The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald, dramatized by Yvonne Antrobus

Contact Us

BBC Saturday Play website

BBC Radio 4, 10 December 2011
In 1911 Fred Fairly (Geoffrey Streatfeild) is involved in a bicycle crash with two other cyclists, one of whom identifies herself as Daisy Saunders (Jade Williams). After some confusion as to her marital status (although she wears a wedding-ring, she has not married yet), the two of them seem to hit it off - but only briefly. The two of them part, but Fred cannot forget her.
This chance happening provided the inspiration for Yvonne Antrobus' version of Fitzgerald's 1990 novels, which explored the relationship between chance and rationality. The plot unfoldedin two parallel strands: one involving Fred, the other Daisy. Fred was a Junior Fellow at St. Angelicus College in Cambridge, a physicist with what seemed to be a wholly rational outlook on life. He believed that everything was explicable: such things as fate simply did not exist in the Edwardian world. As the action unfolded, however, so his beliefs began to change; after a fruitless search for Daisy, he re-encountered her quite by chance in Cambridge.
Daisy, a modest girl of humble origins, was forever trying to reinvent herself, as she embarked on a career as a nurse at the Blackfriars Hospital. One of her patients was a suicide victim; in an attempt to make him feel better, she told his story to the local newspaper editor Kelly (Carl Prekopp), but by doing do broke the rule of patient confidentiality. She was immediately fired as a result. Like Fred, she was so convinced of the consequences of her actions that she left nothing to chance; and suffered as a result. Throughout the adaptation Daisy had similar experiences; she travelled with Kelly to Cambridge for an Edwardian dirty weekend, but denied that she had ever known him at a court of inquiry convened to investigate the cycle accident (that inspired the whole story). However Kelly made an unexpected appearance, putting her to shame.
At the end of the adaptation, Fred was walking along a Cambridge road, having spent three extra minutes thinking about Daisy rather than pursuing his own interests. Meanwhile Daisy was on the way to the railway station, although she knew that she would be three minutes late for her train back to London. The two of them met once more - by chance - and greeted one another happily.
Antrobus' entertaining adaptation proved beyond doubt the futility of trying to control the world, or determine one's life according to rational principles. Chance kept getting in the way; sometimes it could be harmful, but on other occasions it could make people extremely happy. The only way Fred and Daisy could cope with it was to accept its omnipresence.
Marc Beeby's production clearly identified the social and cultural differences between Fred and Daisy, yet suggested that such differences do not really matter. Feelings are much more significant; which is why the two protagonists seemed so happy at the end.