The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks, adapted by Juliet Ace

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BBC Radio 7, 26 June - 3 July 2010
Memorably filmed in 1962 with Leslie Caron in the title role and a host of British character actors in support including Murray Melvin and Cicely Courtneidge, The L-Shaped Room focuses on the trials and tribulations of Jane (Lynn Seymour), a young unmarried mother-to-be who is turned out of the house by her tyrannical father and sets up home in a seedy boarding-house, living alone in an L-Shaped room. Her neighbours are nothing if not eccentric: a would-be novelist, a lonely African-Caribbean man trying to cope with an overtly racist London, and a donw-at-heel boarding house owner who pretends to care for Jane but really only tries to fleece her of her money.
The piece is redolent of late-1950s England, in its puritanical attitudes towards premarital sex; its automatic assumption - especially amongst men - that if they get their girlfriends pregnant they have to marry them for the sake of appearance; and its casual racism, whereby anyone of a non-white complexion is automatically branded a 'nigger,' 'coon' or 'darkie.' Listening to Alison Hindle's production, originally designed for the Woman's Hour Drama slot, I couldn't help feeling that one of the reasons for adapting the novel was to show how much attitudes had changed in the last half-century. Britain might still have its fair share of unmarried mothers, but at least they can grow up in a world whose attitudes have become more tolerant.
In this production Banks' novel also became a narrative of self-discovery. Although totally unsuited to the life of a single mother, Jane found that each reversal she experienced (being unlucky in love, or faced with the prospect of being turned out from her boarding-house) made her a stronger person. By the end of the action, she could quite calmly tell fly-by-night boyfriend John (John McAndrew - who had left her when he discovered she was pregnant - to leave her for good, while insisting that her relationship with Toby (Trevor Laird) should be nothing more than platonic. She did not want lovers only "proper" friends; those kind of people not likely to let her down in a crisis. Even her father (John Rowe) - a military man of apparently inflexible principles - came to understand this, as he invited her to live at home with the baby.
The L-Shaped Room was written at a time when the feminist movement had not yet reached Britain. Nonetheless it offers an example for all of us as to how to survive in an often brutal and indifferent world. Like Jane, if we stick to our principles - whatever they might be - we have a good chance of achieving our goals.