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The Lucan File

Based on the book
'Lord Lucan: What Really Happened'
by
James Ruddick

Dramatised for Radio by Mike Walker

Directed by Peter Kavanagh

First broadcast 5th November 1994 - BBC Radio 4


The Cast
Nathaniel Parker................................... Lord Lucan
Imogen Stubbs..................................... Lady Lucan
Julian Fellowes..................................... Dominick Elwes
Pip Torrens.......................................... Bill Shand Kydd
Struan Rodger...................................... Ronnie Roberts
Natasha Pyne...................................... Christina Shand Kydd
Derek Waring....................................... Insp.Gerring/Under manager
Peter Yapp.......................................... PC Beddick
Kristen Milward.................................... Susan Maxwell-Scott
Mary Wimbush..................................... Aunt Christine
Michael Tudor Barnes............................ Sgt Baker
Deborah Berlins.................................... Christina at 15
Margaret John..................................... Kait Lucan
Jilly Bond............................................ Sandra Rivett
David Antrobus.................................... Sponge
Lucy Scott......................................... Woman in club

 

Review of Play
In the opening scene of this skilfully adapted play, which is dotted throughout with details of the story that so captured the public imagination, we hear the sound of footsteps descending into the basement kitchen of No 46, Lower Belgrave Street. Keys turn in the lock, the door is opened and closed and we can hear the sound of Lucan's nervous breathing, then his horror as he discovers that the nanny, Sandra Rivett, has been cruelly bludgeoned to death instead of his wife, Veronica.

There is the quite disturbing enactment of the violent struggle that followed, as a kind of madness comes over Lucan. Nat portrays a man at first seething with anger with his wife and then, laughing horribly and breathlessly at his own ineptitude in the realization that, once more, he has been thwarted by her.

She escapes and runs for help, he telephones his mother and, "incoherent with shock", Nat sobs and garbles about "a terrible catastrophe at No. 46". Shivering with emotion as he gulps down a drink at the Uckfield home of Lucan's friends, the Maxwell-Scott's, Nat again confusedly and falteringly in a state of panic, gives his version of events. After he has calmed down we hear him reading to himself the last letters that Lucan wrote, including one where he touchingly and tenderly asks for his children to be taken care of.

The last sounds we hear before the play back-tracks to the beginning of the Lucans' story, are waves crashing onto the shore at Newhaven three days later, as Lucan desperately tries to comprehend how it all came to this, and yells out his wife's name…..

As the play takes us back to the teenage years of Veronica Duncan (the future Lady Lucan) it becomes clear that she has ambitions to "be someone". Extolling 'The Good Life', Tony Bennett's catchy song then cleverly links to the future Lord Lucan, John Bingham, at the age of 15. More interested in powerboats and racing cars than girls, he persuades his aunt to advance him her inheritance so he can pay his own fees to finish at Eton, rather than be sent by his Socialist parents to the local grammar school.

Time moves on and Nat portrays Lucan as a lively, happy and carefree man, who becomes involved in the gambling set that was to figure so largely in his life. With his group of friends that, as James Ruddick puts it, "embodied a new upper-class spirit of extravagance and liberation", he complains against the levelling social revolution that was sweeping the country in the 1960s.

He and Veronica meet and while she is star-struck by his social circle, Nat gets across Lucan's charm but also his awkwardness with women. (Ruddick suggests that when it came to whispering sweet nothings, there would be very little on Lucan's mind except the winner of the 3.30 at Epsom..) Within eight months they marry much to the disapproval of his friends, and Veronica declares she now has everything she wanted.

As he continues his unrestrained lifestyle just as before, he becomes locked into an obsession with gambling from which he'll find it impossible to break free. We're taken through a succession of nights at the Clermont Club where, with almost a sense of comedy, the greeting "Good evening my Lord, how nice to see you. Will you be dining tonight?" is repeated. It's quite clear that Veronica's insistence on joining her husband night after night is unsettling to both him and the other members. Even after she announces her first pregnancy to her husband, Nat shows Lucan as blinkered to her desire to be together as "a real family", while he's as happy as ever with his own life.

She becomes increasingly anxious of the amounts of money he's losing, and makes the accusation (true as it happens) that the club's owner is only using him to his own advantage - as a house player with his title and his style, he attracts prospective punters. Many arguments ensue and the rift begins to open.

The play now takes us forward several years. With Veronica receiving treatment for deep depression and feeling socially isolated, the pair are virtually at war. Because of the constant battling at home, Lucan is losing consistently at the club and finding it necessary to borrow huge sums of money.

You can feel the tension building as Nat declares "All this trouble at home is destroying me as a gambler. I must have peace in my home". Sounding cold and determined Lucan embarks on a dirty tricks campaign to show Veronica is unfit to have custody of their children. When he unexpectedly loses in that too, Nat gets across his grief at the loss of his children and the injustice of it all. With everything falling apart and owing money everywhere from his gambling losses, the costs of the private detective and the legal case, and with the prospect of bankruptcy looming ever larger, he considers murdering Veronica. An encounter with a hit-man follows.

And so, with the Carpenters' "..why should it be that we go on hurting each other.." playing in the background at No 46, we've come full circle to the night of 7th November 1974…..


Review of Nat's Performance
Before listening to the play, I had only a very sketchy recollection of these events some thirty years ago, and no idea at all of Lucan's character. As it turns out, this was an advantage because only later when I read the book on which the play was based, did I appreciate fully how excellently Nat had brought him to life. All my impressions of Lucan came firstly from Nat's performance, to be later confirmed by James Ruddick's thorough research.

With a slightly plummy accent, Nat develops Lucan from proud, hedonistic youth determined to get what he wants, through to anxious and despairing father who becomes desperate enough to attack a defenceless woman, with his own children in the house. A superb portrayal, as always.

On a lighter, slightly ironic note and in the light of Nat's one-time ambition, there's mention in the play of Lucan's taking a screen test for James Bond…. "They said I was too wooden…didn't sparkle," says Lucan.

Not a comment that could be applied to Nat, I think…!

Here's the guest feature link to the Q&A with Mike Walker...

 

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