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Writer and Anglia TV reporter Elodie Harper: I wish I’d got to know my godfather Dudley Moore better

PUBLISHED: 23:00 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 23:00 10 August 2018

Elodie with Dudley Moore after visiting him on set as Patch the Elf in Santa Claus The Movie. ‘He was such a kind man, and endlessly patient, she recalls.’ Picture: Copyright Mike Martin and Suzy Kendall

Elodie with Dudley Moore after visiting him on set as Patch the Elf in Santa Claus The Movie. ‘He was such a kind man, and endlessly patient, she recalls.’ Picture: Copyright Mike Martin and Suzy Kendall

Archant

Sometimes, when doing your research before an interview, you chance upon something fascinating. The name of Elodie Harper’s mother rang a bell. Suzy Kendall – an actress whose credits include the 1967 film To Sir, with Love that starred Sidney Poitier and Lulu. And who was married to comedian Dudley Moore (news to me) before they divorced and Suzy went on to wed Elodie’s father.

Elodie launches The Death Knock at Jarrold’s in Norwich Picture: Andrea BinforElodie launches The Death Knock at Jarrold’s in Norwich Picture: Andrea Binfor

So is Wikipedia right or is that a fantasy that’s slipped through?

“Yes, it’s true. My mum is former actress Suzy Kendall and her ex-husband Dudley Moore was my godfather,” confirms Elodie. Wow.

“Unfortunately, like most children I was much more interested in the Care Bears, or whatever, than all the adults’ fascinating lives!

“My mother was always a very supportive parent and something of a supermum, doing endless crafts, outings, reading books etc, so that’s more what I remember from childhood than any glamour; though, seeing old photos, she certainly looked glamorous.

“Dudley and his then wife, Brogan Lane, used to stay with my parents very regularly when he came over to the UK, as they were all good friends, and he was the most wonderful godfather.

“He did take me on some exciting trips as a little kid, like the set of Santa Claus The Movie” – the 1985 film – “and the studio where they filmed the Muppets. Though I was apparently a bit traumatised by all the ‘dead’ Kermits lying about backstage!

“He was such a kind man, and endlessly patient. I wish I had known him as an adult, as well as a child, as there’s so much I would have liked to talk to him about, but when I was a teenager he became very ill with PSP, a degenerative condition much like motor neurone disease.” Dudley, star of films such as Arthur and known for his earlier comedy partnership with Peter Cook, died in 2002 at the age of 66.

Elodie today finds herself in front of a camera, though not in showbiz. After working as a producer for Channel 4 News, she’s been a staff reporter for ITV Anglia for eight years.

She’s also building a reputation as a fiction writer – and setting her tales in her adopted East Anglia.

Mulholland Books last summer published her creepy debut novel. The Binding Song – a psychological thriller I didn’t want to read on my own at night – centres on an isolated and eerie Norfolk prison where inmates are killing themselves. Is it supernatural vengeance, or something even darker?

Now comes The Death Knock. Three women are murdered in East Anglia but the police are playing down suggestions of a connection. TV news reporter Frankie isn’t so sure. A young woman called Ava knows the truth – or some of it. She’s been imprisoned by a manipulative kidnapper claiming to be the killer.

There’s a contemporary feel to the story as Frankie backs her hunches and comes up against a harsh, online, misogynistic “community”. As Ava struggles to survive, and maintain her sanity, could Frankie’s growing profile make her the next target?

Blimey… gritty stuff. And Elodie strikes me as such a cheerful, well-balanced soul…

“I didn’t really intend to write dark thrillers; it just seemed to happen.... My job reporting on crime, and especially confronting the grief and emotional aftermath left by violence, has probably had a big impact on how I see life. I think it does on most journalists.

“Some of my friends and colleagues have been startled by just how dark the books are, given I’m a very sunny person! My agent Juliet tells me most crime writers fit this stereotype, which is quite funny.”

How did the love of writing begin?

“I always loved creative writing as a child, and reading is a huge part of my life, but it took me a long time to have the confidence to have a go at writing fiction as an adult.

“I realised I wanted to write when driving back from filming a report on coastal erosion in Easton Bavents near Southwold. Knocking on doors, I ended up having a conversation with a resident about whether the situation bothered them: it culminated in them explaining that mortality is close to us at all times, and if the end of your street is crumbling away, that’s no more than a visual reminder of what we all face.

East Anglia isn’t just a passive setting for your stories, is it? It’s virtually a character in its own right…

“When I took the (Anglia) job my brother, Tom Harper, and his wife Ruth were living in Norwich with their children, so I had family here and knew the area. There’s a difference, though, between going on holiday to a place and working there, and I fell in love with Norfolk and Suffolk when I took the job at Anglia.

“I had been living in Southampton before, for another reporting job, and East Anglia is just so much wilder than that part of the south, and seems to have retained much more of an individual character.

“Having said that, the aspect of East Anglia that has most influenced my fiction is the strangeness of the landscape. I think you capture it just right when you talk about the stillness and the flatness, and the old buildings quietly mouldering away, undisturbed.

“Nowhere represents this more to me than Halvergate Marshes. When you are driving along the Acle Straight you could be in a 16th century painting by an Old Dutch Master: the marshes tapering off to blue on the distant horizon, the mist, the wind pumps and, of course, the enormous sky.

“The marshes – with their original name, ‘Hell Fire Gate’ – also have a sense of menace, which is one reason I set my prison, HMP Halvergate from The Binding Song, there.

“There’s a surprising amount of menace in East Anglia, I think. The idea for The Binding Song actually came to me from driving through Elveden Forest, after work, in the winter dark – the trees flashing past in the headlights before being swallowed up into shadow again. The new dual A11 is much more convenient – though less atmospheric!

“And I defy anyone not to find something unsettling about the Fens in West Norfolk. Nobody for miles, and that strange, dark soil. Not to mention the pot-holes, which are enough to give any reporter on a deadline, hurtling along in the car, the fright of their life.”

Where do you particularly like?

“One of my favourite places in Norfolk, Winterton-on-Sea, is not far from Halvergate. I had one of my characters, Janet from The Binding Song, visit the village in the snow and she hates it, but I don’t share her feelings. It’s usually much less busy than the better-known beaches and there’s a lovely cafe just on the edge of the dunes.

“Frankie, the main character in The Death Knock, also visits two of my other favourite spots in Norfolk: Wells-Next-The-Sea and Holkham. Like Frankie, when I have a reporting job at the seaside I always try to make time for fish and chips!

“I report from Suffolk quite regularly, and always like stopping by Bury St Edmunds. Some of the medieval villages – Cavendish in particular – are wonderfully atmospheric and a great place to spend the afternoon, and the heath at Dunwich is beautiful.”

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