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I listened to a fine radio dramatization of Simon Gray's fabulous study of English character, Quartermaine's Terms, last night.

It's an effective allegory of the changes that came over England after the ending of the second world war and the unwinding of its empire. The action is confined to the staff room of a minor Cambridge school that teaches English to foreign students, with Quartermaine, played very effectively by ex-Monty Python alumnus Michael Palin, forming a social anchor for the turbulent events affecting his colleagues.

Such constancy unfortunately goes hand in hand with ineffectiveness, leading eventually to a sad outcome. As a parody of a certain kind of well-meaning but feckless Englishman it is spot on, but transcends the stereotype to reveal the unappreciated strengths of such people. In the end, you wish the world had rather more Quartermaines in it.

Curiously, I first came across this play in the early 1980s in a TV production starring Edward Fox (easily one of my favorite actors) that was shown on PBS in the United States. I only saw it once, but it joined those select few experiences that have lodged into my memory. It was a pleasure to encounter it again last night.

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