Monday, 22 January 2018


My obituary of Peter Mayle is in today's soaraway tabloid Guardian; it went up at the Guardian online yesterday (you can link to it here). It appears pretty much as I wrote it, apart from a couple of bits of explanation that were removed for length.

I had written that Mayle disliked intensely John Thaw's TV portrayal of him. When A Year In Provence appeared on television, Thaw was at the peak of his success as Inspector Morse; the curmudgeon that was Morse was much closer to his own personality than Mayle was, and when you consider how important Mayle's relaxed, knowing forbearance was the key to the book's success, it was easy to see why he wasn't happy. I then pointed out the irony of his neighbour in France and friend from advertising days, Ridley Scott, casting another grumpy Aussie, Russell Crowe, in A Good Year , where the lead character is very much Mayle manque. Crowe's adapting to France, and to Marion Cotillard, lacked the ease of Mayle's.

For some reason this entire section got cut: "Mayle sold the house and moved to the Hamptons' village of Amagansett on Long Island, a summer playground for New York's rich. It was a good place to work; his neighbour Joseph Heller called it a 'dead-ass life,' and Mayle wrote two more French comedy novels Anything Considered (1996) and Chasing Cezanne (1997) as well as a children's book, A Dog's Life (1995) illustrated by Edward Koren. But he could not resist the lure and in 1999 returned to Provence, to a secluded mansion between the picture book village of Lourmarin and the even-tinier Vaugines. He returned to non-fiction books about Provence, and the novel A Good Year." I thought it made some sense, and wanted to explain even more the similarities between the Hamptons and what one might find with expatriate life in Provence, but I'd left that out already, for space.

Apparently it was Mayle who, while freelancing as a copywriter after leaving BBD&O, first used 'nice one Cyril' in bread adverts, but it seemed like explaining the story wasn't quite worth the importance to his career. I mentioned the great George Mikes at the top of the piece; I also toyed with a comparison of Mayle and Bill Bryson, with the common ground being telling the British what they wanted to hear; in effect reinforcing stereotypes while seeming to be critical. Mayle's exuberance is something of a different quality than Bryson's Arthur Marshall style chuckling. The link is how well they each understood their audience.

I was also tempted to point out the way Mayle's writing reflected his advertising copy-writing. It's always to the point, it usually has some kind of 'objective correlative' to hook the reader, and it reinforces its points as it goes along. When I said he sold Provence to Britain and then the world I was not kidding.

I was serious about A Year In Provence being a springboard, for better or worse, for all those tedious reality shows about 'relocating', redoing and profiting off houses, travelling, or becoming a foodie. It wasn't as predictable or inevitable as the slew of imitators whose manuscripts flooded publishers, but the influence was real. And as such he was an important writer for the post-Thatcher era. RIP.

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