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News & Editorial

Clochemerle

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Clochemerle is an allegorical novel, a farce first published in 1934, set in the secluded French town of Clochemerle-en-Beaujolais. The novel catalogues a series of disasters that befall Clochemerle during 1923. It satirises the conflicts between Catholics and Republicans during the Third Republic, telling the story of the installation of a urinal on Monks Alley beside the church and a cemetery. Written by Tom Sharpe in the style of Chaucer.

Actually penned by Gabriel Chevallier, the characters are hypocritical, one-dimensional caricatures motivated by powerful attitudes and outlooks, like deference and devotions. Best read in French, some writing skills are lost in translations: Chevalier's deployment of simile is of particular note. The first characters introduced are the scheming Mayor, Barthélemy Piechut, and the schoolmaster, Ernest Tafardel, a child of the French Revolution with bad breath. They spend the first chapter of the novel discussing the proposed urinal and its site. Prestige, envy and revenge are prominent emotions, to which the storyline is subservient, a mere vehicle. Such as it is, the plot runs something like this .. The pissoir is opened to the public; there's a steady stream of visitors. It becomes a hang-out for local teenagers who lark about there. A bitter old maid - Justine Putet, an energetic user of rosaries whose home overlooks the site - agitates against the urinal. Whenever something untoward happens, such as a girl getting pregnant, Putet blames the corrupting influence of the urinal. Clochemerle becomes divided into Urinophobes and Urinophiles. Then the plot goes into piss(oir)-taking mode. After a fight in the church, troops are summoned. Folk get injured; then a freak storm ruins the grape harvest, the crop which all villagers depend on for their livelihoods.

The work has been translated in various print editions and shaped into film and television versions. In 1972 a nine episode BBC series was scripted by Galton and Simpson, famous in the UK for writing Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son. It was rumoured that the writers contemplated - but thankfully rejected - a soundtrack for the story, which would have effectively turned it into a musical. Any adaptation with a musical bent risks the production slithering into 'allo, 'allo' or Carry On territory.

The BBC episodes were narrated by Peter Ustinov, and starred Cyril Cusack (Mayor Piéchut), Kenneth Griffith (Tafardel), Roy Dotrice (Curé Ponosse), Wendy Hiller (Justine Putet)), Catherine Rouvel (Judith Toumignon), Cyd Hayman (Adèle Torbayon), Micheline Presle (Baronesse Courtebiche), James Wardroper (Claudius Brodequin), Bernard Bresslaw (Nicholas), Nigel Green (Captain Tardinaux) and Dennis Price (Alexis Luvelat).

A short YouTube trailer to BBC DVD of series

Letop films: 1 hour 36 minutes