maurier Festival - 2004
[Submitted by Sam : May 2004]
So the Daphne du Maurier Festival of Art and Literature 2004 is over; another festival completed; all the excitement and anticipation gone for another twelve months. There will no doubt be other enjoyments, things to plan for, to pack for, indeed to PAY for, but nothing for me exceeds the buzz I have when I finally arrive in Fowey. I am in town for almost two weeks, devoted to the celebration of Daphne's life, and to laughter and friendship. Make no mistake, all the variety of entertainments that we enjoy, music, talks, trips on the river, walks, music on the town quay, dramatic productions, all are triggered as a memorial to Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning.

I have been going to Cornwall for many years, right back to the 'swinging sixties' (awful term it now seems!), and I started visiting Fowey to pay my respects to Daphne's memory soon after her death; it was a frustrating business for some time, because there was nowhere one could go; there was no grave, no memorial, there was not even a Blue Plaque in the wall to show that she had ever lived there at Ferryside. At the time I wondered why her memory seemed to be being covered up! Were they ASHAMED of her; why for G*** sake? Menabilly, which many will identify as Manderley, was totally inaccessible. Returned to its owners after Daphne's lease expired, all that an eager eye might see was a very elusive rooftop among the trees. It may be that at the time, Daphne's perceived intractability, which we who love her, so relish, may have upset local people. As an intensely private person, in spite of her success and celebrity, she probably did not court attention; all very frustrating.

Imagine my delight when, courtesy of this new fangled Web, I discovered that a Festival had been instituted in her memory, to be held each year about the time of her birthday, I had missed the first completely, and was too late to book for the second, but I've missed none since; why should I when it's the high spot of my year. Each year, there seems have been problems, but hopefully they are being resolved. Festival finances have been stretched, we are led to believe, but slowly, as the event gains recognition, and good attendances highlight its success, a healthier future seems a realistic possibility. Indeed, attendances this year appear to have been very good indeed. I have attended twenty events in the ten days, and all were very well supported; in many cases they appeared to be sold out! It is to be hoped that Restormel Council, who are financially involved, will bear this in mind at meetings that refer to the 2005 Festival. Their support deserves the warmest praise.

I enjoyed practically all the events I attended, a couple were less enjoyable than I had expected, for example stand up comedy is not really 'me', I'm more your 'Dad's Army' sitcom devotee. My highlight of the whole Festival was the conversation which a very pleasant lady, Sheila Hodges had with two lecturers from Exeter University, about her forty year association with Daphne, editing the writer's stories, before they were published. I had not realized that Daphne, for all her sublime, incredible imagination, had limited formal education as we would now call it! Without the editing skills of Sheila Hodges, who helped with spelling, punctuation and even occasionally with plot inconsistencies, Daphne's books would have been seriously, maybe terminally diminished!

Sheila Hodges, because of her long and friendly association with Daphne du Maurier, was able too, with conviction and little apparent effort, to refute some of the wilder suggestions made about Daphne's private life. Scandal sells (sadly) but should never be taken seriously. Unless one is 'a fly on the wall', watching, who really KNOWS anything about anyone, and I suspect that attempting to undermine success usually stems ultimately from simple jealousy, so I try to have none of it., and neither would Sheila Hodges thank goodness.

If asked to chose other favourite events this year, among them I must select the 'Searchers' who I had not expected to enjoy, but in the event did. I had feared a posturing group of wrinklies attempting to recapture their youthful success; instead I was delighted by their sheer professionalism, and their wry self deprecating humour. Anyone thinking the Festival to be in any way stuffy would receive a surprise indeed to see the noisy approval accorded that night!

I list below the events I attended, and a brief assessment of my own opinion thereof, fully expecting to arouse ire and indignation, but if my report is to have any worth it must be sincere, and I hope I may be forgiven where I am thought to err!
  • The Searchers - noisy, exuberant, great fun (never thought I would be waving my arms around like a teenager! but then so was everyone else!)
  • Rebecca The Art of Suspense - a talk by Jane Devoy and Susanna Jones- Interesting
  • Music for a Cornish Spring - was in the church and was given by local music and drama students; very good
  • Benedict Allen the explorer was fascinating, and entertaining and very good indeed. He showed clips from his programmes. He fended off most requests from the audience to display his array of initiation tattoos, at least until after the event!
  • Sheila Hodges - editing D du M - see above
  • After Dinner Stories- After Lunch - a trio of speakers discussing after dinner speaking, Tim Heald, Miles Kington and Bishop Bill of Truro (who rounded off proceedings with a most irreverent story!) Very amusing!
  • Jenny Bond - talking about her years as Royal correspondent, and about her appearance on I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here on TV - a programme I did not see. She showed the sequence where she was buried underground in a flooding coffin with a number of rats! Most edifying; I wonder what the Duke of Edinburgh might have thought of it!
  • Withering Looks - a brace of comediennes Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding doing a very good and very funny 'take' on Wuthering Heights. It always amazes me at what a larding of imagination can achieve when mixed with the simplest of sets, good acting and witty dialogue.
  • Anthony Mott and Diana de Vere Cole talked in the Town Hall about the Newlyn School of Artists - as a lifelong devotee of the genre I was fascinated and delighted.
  • I saw an amateur production of Arsenic and Old Lace in the Town Hall; local actors were first rate, and the audience's response suggested that a good time sounded to 'be being had' by all.
  • I attended a talk on 'Medieval Murderers' by a trio of writers including Micheal Jecks which was very interesting. I really do like historical whodunits. They were slightly sniffy about my beloved Ellis Peters who, from her earlier incarnation as Edith Pargeter, has exhibited a really wonderful way with words. Her lack of 'reality' seems to irk more modern writers. Personally, I'm sometimes happy to forgo the unpleasant realities of modern life! I think rightly or wrongly that Edith Pargeter/Ellis Peters, assembled words as another might make lace, lightly and with considerable delicacy.
  • Kit and the Widow were back for the third year, and were as wickedly funny as they were musically splendid, in spite of Kit's laryngitis!
  • Gerald Scarfe the cartoonist proved far more benign than his sometimes cruel cartoons might suggest. Not having had an easy childhood he admitted to having a rather sardonic outlook on life! And how!
  • Steeleye Span was splendid; Maddie Pryor was really 'on form' and we had as entertaining, not to say noisy night as we had enjoyed with the Searchers! The words and music seemed quite sophisticated to me, so was very satisfying.
  • I attended the talk on, and showing of the film Don't Look Now (a dramatization of a Daphne du Maurier short story) in the Town Hall; I enjoyed the event, although it's not my favourite D du M story.
  • Ann Willmore from Bookends of Fowey had written a fascinating insight into the earlier members of Daphne's family. It was given by Ann Weeks, and provided lashings of interesting information about Daphne's forbears, including Mary Ann, who had been the 'friend' of the 'Grand Old Duke of York who had ten thousand Men' in the early Eighteen Hundreds; and too about Daphne's grandfather George who drew cartoons for Punch, and sounded to be an all round 'good egg', a really nice man.
  • An Audience with John Fortune (of the Cambridge footlights (was it, along with John Bird and Allan Bennett etc); had his political satire been less one sided the event may possibly have been more enjoyable- though I doubt it!
  • Simon Williams the actor son of Hugh Williams the actor was engaging, charming, humorous, knowledgeable, and immensely likeable. Was his character in Upstairs Downstairs called Captain Bellamy. Apparently the actor began to take the character's angst home so was glad finally, to leave him! I thought it a terrific event.
  • I enjoyed Michael Burrows talk on Gene Kelly the actor dancer, but I left before his film Cover Girl was shown, with Rita Hayworth; the day was hot and sunny, and I felt an irresistible compulsion to do the six mile Hall Walk across the river and around the town. The spring green, and the wild flowers, and the smell of lilac, and May blossom, and wild garlic was not to be missed, not least because it was my last day in that lovely place.
  • The final event was 'Salute to Sinatra' starring Louis Hoover, who sang to a twelve piece band, and looked and sounded uncannily like Sinatra, at times. A very enjoyable ending to what had been a deeply satisfying week
I missed Elke Brookes, I missed events about Leo Walmsley, and I missed the talk on Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, all which I regret; he was Daphne's mentor and friend; as she was friend to HIS daughter Foy. That event included a walk to his memorial up on the Hall Walk to lay commemorative flowers by his memorial. Apparently Daphne's son poured a libation of brandy over the flowers too (apparently the old gentleman enjoyed that tipple), it seemed a really nice touch, so I imagine the event being very special and I wish I might have been there.

There is always the desire to attend as many events as possible in the time available, but that would leave no time for lovely Fowey, and would be equally unsupportable; I have no wish to miss walking around the town, sitting outside the 'Old Ferry' at Bodinnick, or at the 'Galleon' on the waterfront, watching the world, and the boats go by, and with a glass of something of a pale amber colour in front of me. That's why I try and go back in September, specifically for a top up of the town! It's a long drive from North Lincolnshire where I live, but my goodness, it's worth it.

What makes the Festival week seem so special for me is the community spirit, the sense of being a part of something immensely worthwhile, the affection and the laughter; it proves an irresistible combination. I sometimes think that we 'Festival-ites' intrude too much in the lives of the people who live there, but if we remember we are only transients, and behave with a measure of discretion, then I hope that our impact on Fowey and it's residents might be benign.

Early in the week three very pleasant ladies, generations of the same family, arrived at 'Safe Harbour' from the USA, to sample a part of the festival. If my uncertain memory is correct (I'm terrible on names!) Mildred, Lerryn and Ginny were I hope not disappointed in what they found after their dedication, and their long journey! Apparently Lerryn was named from a character in a book by Daphne's sister Angela, and a word search 'On Line' had led them to Fowey! The festival does seem to exhibit an international dimension which is very gratifying.

I have sent our webmaster a swathe of digital photos for his editing, to give some idea of the beauty that is in and around Fowey! All that's left to say is that knowing I should not be wishing my time away, especially given my weight of years, I still feel inclined to cast my eye hopefully forward to Festival 2005.
Best Wishes everybody. Sam


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