Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed a series I loved: Unforgotten. Nancy told us about last year’s Irish Book of the Year, Wounds by Fergal Keane. Tina told us about a trilogy of books set in Ireland that she enjoyed, including the third book, The Secret of the Irish Castle by Santa Montefiore. Sim shared the trailer of The Children Act starring Emma Thompson — wow! it looks so good.
My current obsession is The West Wing which I’m re-watching with the accompaniment of The West Wing Weekly podcast. That podcast started over two years ago, covering one episode at a time, so I’m catching up as fast as I can. I love listening to our podcast hosts, Joshua Malina (who played Will Bailey in later seasons of The West Wing) and Hrishi Hirway (musician and composer, possibly best-known for his podcast Song Exploder).
The West Wing Weekly podcast provides lots of interesting background material, including interviews with political experts and people associated with The West Wing. It also just sounds great! I’ve been slowly warming up to podcasts as they’ve begun to sound more like radio shows and less like someone whispering in a microphone in a closet so as not to disturb the rest of the household.
I wasn’t sure if I could make a British Isles Friday post from this indulgence, but then along came Lord John Marbury played by Welsh actor, Roger Rees. Much of Rees’ career was on the stage, but American audiences knew him from this role and as Robin Colcord, a love interest for Rebbeca Howe on Cheers.
According to IMDB, Roger Rees appeared as Lord John Marbury in five episodes of The West Wing, beginning with an episode named for his character. President Bartlet summons Lord John Marbury, previously the British High Commissioner to India, for advice on a conflict between India and Pakistan. We hear about Marbury before we meet him — Leo McGarry can’t stand him and firmly objects to bringing him to the White House for a consultation.
PRESIDENT BARTLET: He’s colorful, Leo.
LEO: You’re really gonna let him loose in the White House, where there’s liquor and women?
PRESIDENT BARTLET: We can hide the women. But the man deserves a drink.
This is one of many places where our podcast hosts have trouble with how President Bartlet and his chief-of-staff, Leo McGarry, deal with women. Given how much of The West Wing feels fresh today, it’s nice to see that among some men, anyway, there’s something dated about the characters’ attitudes toward women.
When Roger Rees appears again in the second season, Hrishi Hirway reads one of many comments from listeners about the incorrect way that the show uses British titles.
Edward says, “I wanted to get in touch about something that really wound me up as a pedantic Brit I expect I’m the only person it did wind up” but he’s wrong, there are many people…. “The British peerage system is very bizarre but there’s a specific way to refer to hereditary peers like John. The name Lord John Marbury would never be used. His highest ranking title is Marquess of Needham. Duke is the highest, then Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Baron, not his Earldom. So he would be referred to as The Marquess of Needham and Dolby, or alternatively, Lord Needham and Dolby. He would rarely be referred to with his actual surname Marbury.” It goes on for another few paragraphs, but in any case this is an issue of accuracy in this episode of The West Wing, and many other episodes.
I’m not much of an expert on how to properly address the British aristocracy, but I know enough to look it up. My favorite resource is a web page about English titles by romance author Jo Beverley.
Joshua Malina had a special connection to the actor, Roger Rees. As a kid, he saw Nicholas Nikleby in the very long theatrical version of Charles Dickens’ story.
I was already a theater kid and I loved going to the theater and loved acting. But it was an unbelievable – it was eight and half hours. Every second was riveting. When it ended, I just wanted it to go on. His performance was fantastic. He obviously played Nicholas Nickleby and so he has always been sort of this towering figure to me that helped show me what theater could be and how it could make you feel.
Another reason that I enjoyed the episode “Lord John Marbury” is my own connection to an actor in it. I’ve recently had the opportunity to get to know Erick Avari, who played Pakistan’s ambassador. There’s an old joke that you know you’re from the Midwest if you’re on a first name basis with your mayor (hey, Tim!) but you’ve never met a celebrity. So, it’s kind of a hoot that I’m one degree of separation from Erick, which makes me two degrees of separation from Martin Sheen and a number of other people. I try to be cool when I’m around him, but maybe I’ll ask about The West Wing next time I see him. Erick had surgery last week and I’m happy to report, as stated on his Facebook page, that he’s doing well.
Watching The West Wing gives me an alternate reality for the country. Given that the current reality is so horrifying, The West Wing is healing and reinvigorates me to go forth and fight another day for our highest ideals, including valuing children because they are the future of the world.
I just finished watching Season 3, Episode 7, “The Indians in the Lobby,” which ends with this exchange:
C.J. Cregg: How do you keep fighting these smaller injustices, when they’re all from the mother of injustices?
Maggie Morningstar-Charles: What’s the alternative?