I suppose when you’ve been named after a character in a novel, it’s inevitable that you develop a complicated relationship with its author. And if the name is a relatively unusual one, and the book a well known one, or at least one that is the inspiration for many teatime television classic adaptations, that relationship can go through distinctly fractious phases.
It was a difficult time when Ivanhoe was on the school curriculum, and everyone who cracked a joke about the book to me thought they were the first; but since then, I have been more pleasantly surprised when people I have met around the world have unexpectedly commented on the name and made the link to the book or to actors who have played the characters on television.
Taking a moment to think about it though, I couldn’t recall if I had ever read any other Scott books. (Indeed of all the 19th century Scottish literature I read at school, I had to spend a few moments checking which were by him and which by Robert Louis Stevenson, so little did I enjoy them at the time. That research revealed that the ones I did recall were by RLS, apart from Marmion, noted especially for its soporific qualities.)
So when I heard that, as a part of a wider programme of commemoration of Sir Walter Scott, Radio 4′s ‘Open Book’ was recording a special discussion of his contemporary relevance, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reassess my own knowledge of his work. The recording took place in the Crush Bar at the Opera House Covent Garden, a red and gold plush interior lit by a splendid chandelier, and was filled with a crowd of what must have been typical members of the Radio 4 audience. Interestingly, a show of hands revealed that fewer than half the people present had read a Scott novel, and only a handful had read more than one.
The panel comprised Scott enthusiasts Stuart Kelly and Allan Massie, and recent convert, Denise Mina. All of them praised the humour of the works, but recommended developing the ‘laudable’ art of skim reading to overcome the more verbose sections of the novels, but then pointed out how many well known literary tropes had originated with him: Robin Hood splitting an arrow when he fired his own into a tree, Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth to step over, two rival heroines, a blond and a brunette, re imagining history by recounting the third Jacobite Rebellion that never was ……
At the end of the discussion, a second show of hands showed that the majority of the audience had been convinced that they would try one of his books sometime soon. Maybe you can be persuaded too, now you know about the skipping? What do you think?
The programme featuring my contribution to audience ambience and applause will be broadcast on Sunday.