Why I blame Poldark for sexing up Sunday night drama classics

Topless scything set the trend for half-naked classic heroes, says Alison Graham

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I let out a great big shout of “You have got to be kidding!” during BBC1’s adaptation of LP Hartley’s The Go-Between (Sunday).

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As the sun beats down during the momentous 1900 summer that lies at the heart of the book, romantic hero/ bit of rough Ted Burgess is waist deep in a field, scything. Shirtless. As the sun forms a shimmering corona around his sweaty, muscular torso.

Mmm, does that remind you of anything? Yes, of course, Poldark, and arguably the TV moment of the year when Aidan Turner as romantic hero Ross Poldark was waist deep in a field, scything. Shirtless. As the sun formed a shimmering corona around his sweaty, muscular torso.


Find out how they put hair on Poldark’s chest at the Radio Times Festival


Previously, Ted, a tenant farmer who’s in a secret, forbidden relationship with the seemingly unreachable, fatally beautiful, young upper-class daughter of the Big House, Marian Maudsley, does a spot of nude bathing under the appreciative gaze of his young lady.

Yup, there’s his bare bum, leaping from the water like two migrating salmon. A bit like in that episode of Poldark when a hidden Demelza casts her gaze at her fit boss as he has a naked swim in the sea.

Even more eye-poppingly, Ted (Ben Batt) then rears up from the water like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale – notably missing not just tight blue swimming trunks but any swimming trunks at all as he dashes for cover, briefly revealing – I shall put this delicately – the full orchestra. In the interests of fairness I must point out that we saw nothing of the kind in Poldark.

A couple of weeks ago ago BBC1 extensively trailed its otherwise disappointingly tame version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, with English literature’s best- known dirt-under-the-finger nails-bit-on-the-side, gamekeeper Mellors (Richard Madden), shirtless, rippling and brooding in a doorway.

Blimey, so this is how costume dramas are going to be from now on?

Poldark clearly wasn’t a one-off. Post-Poldark someone’s decided that what TV adaptations of classics of English literature need are prime chunks of beefcake, sexy bits that get the show talked about even before it transmits, then will get it talked about during and after broadcast as dizzy, drooling social media butterflies bash their heads against their TV screens.

This is absolutely fine with me, of course, on a purely aesthetic level (I will now cough meaningfully in a ladylike manner). But come on, isn’t The Go-Between supposed to be a serious literary adaptation, part of BBC1’s big season of reworked 20th century classics? (Cider with Rosie is next week. I wonder if that will have a featured bum, again; it’s a long time since I read the book…)

But if they’re simply going to be butcher’s slabs of beefcake then they have the artistic merit of a fire-fighters’ calendar. You can’t have your (beef)cake and eat it, you know. I wonder if other great classics of literature will be similarly sexed up.


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Just imagine the potential in all of those Thomas Hardy novels, all of the outdoorsy, hayfield gorgeousness just crying out for some stripped-down scything from Jude the Obscure (not being obscure at all). Or the Mayor of Casterbridge having a buttocky dip in a stream. (Honestly, BBC1, don’t do this, I beg you.)

Or what about a bit of nudey Dickens? Barnaby Rudge doing a bit of semi-naked scything? Or Oliver Twist? David Copperfield baring all.

Imagine what Twitter would say. Because that’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it?

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The Go-Between airs on BBC1 on Sunday September 20th at 9pm


How do you make a drama like Poldark? Find out at the Radio Times Festival

9 unmissable delights for drama fans at the Radio Times Festival