BBC Radio 7, 1 August 2009
Mortimer Ellis (Michael Williams) seems on the surface to be rather nebulous,
walking the streets of a quiet resort in the south of England, and cadging a light off the narrator (Dirk Bogarde). Mortimer's
voice seems toneless; his manner rather grey; his mode of dress insignificant - a grey suit and crumpled felt hat. However
Maugham shows this to be a facade; like several protagonists in this entertaining series Maugham's Eye View, Ellis
possesses hidden depths to his character. He has spent most of his life as a serial bridegroom; when he encounters the narrator
he has already run through eleven wives and is looking for another partner to complete the round dozen of the story's title.
The narrator listens to Ellis without prejudice; on the contrary in Bogarde's performance he appeared to sympathize with Ellis'
intentions - to offer unconditional love and devotion to lonely women. The fact that such women might possess fortunes of
their own seemed incidental.
"A Round Dozen" explores the kind of emotional territory characteristic of Terence
Rattigan - the world of genteel poverty in seaside boarding houses, whose residents lead comfortable but sterile lives governed
by strict mealtimes and occasional walks on the promenade. For such people living in "lavender bags" - in Maugham's memorable
phrase - Ellis is a ruffian exploiting the vulnerability of lonely middle-aged women. Nonetheless he represents hope
- an escape from the treadmill that dominates lonely spinster Miss Portchester's (Joanna David's) life. Predictably enough
she becomes wife number twelve: Maugham admires her decision, as she has at last acknowledged her own feelings rather than
conforming to the other residents' expectations of her. Like Mr. Forrester in "The Creative Impulse," she follows her heart
rather than her head.
Despite living for many years as an expat, Maugham remains a quintessentially
English writer; like Rattigan he understands the world of narrowly reclaimed opportunity that characterized the country in
the mid-twentieth century. Seaside boarding-houses may be passť now, but people are still faced with the
same dilemmas as Miss Portchester and Mr. Forrester. This explains why Maugham's popularity remains undimmed, nearly forty-five
years after his death