Posted by: chartroose | September 23, 2008

To Serve Them All My Days

R. F. Delderfield, 1972, 638 p.

Before I get started on my critique of this novel, it’s time for a bit of family history.  My mother’s side of the family can perhaps be traced all the way back to Viking times.  According to family folklore, some of her Scots ancestors fought against King Vortigern for the dominion of Britain way back around 400 AD.  (In case you’ve forgotten Arthurian legend, Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, the infant heirs to the throne, were secreted away to Brittany before Vortigern could have them murdered.  Uther later sired King Arthur).  Mom’s family somehow thrived and reproduced all over the British Isles, to include Ireland, Cornwall and Wales.  It is the Welsh part of the family that I’m going to concentrate on now, since it ties in nicely with To Serve Them All My Days. 

My family’s Welsh ancestors were dirt-poor coal miners (of course).  A couple of brothers managed to make it to America, and their descendants slowly moved West and eventually made it to Colorado where they continued the family mining tradition in Boulder Canyon, digging for silver and tungsten.  My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Nederland, Colorado, and his father and older brothers were all miners.  They lived in a tiny little shack, and Mom used to hate to visit there because she’d feel like a popsicle, even in summer, when the temperature sometimes hovers around 32% in the middle of the night. 

To Serve Them All My Days features David Powlett-Jones, the youngest son of a Welsh mining family, as the main character.  David’s father and a couple of his brothers were killed in the mines when he was a child.  Like many youngest sons of mining families (including my maternal grandfather), David was spared the deep, damp darkness of mining and was educated instead.  This was a lucky break for him, because he was hired as a schoolmaster at Bamfylde, a boy’s school in Devon.  Teaching quickly became more than just a job for David; it became a lifesaver.  As a shell-shocked veteran of WWI, he was a total mess, both mentally and physically.  Bamfylde healed him and made him whole and strong again, and he helped keep Bamfylde whole and strong as well.

This may sound a bit twee, but it really wasn’t.  Delderfield was a good writer and did an excellent job with character and plot development.  To Serve Them All My Days was a cozy read, and I looked forward to settling down with the staff and students of Bamfylde every evening.  Reading this novel was like slipping on an old pair of comfy slippers and cuddling with my little pug on the couch with an aromatic hot toddy steaming by my side.  What could possibly be better? 

I think it helped greatly that Ronald Frederick Delderfield attended a school quite like Bamfylde when he was a young man.  It was obvious in the novel that he greatly approved of the English public (boarding, to us Yanks) school system.  Bamfylde was loosely based on West Buckland School in Exmoor, Devon. 


I was so impressed with this novel that I bought the Monsterpiece Theatre (har) miniseries on DVD to try out, and was quite impressed with it as well. 


It’s no wonder, since it was adapted by Andrew Davies, who also adapted Pride and Prejudice (the excellent BBC Colin Firth version) and Bridget Jones’ Diary.  This is one of the few times that I found the screen adaptation to be as good as the novel.  The acting is superb.  I especially enjoyed the performance of Alan MacNaughtan, whose curmudgeonly and witty portrayal of English master Ian Howarth, is impeccable.  The only complaint I have is about some of the post-coital scenes with David and each of his lovers.  The women gush over how wonderful he is in bed, which seems incredibly silly. 

This is the end, except for one more thing.  I’m going to give away the miniseries to one lucky commenter.  If you’d like to be the next viewer of this great adaptation of To Serve Them All My Days, leave me a comment.  If more than one of you whines about it, I’ll draw names on Friday, Sept. 26th.  Try it, you’ll like it! 



  1. Ooooooooooh! I was thinking to myself, “hmmm: the miniseries sounds like fun,” and then I got to the end! So I totally want to be entered in the giveaway. 😀

  2. I would love to enter this contest, even though the actor on the cover looks like he’s wearing dangly earrings because of his positioning with the windows… BTW, you have THE best giveaways! 🙂

    Thanks also for sharing your family’s story! I like to read things like that. Very interesting indeed.

  3. (I had a big WHINE comment started but it sounded so tacky…)

    I would be most excited to win. I enjoyed the bit about your family history. I am NOT up on my Arthur Lore so I learned something.

  4. I have a son who is such a history buff. He would love these. Thanks for the review.

  5. I’d love to enter the contest as well. And I agree that it does look like he’s wearing earrings! LOL

  6. Sounds like it would be a great weekend project … watch the shows, relax on the couch with a cup of tea (not that I ever get time to do that, but a gal can hope!) … I’d love to win this!

  7. Oh this sounds cool. I have never heard of it, but I’m slowly going through Davies work – and watching Masterpiece. 🙂

  8. I had not heard of this book (or miniseries) before, but it sounds exactly up my movie-watching alley. I’d love the chance to win!

  9. Sounds great – I think I will try the book. The mini-series looks fun, I’d love the chance to win. My family is originally Welsh, although they ended up in Scotland and Australia and America.

    And slightly off topic, your sentence, “My family’s Welsh ancestors were dirt-poor coal miners (of course).” made me think of that monty python sketch where they are all trying to out-poverty each other. The Yorkshire men. Have you seen that one? It’s on youtube if you haven’t. One of my favorites.

  10. Hey, everyone, you make make me laugh so much!

    Here are some comments for a few of you:

    Jennifer–I totally agree about the earrings. Maybe that’s why he was so good in bed; he knew what a woman REALLY wanted!

    Care–Whine away, please! That would make me laugh even more.

    Verbivore–I’m going to have to take a look at the MP poverty sketch because I don’t believe I’ve seen it. The other day, I was roaring over the village idiots bit. Monty Python are my absolute favorites!

  11. Having gone to a British style public school as a day boy for four years I’m a sucker for this type of story. Please enter me in the giveaway.

  12. If you liked this Delderfield novel you should read his book, Mr. Sermon.
    I honestly feel that the Masterpiece adaption improved upon one plot line of the novel. I’m not going to include the spoiler – but it’s worth reading and viewing to compare.
    I’d love to have the adaption to go along with my book.

  13. I’m not interested in the miniseries, I’d love to read that book! So don’t enter me in the giveaway; I’m just going to put in on my TBR and hope my library has a copy somewhere.

  14. What kind of magic do you possess that you can deciper a whine right out of a written comment? I admire these skills you possess. Now did I whine or didn’t I? hmmmm…

  15. Okay, now I feel bad about not connecting the book with the series. I have that book on my shelf. I’ve walked past the series in the library. Sigh. Airhead alert.

  16. I say give a woman dangly earrings (with diamonds) and she won’t care what you do in bed. 😉

  17. Hi Chartroose!

    With the current economic situation, I’ll take any free thing I can get right now! If it’s something I think I’ll enjoy, like this great prize, even better! Thanks!

  18. This does sound good! Please count me in for the giveaway. And thanks, Literate Housewife, for pointing out the earring effect…that’s all I can see now! 😉

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