2nd March 1986
Channel 4 broadcasts Sark-based Mr Pye

Mr Pye is a short novel by Mervyn Peake. Published in 1953, it is set on Sark, where Peake lived for several years, although not during the time the time he was working on the book. It’s focused on its titular character, Mr Pye, and his efforts to convert the island to God.

Pye wasn’t a local: he came to Sark to do his duty, and he did it so well that he soon started to sprout angelic wings. Worried that this might not be a good thing, Pye stops trying to convert the people of Sark, and turns to evil, but this only results in him growing a pair of devil’s horns.

Television adaptation

Channel 4, which makes none of its own programmes, commissioned a four-part mini-series based on Peake’s book from Landseer and TSI Films. Derek Jacobi took the lead role, and the series was filmed on Sark. The opening scene shows Pye taking the boat from St Peter Port to the island, and coming ashore at Maseline Harbour.

The first episode, running for 60 minutes, was broadcast on 2 March 1986. Two months later, Jacobi won the George Morton Television Personality Award for his depiction of Harold Pye, receiving a decanter, scroll and tequila.

It took three months to film the series, during which time almost everyone on Sark found themselves a small part, even if just in the background. It cost around £350,000 per episode, as part of the Channel’s £40m 1986 drama season. The crew had to adapt to Sark’s rules, transporting their equipment by bike, and removing the engine from the car they wanted to use for tracking shots. In the end, they settled on a 2CV pulled by a horse.

It was well received, with The Times of Saturday 1st March 1986 commenting that “there is a wealth of comedy in this week’s new offerings… the funniest is Mr Pye with Derek Jacobi reaching angelic proportions in Mervyn Peake’s comic fantasy novel set on the small but perfectly proportioned feudal island of Sark”.

The influence of Sark

Although remembered primarily as a writer, Peake was also a poet and painter, and it was this latter interest that brought him to Sark. He arrived there in the early 1930s to join a fledgling artists’ colony, but returned to London within four years. He spent a further four years, between 1946 and 1950, back on Sark. Mr Pye was published three years after he’d moved back to Kent.

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