The Lives And Work Of Somerset Maugham

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20150228

Fifty years after the death of Somerset Maugham, a look at his career and complex life.

Marking 50 years since the death of William Somerset Maugham, one of the most commercially successful English writers ever. His plays, short stories and novels effortlessly sold in their millions; his work on stage, page and screen drew huge audiences. He remains the English writer most adapted for film and TV. And yet he described himself as possessing only a "knack" for writing and his place among the literary greats as being only "in the first row of the second rate". Despite his huge popularity with a mass audience, the literary establishment dismissed him as "middle brow".

Yet the subjects he wrote about, and his complex and exotic lifestyle moulded the image of the successful 20th century writer - a wide circle of famous friends, a villa in the South of France, the adulation of readers across the globe and the ears of the Empire's leaders. His own long life, too, reads like the plot for a novel. Born when Disraeli was Prime Minister, he died when the 60s were in full swing. He trained as a doctor, dedicated himself to being a writer, and spent time as a World War One spy. He travelled the globe in search of material for stories - chronicling the boredom, frustration and scandals of the colonial class of empire builders.

His private life was complicated. In England he seemed a pillar of the establishment, yet he set up an exotic and promiscuous lifestyle in a villa on the Cote d'Azur with a succession of gay lovers. His last years were marked by an extraordinary, toxic family quarrel, betrayal and a public fall from grace.

Simon Fanshawe examines the literary legacy and complex private lives of Maugham in the company of writers, performers, biographers and family members.

Producer Mike Greenwood