You never know quite what’s going to happen when Great Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) turns up in Corfu. Sometimes crotchety and bothersome, sometimes full of wisdom, one thing is inevitable: she will impose her presence for as long as she wishes.
Louisa Durrell’s elderly relative is a force of nature, and by series three she has mellowed a great deal – embracing the children’s quirks and enjoying the attention of her many men.
Yes – but it is highly unlikely she ever visited Corfu, and certainly she never turned up to stay with the Durrells.
Great-Aunt Hermione makes just one appearance in Gerald Durrell’s memoirs My Family and Other Animals, and only in the form of a letter. But her impact is so dramatic that you can see why the producers of The Durrells thought she she should get a bigger storyline.
Who was the real Great Aunt Hermione?
Her introduction comes when Louisa is opening letters from England and reading them out to her four children. Gerry writes:
Mother always left until the last a fat letter, addressed in large, firm, well-rounded handwriting, which was the monthly instalment from Great-aunt Hermione. Her letters invariably created an indignant uproar among the family, so we all put aside our mail and concentrated when Mother, with a sigh of resignation, unfurled the twenty-odd pages, settled herself comfortably and began to read.
It immediately becomes clear that Aunt Hermione is prone to exaggeration and complaints.
‘She says that the doctors don’t hold out much hope for her,’ observed Mother.
‘They haven’t held out any hope for her for the last forty years and she’s still as strong as an ox,’ said Larry.
But alas! This time, the doctors have advised a break in the sunshine, and the Durrells’ detested relative has hit upon a plan: she’ll head to Corfu. Louise reads on:
‘As you now seem able to afford such an extensive establishment, I am sure, Louie dear, that you would not begrudge a small corner to an old woman who has not much longer to live’ – There you are! What on earth can we do?
Mrs Durrell is aghast at the idea of hosting her elderly relative but can’t think of a way out of it, having accidentally mentioned in a letter just how large their villa is. After all, Great Aunt Hermione is only one of her slightly odd relatives (Aunt Bertha keeps “flocks” of imaginary cats; Great Uncle Patrick wanders around naked telling strangers that he killed whales with a pen-knife).
But the children are sent into despair, especially Larry.
‘No, I refuse! I couldn’t bear it,’ shouted Larry, leaping to his feet; ‘it’s bad enough being shown Lugaretzia’s gums every morning, without having Great-aunt Hermione dying by inches all over the place… I was looking forward to a nice quiet summer’s work, with just a few select friends, and now we’re going to be invaded by that evil old camel, smelling of mothballs and singing hymns in the lavatory.’
He has just one suggestion: “We must move, of course.”
And so, they move to a villa so small that there’s no chance of a visit from great aunt Hermione. She’s never mentioned again.
The Durrells in Corfu season 3 airs on Sundays at 8/7c on Masterpiece on PBS
This article was originally published in March 2018
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