Saki: The Improper Stories of H.H. Munro

Saki, The Improper Stories of H.H. Munro

1962 - United Kingdom

In 1962 Granada TV Network Productions presented 8 plays under the banner Saki, The Improper Stories of H. H. Munro (Hector Hugh Munro, better known by the pen name Saki, was a British writer whose witty, mischievous and sometimes macabre stories satirised Edwardian society and culture and he is considered a master of the short story). 

The stories were adapted by Hugh Leonard, Edward Boyd and Gerald Savory and directed by Silvio Narizzano. Produced by Philip Mackie. The main cast included Martita Hunt, Fenella Fielding, William Mervyn and Richard Vernon. Writing in the book Granada Television The First Generation, John Cox, former Executive Drama Producer for Granada writes: 'Although Granada's commitment to drama first of all meant television adaptations of stage plays, there were soon a respectable number of original plays in production...often in the form of series: the short stories of Saki and de Maupassant, the Feydeau farces and the Victorian melodramas. The audience were offered the security of a known quantity each week, because each story was self-contained.' Norman Frisby, who was Press Officer at Granada from 1959 to 1988 remembered that when the Drama Department came up with the series of legendary short stories and decided to bill them as The Improper Stories of H. H. Munro, actually the literary title, TV Times hit the roof. 'You can't do that,' bleated the billings sub. 'It'll make them sound like dirty stories.' 

'We insist,' I insisted. 

TV Times cut the line but only for the first week or two.' 

Saki, The Improper Stories of H. H. Munro

Unfortunately, there appears to be very little information available on all the stories that were adapted for the series with individual episodes being comprised of four short stories and there is a lack a story synopsis. Each weeks compendium was titled 'First programme', 'Second Programme', etc. on the pages of the TV Times magazines the dates the episodes were shown. It is known that the following were adapted for television: 'The Stampeding of Lady Bastable', 'A Holiday Task', 'The Way to the Dairy', 'Sredni Vashtar' (all appearing in the same episode), 'The Easter Egg' and 'A Defensive Diamond'. 

Actor Michael Bangerter appeared in the episode (transmitted on 13/07/1962) that was an adaptation of the short story 'The Easter Egg' (as one of the guest leads - Lester Slaggby - opposite Veronica Turleigh) and was able to supply the following: 

Lester is a charming young man but an extremely timid one. His timidity is well known to friends and family. His mother, Lady Slaggby, is devoted to him, despite this character fault. They often spent holidays in a small European princedom - Eastertide usually found them in one of its townships, 'Knobaltheim'. 

Saki, The Improper Stories of H. H. Munro

Lady Slaggby was an acquaintance of the reigning family and, as it was Easter, she was advised by her old friend the Burgomaster to make some kind of gesture to celebrate Easter and the visit of the principality's royals. She and Lester were at their wits end to think of a suitable 'gesture'. They were rescued from their dilemma by a 'sallow, high cheekboned' woman to whom Lady Slaggby had spoken once or twice. The woman suggested that might not her little sweetheart- a rather rotund, ugly child as it happened - dress up as an angel and present his Highness with an Easter egg. This was agreed with enthusiasm by Lady Slaggby and Lester. 

Saki, The Improper Stories of H. H. Munro

On the 'great day', Lester was screening the watching crowd, searching for the happy, proud faces of the little boy's parents. To his horror he saw them racing away in a taxi in the direction of the local railway station. With frantic speed, and with a courage completely untypical, he raced towards the 'liitle angel' who was about to present the Easter egg. He wrestled with the boy to take the egg from him but with no success - the boy had been promised sweets once the ceremony was over - they fell to the ground and Lester mouthed the fatal word! The last thing Lady Slaggby saw, before she lost her sight, was the pathetic, squirming, screaming Lester entwined with the little boy, still refusing to let go of the Egg! 

Saki, The Improper Stories of H. H. Munro
The studio taken photograph of the bomb going off includes the cameraman (with camera).

Michael also remembers how the director, Sylvio Narrizano, thought he would use his 'face' (face only) in a horror film he was about to make - 'The Fanatic' "He saw something in my face that could be used as the face of Tallulah Bankhead's evil son! Soon after the Easter Egg was televised I found myself down in a film studio near London having lunch with Donald Sutherland, Yootha Joyce, Stephanie Powers and Tallulah. After lunch I was oil sketched by one of the studios set designers (I think that's what he was)." The result is below - Tallulah dripping blood all over the portrait in her death throws. "They also used some of my baby and infant photos in the movie. Strange - but true!"

'The Fanatic'
Picture from 'The Fanatic'

Pictures from 'The Easter Egg' and 'The Fanatic' supplied by Michael Bangerter from his private collection.

An interview with Michael Bangerter can be found here 

Published on March 13th, 2020. Written by Laurence Marcus & Michael Bangerter for Television Heaven.

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