2nd March 1986

Channel 4 broadcasts Sark-based Mr Pye

Mr Pye is a short novel by Mervyn Peake. Published in 1953, it is set on Sark, where Peake lived for several years, although not during the time the time he was working on the book. It’s focused on its titular character, Mr Pye, and his efforts to convert the island to God.

Pye wasn’t a local: he came to Sark to do his duty, and he did it so well that he soon started to sprout angelic wings. Worried that this might not be a good thing, Pye stops trying to convert the people of Sark, and turns to evil, but this only results in him growing a pair of devil’s horns.

Television adaptation

Channel 4, which makes none of its own programmes, commissioned a four-part mini-series based on Peake’s book from Landseer and TSI Films. Derek Jacobi took the lead role, and the series was filmed on Sark. The opening scene shows Pye taking the boat from St Peter Port to the island, and coming ashore at Maseline Harbour.

The first episode, running for 60 minutes, was broadcast on 2 March 1986. Two months later, Jacobi won the George Morton Television Personality Award for his depiction of Harold Pye, receiving a decanter, scroll and tequila.

It took three months to film the series, during which time almost everyone on Sark found themselves a small part, even if just in the background. It cost around £350,000 per episode, as part of the Channel’s £40m 1986 drama season. The crew had to adapt to Sark’s rules, transporting their equipment by bike, and removing the engine from the car they wanted to use for tracking shots. In the end, they settled on a 2CV pulled by a horse.

It was well received, with The Times of Saturday 1st March 1986 commenting that “there is a wealth of comedy in this week’s new offerings… the funniest is Mr Pye with Derek Jacobi reaching angelic proportions in Mervyn Peake’s comic fantasy novel set on the small but perfectly proportioned feudal island of Sark”.

The influence of Sark

Although remembered primarily as a writer, Peake was also a poet and painter, and it was this latter interest that brought him to Sark. He arrived there in the early 1930s to join a fledgling artists’ colony, but returned to London within four years. He spent a further four years, between 1946 and 1950, back on Sark. Mr Pye was published three years after he’d moved back to Kent.


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Other events that occured in March

Debut of Guernsey-set comedy This is Jinsy 1st
Channel 4 broadcasts Sark-based Mr Pye 2nd
First ever broadcast of Puffin’s Pla(i)ce 3rd
Dead man appointed to run Guernsey Airport 4th
Guernsey’s entire police force is arrested 5th
Isle of Guernsey delivered to its new owners 6th
Guernsey players set darts record
Guernsey heads call for an end to the Eleven-plus 7th
Guernsey’s first governor, Edmund Weston, is appointed 8th
Occupying forces mount a desperate raid on Granville 9th
Guernsey emergency services prepare for a disaster 10th
Birth of Baron James de Saumarez 11th
First publication of Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea 12th
Building work starts on Guernsey Airport 13th
Guernsey’s island-wide police force is established 14th
Guernsey exchange student goes missing in Virginia 15th
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is published 16th
BBC Radio Guernsey takes to the air
Guernsey clears up after heaviest snow in years 17th
Torrey Canyon spills oil on Guernsey’s beaches 18th
Guernsey issues banknotes featuring famous locals 19th
Guernsey guidebook pioneer Henry Inglis dies 20th
Soldiers staged a mutiny at Fort George 21st
Alderney arrest sparks a “riot” 22nd
Guernsey nurse Elizabeth Lincoln elected to the States 23rd
Famed printer Thomas de la Rue born 24th
Guernsey votes for equal age of consent 25th
Guernsey to UK telephone connection inaugurated 26th
Condor Liberation enters service 27th
Guernsey Post Office is established 28th
Enemy at the Door comes to the end of its run 29th
Guernsey adopts Sterling currency 30th
Guernsey and France tackle the Amoco Cadiz oil spill 31st