Putney’s Most Famous Son Features in BBC Drama

Thomas Cromwell the central character in the production of Wolf Hall

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The BBC is broadcasting the first episode of a dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel Wolf Hall this week.

The historical drama chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a Putney blacksmith who became King Henry VIII's chief minister, as he manipulates his way to the pinnacle of power. Cromwell is portrayed by Mark Rylance with Homeland’s Damien Lewis appearing as Henry VII.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell

Cromwell is believed to have been born around Putney Hill close to Putney Heath. In the book, the opening scene is in Putney with the young Thomas Cromwell being chased by his violent father, Walter, and subjected to a brutal assault.

However, the BBC reportedly have chosen not to include this scene and open with Cardinal Wolsey, played by Jonathan Pryce, as he travels from Hampton Court after his fall from power. At this point in the story Cromwell is his close associate but manages to win the confidence of the king despite his former masters fall from grace.

The Putney of the sixteenth century was not likely to be portrayed as genteel as it was inhabited by tough and rough lightermen who plied their trade on the Thames. With no Putney Bridge they provided the only means to getting to Fulham.

The phrase as ‘rough as a Putney barmaid's apron’ was apparently widely used in the seventeenth and eighteenth century to signify someone with a sharp tongue. The theory is that because of the nature of their clientele the female bar staff of the day had to be able to stand up for themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence for a claim made this week in the Evening Standard that the phrase referred to a woman of ill-repute and that Putney was notorious for prostitution.

The first of six episodes will be broadcast this Wednesday (21st January) on BBC 2 at 9pm.

January 21, 2015