Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

The Secret Life Of Mary Poppins

Friday, 29 November 2013

  The Secret Life Of Mary Poppins is a documentary (a special edition of The Culture Show) about PL Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books, that I’ve been working on for a little while. It looks at the very unusual and controversial life decisions of this magical author (born at the end of the 19th century), and how she felt about the Disney version of her famous character.

  This is a column I wrote about it last week - but the documentary’s on TV tomorrow night so, if you think you might watch it, then you may as well skip the column!

  I hope it comes out well, this documentary. I think it will. PL Travers was a remarkable person; the Mary Poppins books are really wonderful (as was the Disney film, in its own way, but our documentary addresses the complications of that), and - insofar as a BBC documentary budget will allow - the aim is to fill our programme with cute special effects to make it feel a bit magical and childlike and Poppinsy. So, you know, I’ll be flying about with a parrot umbrella. I’m hoping that means it might be a good documentary for children to watch - children who are aged in double figures, at least - especially if they’ve read the books or seen the film. BREAK THEM INTO THE DOCUMENTARY WORLD! TRAIN THEM UP AS QUIZZERS! Certainly it’s a documentary that would have fascinated me when I was that age.

  If you’re thinking this might get in the way of Saving Mr Banks, the new feature film about PL Travers that opens in cinemas today: it shouldn’t. Ours is sort of a companion piece. We look more widely at Travers’ life, and consider the new movie in the light of the old one; they are a proper Hollywood film with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in it. Both, I hope, have their merits! Certainly you could watch both that film and our documentary, and I don’t think that either would be spoiled or that it really matters which order you watch them in.

  Anyway. I haven’t seen the finished documentary myself yet, so I can only say that I hope it’s good and that you enjoy it if you watch.

  Saturday night, 8.30pm, on BBC Two.


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pete at 9:35 pm on November 30th, 2013

To fly a kite, surely

stephen at 9:37 pm on November 30th, 2013

That was utterly fascinating Victoria! Very well done. I haven’t seen the new film yet, but what you said near the end will give me something to think about if I do watch it…Will you ever write a film VCM?

Pete Bridges at 9:37 pm on November 30th, 2013

Stumbled upon your documentary this evening, beyond a very vague admiration of a Disney film I had and in fact still have no interest in its background or writer.
But I must write to thank you for quite easily the most interesting of stories, beyond all you so smartly brought to life a great tale
You have a great talent and this evening I’m so grateful you turned it to telling this story
No need to see the film not now I’ve “read the book”
Thank you

Faith Williams at 9:59 pm on November 30th, 2013

I really enjoyed your documentary tonight, fascinating. What a woman!

M at 10:00 pm on November 30th, 2013

Thoroughly enjoyed this programme. I knew nothing about Travers an hour ago but what a great way to learn about this fascinatingly complex woman. I have to agree with her about the animations; even as a child I fast-forwarded through those parts (however, unlike her I have been able to smile since).

Lovely to see a documentary with personality in it -  some classic VCM humour throughout and such an insightful, poignant ending.
Your reaction to the film “Well they’ve done it to her again” was moving to hear, but at least this documentary can balance things out a little.

Very much hope to see you presenting more in the future.

Nick D at 10:39 pm on November 30th, 2013

A gem of a programme!

Bertiethetoupee at 1:21 am on December 1st, 2013

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous - just a gorgeous documentary! As much as I would like to be cynical and say it’s the beeb trying to elbow in on the excitement over the new film it was actually very refreshing, funny, and provided an excellent companion piece to the Disney on Disney version of events. The life of P.L. Travers sans schmultz and with a tiny hint of lesbian mystery. Groovy stuff.

P.S. Ever thought of changing the comment section to limit people by word count rather than character count so as not to penalise the more sesquipedalian punters? Just a thought!

mike at 11:47 am on December 1st, 2013

dear Victoria I thought you handled the business of p j really well. I have known the family for a great many years and I wondered how you would deal the awful truth of the matter.  as you probably know now so really sad.  the waves and devastation of unkind and thoughtless acts scars lives. your tears said so much. thank you.  mike

Jenny at 8:42 pm on December 1st, 2013

I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to present this documentary than you! It was just brilliant and, to my surprise, quite touching! Now if I ever see you getting all moist about the eyeballs again, I may very well have to get up and give my TV a little cuddle…and that would be ridiculous…so don’t do it again, alright?!

Peter Flint at 9:03 am on December 2nd, 2013

Was stephen’s question “Will you ever write a film VCM?” intended tongue-in-cheek, or has he never heard of ‘Once More With Feeling’ ( Anyway, that aside, the Poppins film was very well done. I thought it quite brave of Victoria to leave in the footage of her lost in emotion after seeing ‘Saving Mr. Banks’.

Karen at 1:13 pm on December 2nd, 2013

I thoroughly enjoyed The Culture Show Special; so beautifully presented, with your unique charm, humour and perceptiveness, and clearly well researched subject matter. It was truly poignant and moving. Victoria, I really do hope we see a lot more of you on our screens in the future.
All best wishes.

Karen at 4:48 pm on December 2nd, 2013

P.S. I was wondering .. are you still scared of flying? Did your ‘fear of flying’ counsellor really die in a plane crash? Personally, I detest flying, and do it under duress; a means to an end .. but always with arm-rest gripping and tightened jaw. I had a ‘full-blown’ panic attack on a flight from Vienna to London 2 years ago; the flight was turbulent and at the time my mum was dying; my fingers and arms went numb; I was paralysed for some minutes, and I thought I was dying… absolutely terrifying.
The air hostess helped to calm me, but at the time I didn’t know what was happening; now I do.
Alles Liebe, Karen

Victoria Coren at 5:49 pm on December 2nd, 2013

Hi Karen. I’m afraid it is true, and I am still scared - though it’s not as bad as it used to be. If you had an actual panic attack (and it sounds like you did), you should talk to your doctor about whether you should try taking beta-blockers or even valium (or both together) before flights. It’s a nasty phobia, but I have found the UK a LOVELY place for holidays, that involve no flying for me at all!

Karen at 8:18 pm on December 2nd, 2013

Dear Victoria, you’re right; it’s a very nasty phobia; up until the panic attack I’d partake of a G&T or two at the airport before take-off; but found myself ‘sobering up’ in an instant during a bout of turbulence. I know all the statistics; I know the flight is less dangerous than the drive to the airport; but as soon as the plane turns that ‘final’ curve on the runway, and those engines rev up and I feel the force of speed,  gravity and aerodynamics take over, all sense of rationality disappears, and I become a helpless wreck. I hadn’t heard about beta-blockers helping, nor ever requested valium; but now I think I will! Thanks for the tip :) P.S. I’m a British expat who’s lived in Vienna since 87, working for the UN. I admire your work enormously & I love the UK still. All best wishes.

Clive at 1:13 pm on December 3rd, 2013

The actress Maureen O’Hara says in her autobiography that she visited Walt Disney to pitch the idea of doing the Poppins books, only jazz them up by making them more commercial. He listened, making no comment. Later she found he’s gone ahead and pinched her ideas. Of course, this doc suggests he had been after the Poppins books many years earlier. Or maybe he was keeping his powder dry, or maybe she was just spiting him; a lot of blokes - John Ford was another - come out badly in her book.

Actually I think Miranda Hart, aka Rebecca Hall as she now is morphing into, could have made just a good of presenting this show, but like you Vicky, one hardly sees anything of her on telly these days ;)

stephen at 1:18 pm on December 3rd, 2013

Hello Peter,

Yes I have indeed heard of the book ‘Once more with Feeling’.....In fact without wanting to show off, I have a copy of the book signed and dedicated to me by Victoria herself. Wich I very much treasure. Obviously I meant would she ever write a film that is more ‘mainstream’ shall we say. I know that she has written a stage play,

The Tim at 7:13 pm on December 3rd, 2013

..and there was me thinking all that flying with an umbrella was just trick photography..

Ben at 8:48 am on December 6th, 2013

My friend and I saw your documentary and I thought you were warm, witty and insightful. My friend works for the interactive division of Disney publishing In Glendale and said the documentary was absolutely brilliant - one of the best he’s seen in a long time. He sort of fell in love with you a little bit as well (’‘She jumped into the chalk drawing!’‘, ‘‘She’s crying’‘) , he asked if you were Jewish (we both are) and I said yes, but she’s already married. All of this wouldn’t be so strange if it wasn’t for the fact that my friend is gay. You’ve turned another Vicky, well done on the documentary!

Victoria Coren at 2:28 pm on December 6th, 2013

Hi Ben. Thanks very much for that lovely message. There is almost nothing in life that I find more attractive than a gay Jew - but yes, I am very happily married already, which is probably just as well, as ultimately I suspect your Glendale friend and I would only have ended up bickering.

Ian at 7:11 am on December 15th, 2013

Very much enjoyed the documentary and in particular the subtext of creative control both in the context of the adaptation of the book and latterly real life for the biopic. I’m curious though, having watched the documentary yourself did it appear as you expected or was it edited into something else too thus completing a bizarre sort of trilogy?

Victoria Coren at 12:41 pm on December 17th, 2013

Hi Ian - well, there was sort of a bizarre trilogy but not of that kind! The programme wasn’t edited unexpectedly (although I didn’t think they would use that tearful bit at the end, and didn’t want them to, but it came out fine I think) and the documentary as a whole was as I hoped it would be - although I did chip in NEARLY as much as I think PL Travers might have done!

If you click the link in the post above and read the column I wrote about it, you’ll see what I mean.

Gerard at 8:57 am on January 7th, 2014

Just caught this lovely programme on the I Player, really enjoyable and I hope you get to present more of these ( and I will try and see them at their broadcast date in the future )

Victoria Coren

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