To Serve Them All My Days

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BBC Two (ended 1981)

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6.8
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19 votes
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SHOW REVIEWS
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To Serve Them All My Days

Show Summary

After barely surviving the trenches of World War I, an embittered young soldier takes a teaching post at Bamfylde, an elite boarding school in the uplands of West Devon. It is an unlikely job for a Welsh miner's son without a degree, but David Powlett-Jones (John Duttine) proves to be a rare schoolmaster, as passionate about learning as he is about teaching. Through two tumultuous decades, Powlett-Jones inspires his students with his courage and idealism, qualities that help prepare him to send another generation of young men off to fight yet another war.
Susan Jameson

Susan Jameson

Christine Forster/Powlett-Jones

John Duttine

John Duttine

David Powlett Jones

Frank Middlemass

Frank Middlemass

Algernon Herries

Alan MacNaughtan

Alan MacNaughtan

Howarth

Kim Braden

Kim Braden

Julia Darbyshire

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • Something that British television was justifiably famous for: Costume drama

    9.5
    This adaptation of R F Delderfield's novels is one of my favourite drama series. As a sensitive, microscopic portrait of life between the wars, as seen through the prism of a minor public school this really cannot be bettered. John Duttine is pitch perfect as the incredibly youthful master, returning from Great War, mind and body shattered by his experiences. Through twenty years, we see 'David Powlett-Jones' grow and develop, experience love and loss, and prepare a generation of boys to face the next war. Andrew Davies (who wrote the screenplay), has kept very close to his source material. As has been mentioned this does occasionally have the feeling of a stage play, but most drama was produced in the studio in the seventies and eighties, and this slight failing does not damage the series in any way. I am not sure if this is easily available on DVD or download, but if you can find it, it is well worth the price of purchase or rental.moreless
  • A brilliant, heartwarming show that I believe should be reintroduced, so it can become even more popular as it is, whilst popular, extremely underrated.

    10
    Romance, sarcastic humour, suspense and tragedy are all brought together in this magnificent adaptation of RF Delderfield's classic novel. David Powlett-Jones is a Welshman from a mining community, and he is released from the army (this is set beginning in 1918) in a pretty bad state. He limps badly and is very severely shellshocked. An army neurologist recommends that he get a fulfilling job in a rural area, and so David comes to Bamfylde, an unmistakably high class school in NorthWest Devon. After a little persuasion from Algy Herries, the benevolent, hearty headmaster, David agrees to join as a History master, despite still being utterly convinced that he will be totally out of place amongst all these boys who he says will have an unconscious assumption of privilege. At first, his soft-spoken manner and unstable gait fool the boys into thinking he is an easy touch, but after one of the particularly cheeky boys in the Lower 4th (Year 10, my current school year as it happens!), Boyer, plays a trick on him, David shows his tough side, and soon gains the respect and awe of the boys. David is, being a socialist, bound to rub some of the other members of staff up the wrong way, namely 'Jolly good, old chap' Carter, a handsome, arrogant teacher who is head of the OTC, and who David sneakily suspects of draft-dodging at the beginning of the war. However, he becomes firm friends with the cynical Ian Howarth, and over the years, gets on very well with nearly all of his fellow members of staff. Towards the beginning of the series, he finds love with the intelligent, bubbly Beth Marsden, the perfect antidote to his disturbed past.

    Every single character, from David, Beth, Algy Herries, to boys such as the little Kassava twins, who have perhaps 5 or 6 lines between them, acts his or her part beautifully and convincingly, and I have to confess, being a teenager I did get a crush on David Powlett-Jones, Boyer, and Blades, a dreamy sixth former who has a brief affair with temporary teacher, Julia Darbyshire. My favourite characters are David, Boyer, Dobson, Carter, Howarth and Cordwainer, though I do confess to finding Algy Herries slightly infuriating. However, I am sure you will have your own pet hates in this series character-wise, however I do not doubt that you will be moved by this truly amazing mini-series. It aired 11 years before I was born, but it is my all-time favourite show, and I love it to pieces. I relate to it a lot because at 14 years old, I have been brought up in a simialr way to many of the boys, and in temperament, I am a bit of an exhibitionist, and David's idealist policies really taught me a thing or two about life in the 'real world'.Remarkable. I couldn't recommend this more highly.moreless
  • A fully realized portrait of a man growing into his life between the two World Wars. Intelligent, sensitive viewers will feel the entire gamut of human emotion right along with the series' protagonist and its colorful cast of supporting characters. A vemoreless

    10
    I was quite taken with this mini-series when I viewed it on PBS in 1984. Seeing that it had become available on DVD recently, I revisited it, wondering if my fond memories from 20 years ago would prove accurate or had taken on an unrealistic glow over time. Not to fear: I found the show's quality surpassed my memory of it. The series scarcely ever strikes a false note, and is bursting with extremely poignant, compelling and honest moments and characterizations.



    The prolific and accomplished screenwriter Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, House of Cards, Wives and Daughters) adapted the series from a novel by R. F. Delderfield. The story follows David Powlett-Jones, a shell-shocked veteran of WWI. As we learn in the first of 13 episodes, David was the youngest son of a Welsh coal-miner. Unlike his three older brothers, two of whom died in a mining accident along with their father, David was "kept out of the pit" to attend the local grammar school. At age 18, instead of heading to Oxford as planned, he was shipped to France, where he spent three years fighting in "the Great War." His arrival at Bamfylde School in early 1918 is part of a recovery program prescribed by an army neurologist: a closed community in a rural setting to help mend both the physical and the mental wounds David endured in the war.



    At first David is skeptical that someone of his limited formal education and lack of social standing will be accepted at Bamfylde, a public school where the boys "have an unconscious assumption of privilege." But the gentle yet insistent persuasion of headmaster Algy Herries convinces him to give it a try. His first day in the classroom provides an immediate challenge as the schoolboys test his mettle. Despite David's outwardly shy and soft-spoken ways, however, he soon shows that he can be as tough as any situation demands.



    The series follows the intertwining of David's personal and professional growth and the recurring conflicts between these two facets of his life. Along the way, there are loves, friendships, triumphs, and tragedy. Through it all, John Duttine is a marvel of sensitive and compelling acting as David. Numerous cast-mates shine as well. Frank Middlemass plays Algy Herries, the headmaster who hires David at Bamfylde in 1918, as the kind of fatherly mentor many of us wish we had. His wife Ellie is portrayed by Patricia Lawrence with bemused efficiency. Alan McNaughton as Howarth, Bamfylde's cynical veteran English teacher, provides some of the most cuttingly humorous lines, particularly when they're directed at his colleague Carter (Neil Stacy), a gung-ho military man whom David mildly suspects of draft-dodging. A later headmaster could easily have become a caricature of icy malevolence, but Charles Kay's portrayal is grounded in quiet realism. There's plenty of romance as well, starting in episode 2 with David's shy and affecting courtship of Beth (Belinda Lang), a young nurse he meets on holiday, who is the perfect medicine for his readjustment to civilian life.



    Along the way, we also encounter David's Welsh family. Though he loves them, he becomes increasingly disengaged from his roots, feeling a bit guilty that he's moved on from his humble beginnings -- a point that his socialist brother Emrys is quick to needle him about. To the end, however, those roots remain an almost visible chip on David's shoulder even as he becomes more deeply ensconced in the privileged life that an English boarding school offers him. Political and class struggles are a palpable subtext of David's story, fitting seamlessly into the depiction of his personal relationships.



    If you like thoughtful, period British dramas laced with warmth, humor, and social awareness but lacking sentimentality, I believe you'll be enthralled by To Serve Them All My Days. Its reputation as a much-loved mini-series is well-deserved. Be forewarned, however, that the series was produced in 1980 on videotape and with a limited budget, reportedly less than $2 million for 11 hours of television. Hence, the production often has the look of a filmed play (ala "Upstairs, Downstairs"), with few outdoor scenes and no special effects. But what it lacks in "gloss," it more than makes up for in substance.moreless
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