Wessex In Fiction: Charley’s Aunt

Charley's Aunt is a 3-act farce by Brandon Thomas which was first performed in 1892 and has been a perennial favourite of both amateur and professional theatre companies ever since. It has been filmed several times, the most famous being the 1941 Twentieth Century Fox production starring Jack Benny and directed by Archie Mayo.

The play tells the story of two Oxford undergraduates, Charley and Jack, who want to use a visit by Charley's Brazilian aunt, Donna Lucia, as an occasion to bring their families together in order to propose to their respective girlfriends. When Donna Lucia is delayed, a series of complications forces them to recruit a friend, Lord Fancourt "Babbs" Babberley, to disguise himself as her, with increasingly disastrous consequences.

The role of Babbs/Donna Lucia was originated by actor and producer WS Penley (illustrated) in the 1892 theatrical production, which premiered in Bury St Edmunds before transferring to London. It has been translated into numerous languages, been adapted into an opera by Manuel Fernandez Caballero, and filmed in Britain (a loose 1940 adaptation starring Arthur Askey), the US, India, several European countries, and the USSR.

Wessex In Fiction: In The Place of Fallen Leaves

In The Place Of Fallen Leaves is the debut novel by Tim Pears, a coming-of-age tale set on the edge of Dartmoor. It was published in 1993, but set in the drought-ridden summer of 1984, and tells the story of 13-year-old Alison, the youngest daughter of a farming family at the tail end of the family farm era. Reviewers compared the book to the work of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and it went on to win the Ruth Hadden Memorial Award and the Hawthornden Prize.

The book has a 3.82 rating (out of 5) on Goodreads, where readers have praised it as atmospheric and evocative. Pears continues to draw on his Devon upbringing in his novels.

Wessex In Fiction: The Late Scholar

The Late Scholar is the fourth and last in a series of Lord Peter Wimsey continuation novels written by Jill Paton Walsh and authorised by Dorothy L Sayers's estate. It was published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK in 2013 and the US in 2014. The plot revolves around a manuscript of King Alfred's translation of The Consolation of Philosophy held by the fictional St Severin's College in Oxford.

As Duke of Denver, Lord Peter Wimsey is a visitor of the college, and with his wife Harriet Vane, sets off to intervene in a dispute between the Fellows about whether to sell the manuscript in order to buy some valuable land. But as one might expect in a novel of this genre, the dispute soon turns murderous.

The book has proved divisive among fans of the original novels (including Gaudy Night, whose Oxford setting this echoes.) Continuation novels are always tricky. Stick too closely to the original template, and you will be accused of mere pastiche; depart too far and you will irk the purists. However, the book review magazine Kirkus reviewed it favourably, saying that "many fans will eagerly welcome back their beloved sleuth and enjoy seeing Harriet hold her own in a thoughtfully constructed mystery."

Wessex in Fiction: Inspector Morse

DCI Endeavour Morse is a fictional detective first created by Colin Dexter in 1972, though the first novel. Last Bus to Woodstock, was not published until 1975. Dexter decided on the setting, Oxford, early on. Although a Cambridge graduate himself, he had been working for the University of Oxford as an assistant secretary to their Delegacy of Local Examinations since 1968, a job he continued to hold until 1988, a year after the ITV series of Morse adaptations had debuted.

In many ways, Morse acted as something of an author avatar for Dexter, who shared his passions for Wagner, cryptic crosswords and real ale. He named the character after a fellow crossword enthusiast, his friend Sir Jeremy Morse. There is a myth that Dexter took the name from his national service in the Royal Signal Corps, but he has denied this. It didn't stop composer Barrington Pheloung from incorporating Morse code into his scores for the TV series, though, often using it to reveal the name of the killer.

The TV series starring John Thaw propelled Morse into the big time, and helped make Oxford a familiar sight to '80s and '90s TV viewers, in much the same way that Shoestring had done for Bristol and Bergerac for Jersey. It led to two spin-off series, Lewis and Endeavour. It was not the only time that Dexter's novels had been adapted for other media, though. BBC Radio 4 had already dramatised Last Bus to Woodstock in 1985, and continued to broadcast adaptations of Dexter's novels throughout the '90s. In 2010, Colin Baker starred as Morse in a stage play, which again was broadcast by Radio 4 in 2017, this time starring Neil Pearson.

Wessex in Fiction: Dragon’s Rock.

Dragon's Rock is a 1995 young adult novel by Devon-based author Tim Bowler. It was inspired by a view of a dilapidated farmhouse and a standing stone that Bowler would pass on his regular journeys between Dartmouth and Totnes.

The novel tells the story of a boy named Benjamin, who is haunted by nightmares of an ancient dragon. He links them to a stone he took from Dragon's Rock in Devon. But when he tries to return the stone, he realises that he is up against a force more powerful than he had imagined.

The Times Educational Supplement called it "a nightmarish chiller", while the Totnes Times described it as "a gripping tale of ancient magic."

Dragon's Rock is published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-275036-5.