The Weekend's Viewing: Who on Earth Was Ford Madox Ford? A Culture Show Special, Sat, BBC2Doctor Who, Sat, BBC1


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The Independent Culture

Full disclosure, first of all. I'm currently in love with Ford Madox Ford. Or rather "infatuated" with one of his books, to be more accurate, gripped by that giddy, where-has-this-been fascination that marks the early days of a romance.

The novel in question is Parade's End: not Tom Stoppard's television adaptation, which, as good as it is, still strikes me as a slightly blurry photograph of an adored face, but the novel itself, which I only read for the first time recently. So I can't review Who on Earth Was Ford Madox Ford?, A Culture Show Special about the writer, entirely dispassionately. On the other hand, I retain enough detachment to note that in feeding an infatuation with Ford it must have downplayed the disenchantment that can sometimes follow. On this account, Ford was utterly captivating advancing towards you, perhaps a little less so as he departed. But, some tart remarks from Jean Rhys aside, there wasn't a lot about what his ex-wife and former lovers thought of him, or whether the children he left behind retained an affection for their charismatic father.

He clearly needed love himself: "We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist," he wrote once and from his youth he plunged into romance with melodramatic recklessness. When the parents of his first love, Elsie, judged him not quite suitable as a match he persuaded her to elope with him and both faked their ages to marry, before settling down to a life of pinched bohemian poverty on the Kent marshes. He sought reassurance from male friends, too, forming a kind of writer's marriage with Joseph Conrad (they wrote several novels jointly) and later running a literary salon in London that attracted the best writers of the day. "He is the kindest man on earth," D H Lawrence wrote of him. "He keeps the doors of his soul open and you may walk in."

Quite a few women seem to have done, the first to displace Elsie being Violet Hunt, a writer-bagger with large ambitions (she even had a crack at Henry James, which shows ambition if not exactly perfect target selection). After an illicit trip to France with Violet, Ford was confronted at Charing Cross station by Elsie, who (rather like Sylvia in Parade's End) changed her mind about divorcing him and decided to sue for the restitution of her conjugal rights. Ford was then sent to prison for 10 days for not paying maintenance, an event that didn't do a lot to improve his blotched reputation.

Curiously, having written a classic novel about the agonies of sexual betrayal in The Good Soldier, he then went on to live it, beginning an affair with the young Jean Rhys while still living with Stella Bowen, yet another of his lovers. I can't see clearly, as I said, but Alan Yentob's film had enough affection in it to make you understand why so many of Ford's contemporaries succumbed to him. It perhaps wasn't wise, though, to end with quite so solipsistic a summary of his subject's stature: "If he was still around," Yentob concluded, "I can't imagine many people I'd rather have lunch with."

Doctor Who is back, exercising his hegemonic sway over the front cover of the Radio Times and teasing us with the prospect of a new companion, a perky little number called Oswin, who appears to hail from the Planet Flippant Quip. I can never follow the Whovian cosmology from one scene to the next, but I'm guessing the fact that she seemed to have become a Dalek at one point in this story won't prevent a reappearance later in the series. "Run, you clever boy... and remember," she said to the Doctor at a critical moment, casting a pointed look at the camera as she did so. I'll be back, it seemed to say.