Eskimo Day (Screen One BBC-1 1996, Alec Guinness, Tom Wilkinson)

Eskimo Day is a painful paean to anyone who’s ever had children and watched them grow up, leave the nest, and make their own way in the world.

The whimsical saga, written by Jack Rosenthal, deals with three families as they accompany their respective offspring to Cambridge University where each potential student is to be interviewed for admission. As often happens, the parents find it more difficult than the children to let go.

In a parallel story, Sir Alec Guinness plays James Poole, an elderly academic whose son Simon (James Fleet), one of the university interviewers, is trying to persuade his father to enter a retirement home. Determined not to go quietly or happily, the reluctant Poole senior visits the home with his son. What they see of the residents’ drab life and even drabber surroundings proves the father right and the two walk away from the home together in a touching reconciliation.

The adventures of the three families in Eskimo Day result in a new understanding between parents and children as the parents grow to recognize their overly protective attitude is unnecessary. In a series of witty and entertaining scenes, the parents are taught the ultimate test of good parenting — how to let go.

Most sympathetic of the families is the Whittles whose only son Neil (Benedict Sandiford) is a bright, attractive young man who already seems to know more than his proud parents. Mrs. Whittle, Shani (Maureen Lipman), is a supremely superstitious woman who blocks her family from walking under a ladder and lures a black cat away from their path in an effort to protect them from potential bad luck. Mr. Whittle, Bevis (David Ross), is a polite, caring middle-class Londoner, sympathetic to his wife’s foibles and impressed with his son’s intellect.

RELATED:   Alma's Not Normal Returns for Series 2 on BBC This Autumn

Hugh and Harriet Lloyd (Tom Wilkinson and Anna Carteret) are obviously more affluent than the Whittles. As important as the interview is for their daughter Pippa (Laura Howard), her parents are more concerned that she change into something they deem more presentable than her standard uniform of jeans and baggy sweater. Hugh Lloyd is a domineering loudmouth, constantly giving instructions to his wife and daughter until he receives his comeuppance after a revealing incident at the university.

The third family comprises a single mother, Mrs. Judd (Kathryn Pogson) and her bookwormish, slightly wimpy son Malcolm (Grant Warnock), who fears his mother’s constant attention will embarrass him before his peers. He refuses to let her accompany him on interview day but she manages to sneak onto a bus and in a series of funny vignettes and near discoveries, trails him around the campus.

The Whittles and the Lloyds meet unexpectedly in a cafe prior to the interviews for their children. As they wait to meet their first examiner, Neil and Pippa strike up a friendship that carries them through the interview process and holds promise for future romance.

RELATED:   Casualty Storm Damage: Sinking Ships - Day 2 (BBC iPlayer, June 22, 2024)

How the three students fare in Eskimo Day is not revealed, but the sad/funny, awkward parting of the families is a rite of passage every parent and child his endured.

Known as Interview Day in the US.

production details
UK / BBC One – A Greenpoint Films – WGBH Boston production. / 1×84 minute episode / Broadcast 5 April 1996

Writer: Jack Rosenthal / Music: Dominic Muldowney / Production Design: Martyn Hebert / Executive Producer: Tessa Ross, George Faber / Producer: Ann Scott / Director: Piers Haggard

Series: Screen One Season 7 Episode 2

Maureen Lipman as Shani
David Ross as Bevis
Benedict Sandiford as Neil
Tom Wilkinson as Hugh
Laura Howard as Pippa
Anna Carteret as Harriet
Alec Guinness as James
James Fleet as Simon
Pippa Hinchley as Bobbie The Waitress
Peter Hugo Daly as ‘Big Issue’ Seller
Kathryn Pogson as Malcolm’s Mum
Grant Warnock as Malcolm
Laurie Ventry as Rosemary’s Dad
Kathy Kiera Clarke as Rosemary
Susannah Wise as Miss Wilding
Lila Kaye as Mother Polly
Cheryl Fergison as Miss Bodley as Bells)
Gillian Barge as Madam Olga
Tom Bowles as London Coach Driver
Roger Hume as Coach Passenger
Laurence Harrington as College Porter
Jon Rake as Station Cabby
Brian Parr as Second Cabby
Mike Carnell as Third Cabby
Robert Putt as Road Sweeper
Lawrence Werber as Coach Driver
Jonathan Oliver as Carlton Warden
Delia Lindsay as Carlton Warden
Shaun Chawdhary as ‘Catz’ Interviewee

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.