on 27 May 2004
Some while back, I was lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. My arms hurt and my eyes wouldn't focus properly. I'd been mugged by a virus. Couldn't hold a book up and couldn't see properly. A friend phoned me to sympathise because, what's the point of an illness that confines you to bed if you can't make good use of it and read all the books you couldn't find time to read when you were healthy? I said it's not as bad as all that - at least I've got the audiobook of the BBC's 'Lord of the Rings' radio play to listen to and that should last a couple of days or so. She said if I needed cheering up, the BBC's 'Ladies of Letters' would do the trick. It's a collection of correspondence written/read by Vera (Patricia Routledge) and Irene (Prunella Scales): two batty old biddies - apparently friends, but bitchy, critical and both of them ready to take offence at any harsh or ambiguous observation made by the other. I was doubtful. It didn't sound like my sort of entertainment at all. I liked Prunella Scales in 'Fawlty Towers' but I'd never been able to watch Patricia Routledge in 'Keeping up Appearances'. There are some sorts of comedy that just don't make me laugh. I can't help it.
I was mistaken though. This is very funny. I could identify these women. They're a sort of identikit of several older ladies I've met (most of them my aunties). They seem kind and caring superficially and, in fairness, that's how they want to be deep down, as well as on the surface. But their underlying jealousy, competitiveness, social-climbing instincts and occasional shocking mean-mindedness can't be prevented from showing itself from time to time. These two ladies rarely meet face to face because they're so ghastly to each other when they get together. So mostly, they keep a respectable distance between them and write kind, sympathetic, angry and threatening letters to each other. Irene and Vera are perfectly serious women. They have no idea how funny they are. I think my virus must have died laughing because, by the time I'd finished listening to the last CD (3 CDs, 3 hours and 20 minutes, by the way), I was well enough to get up and get on with it.
I recommend this to anyone who needs to find a reason to smile. You may find you have a different problem by the end: your face may ache from laughing and grinning.
Patricia Routledge and Prunella Scales as well as the writers and all involved in the Ladies of Letters series should be so proud. Why? Well because you have given me so much plessure. I first heard it on "Women's Hour" and from then on was hooked. I have the whole lot and never cease to enjoy the antics of Vera, Irene, Howard, Anhony, Karen and Co. Wonderful in every way. If you have not heard any of them do so now.