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Saturday, 3 February, 2001, 02:56 GMT
In pursuit of public love
Love in a Cold Climate
Love in a Cold Climate begins on Sunday
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

A sumptuous costume drama about three upper-class young women and their quest for romance just before World War II began this weekend on BBC One.

Based on Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love, two novels by aristocratic writer Nancy Mitford, it features a host of British acting stars.

Celia Imrie, Alan Bates, Sheila Gish, Anthony Andrews and Frances Barber hurrah, hunt and bitch behind the pot plants.


For wit and humour she is right up there with restoration comedy

Deborah Moggach

But if there is more to this than cocktails, chiffon frocks and witty repartee, that is down to Mitford.

"I think she's a terrific tease," says novelist Deborah Moggach, who adapted the books for the screen.

"We don't know if she's celebrating this extraordinarily privileged way of life of the old landed gentry impervious to the outside world, or satirising it with a razor sharp pen."

Nancy Mitford
Nancy Mitford wrote biographies of Voltaire and Madame de Pompadour

After a burglary at an upper class party, one of the ladies in the novel remarks, entirely deadpan: "I couldn't care less about the diamond brooch, but I couldn't think it more hateful of them to have taken my fur tippet.

"Burglars never seem to realize one might feel the cold."

That scene does not make it into the TV adaptation, but plenty of others do, in loving detail.

Unspeakable

For true snobbery try the description of Linda's in-laws from the novel.

"She found herself face-to-face with the bourgeois attitude of mind; and the fate often foreseen as a result of middle-class education.

"The outward and visible signs were there - the Kroesigs said notepaper, perfume, mirror and mantelpiece."

Sentiments not far removed from those of Mitford, who famously would tear a letter up if it began with the "unspeakable" words "Dear Nancy Mitford".


The Mitford clan
Mitford and her dashing sisters sound themselves like characters out of an overblown novel.

Jessica ran away with a communist, Diana married fascist Oswald Moseley, Unity befriended Adolf Hitler, Deborah married a duke, while Pamela wanted to be a horse.

They were the daughters of Lord Redesdale, upon whom the bumptious and extremely politically incorrect Uncle Matthew of Love in a Cold Climate is based.

They lived an eccentric, animal-mad life in a country house, very much like the girls in the novels.

So why in this age of equality would anybody want to read or watch the semi-biographical adventures of a self-confessed snob?


A child's closest ally was Nanny, and after that the chief housemaid and the still-room servant, as that was where sweets were made

Deborah Mitford, now Duchess of Devonshire
"Part of the pleasure is the high comedy," says Moggach.

"For wit and humour she is right up there with restoration comedy."

Just one of the many such hilarious characters is the unspeakably posh Lady Montdore, who can spot an eligible earl at 20 paces and is played to great effect on screen by Sheila Gish.

And the novels are laugh-out-loud funny, even to the most sceptical about tweeds, hounds and country houses.

Decadence

But beyond the humour there is the credible characterisation of people who are going out of date, something of which Mitford must have been aware.

"It's not just the story of a landed gentry going slowly extinct, impervious to the outside world," says Moggach.

This is period drama, but it was not so long ago.

Nancy Mitford died in 1973, and two of her sisters survive.

Diana is in her 90s and lives in Paris, while Deborah is the current Duchess of Devonshire.

Elizabeth Dermot Walsh
Elizabeth Dermot Walsh plays Linda Radlett

When it came to making the drama Moggach visited the Duchess to pick up background information.

The Duchess imparted vital information such as the fact that servants never did bob curtseys and say "Ma'am", Moggach recounts.

"She said a child's closest ally was Nanny, and after that the chief housemaid and the still-room servant, as that was where sweets were made."

It is unlikely that even the upper class 'it-girls' of today hanker after those silly days of debutantes, dance cards and Daimlers.

But Love in a Cold Climate makes for amusing fiction - they certainly did breed a better class of "terrifically highly strung gel" back then.

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