Thursday, 10 May 2018


Clochemerle is a farcical novel by Gabriel Chevallier, first published in 1934 and set in a secluded French village called Clochemerle, situated in the Beaujolais region. It satirises the conflicts between Catholics and Republicans in the French Third Republic, telling the story of the installation of a urinal in the village square.

The characters are harmlessly hypocritical and one-dimensional caricatures, motivated by avarice, hatred, revenge, bitterness, devotions, sexism and other powerful emotions: the first two villagers introduced are typical - a scheming Mayor Barthélemy Piechut and the schoolmaster Ernest Tafardel, a child of the French Revolution, who spend the first chapter discussing the urinal and its proposed site at the top of a blind alley by the church.

The novel catalogues a series of disasters that befall this village during 1923. The storyline is a vehicle for Chevalier to display his characters’ thoughts. The pissoir is opened to the public and there is a steady stream of visitors, but it becomes a hang-out for local teenagers who lark about there. A jealous and bitter old maid - Justine Putet, an energetic user of rosaries - agitates against the urinal. Whenever something bad happens, such as when a girl gets pregnant, Putet’s the first to blame the corrupting influence of the urinal.
Clochemerle becomes divided into Urinophobes and Urinophiles. There’s a fight in the church, troops are summoned, folk get injured and a freak storm ruins the grape harvest, the crop which all in the town depend on for their livelihoods.
The work has been translated in various editions and adapted into film and television series, notably by the BBC in 1972 when it was scripted by Galton & Simpson, most famous in the UK for writing Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.  The series was narrated by Peter Ustinov, and starred Cyril Cusack (Mayor Piéchut), Kenneth Griffith (Tafardel), Roy Dotrice (Curé Ponosse), Wendy Hiller (Justine Putet)), Catherine Rouvel (Judith Toumignon), Cyd Hayman (Adèle Torbayon), Micheline Presle (Baronesse Courtebiche), James Wardroper (Claudius Brodequin), Bernard Bresslaw (Nicholas), Nigel Green (Captain Tardinaux) and Dennis Price (Alexis Luvelat).

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