Tutankhamun On The Telly (1)

Hi everyone.

Well, it wasn’t the “kind autumn” I’d been hoping for after the “cruel summer” I referred to in my last post! Just as I was beginning to feel I’d turned a corner, I was ill again (or maybe just totally exhausted after the less than agreeable year I’ve had) and ended up having to go AWOL for a whole month. Now I’m working round the clock in an effort to catch up but also trying hard not to overdo things  so that I don’t become ill again.

While I was out of action, I didn’t do any work at all on My Dear Elsie but I did watch all four episodes of a new ITV drama called Tutankhamun which launched on UK television on 16th October. I was very interested to see this because the premise for the drama was the story of the discovery in 1922 of the Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun’s tomb by the archaeologist Howard Carter and his famous patron Lord Carnarvon.

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Lord Carnarvon at Howard Carter’s home on the Theban West Bank. Photo credit: Harry Burton

In case you are wondering what this has to do with my proposed book and this website/blog, Lord Carnarvon (or the 5th Earl of Carnarvon) was the brother of Lady Winifred Burghclere. As you will know if you have read the static pages on this website, my grandmother’s close friend Ethel North was Lady Burghclere’s lady’s maid and travelling companion for many years, including those covered by the discovery of the tomb. In the letters and postcards that Ethel sent to my grandmother while she was employed by Lady Burghclere (and on which My Dear Elsie is based), there are many references to Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter’s discovery. In particular, there is a fascinating fifteen page letter that Ethel wrote in 1928 when she and Lady Burghclere visited Egypt and were shown round the Tutankhamun excavations and relics by Howard Carter himself.

As for the drama series, I must admit that I watched most of it either laughing out loud or shouting “That would never have happened!” at the television. It did cheer me up, which was probably what I needed, but not for the right reasons! I’m not a big fan of biopics at the best of times but when you feel you know the characters that are being portrayed and have some insight into the background to the story, it’s difficult to keep a straight face at some of the more preposterous elements.

I suppose I should have been alerted to the fact that the series was going to play somewhat fast and loose with the probable truth by the advert for a well-known supermarket which preceded the opening titles. It described the product it was promoting as a “fantasy drama”. Although I hate to be critical of a fellow scribe’s work, I can’t help feeling that the writer Guy Burt had been given a brief by whoever commissioned the series to “sex it up”. Literally at times! I thought this was unnecessary really, given that it is already a cracking story. But then I suppose he was writing a drama series for ITV and not a documentary for BBC4!

In fact there are so many things from Tutankhamun that I’d like to comment on and link to some quotes from Ethel’s letters that I think I shall have to stop for now and write a second blog post as soon as I can. So watch this space and providing I can stay standing, I’ll be back very shortly.

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Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter in 1922. Photo credit: Howard Carter and Arthur Mace

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