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Winston Graham wrote in many genres but undoubtedly his best known body of work is the twelve historical ‘Poldark’ novels set in Cornwall at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. At the centre of the Poldark saga are five main characters: Ross Poldark, Demelza Carne, Elizabeth Chynoweth, Francis Poldark (Ross’ cousin) and George Warleggan. Winston Graham once said he could have written the storyline on the back of a postcard. In the end it took twelve novels written over a span of nearly sixty years to complete this fascinating and compelling historical story of love and hate, poverty and riches all set in the alluring country and seascapes of Cornwall.

In addition to their romantic power, the novels depict with great accuracy the fluctuating fortunes of mining and of the conditions of that time in the countryside and in the fishing communities. It was a time when Cornwall was a perilous world of pirates and shipwrecks, of rugged coast and mysterious smugglers coves, of windswept moors, of beaches, tin mines and churches. It was also a time of great rivalries between the competing mining and banking families which are represented in the novels by the Poldarks and the Warleggans.

It is perhaps worth noting that the first four Poldarks – Ross Poldark (1945), Demelza (1946), Jeremy Poldark (1950) and Warleggan (1953) - were all written as Britain was emerging from the second world war. Arguably it is this context which gave them that extra ‘edge’ for the reader that has translated so well into the subsequent TV series. However, it was not until the early 1970s that they were first adapted for TV becoming the first such historical series by a living author produced by the BBC. In the interim they were nearly made into a film by Robert Clark (of Associated British Pictures, ABP) as a sort of Cornish Gone with the Wind but when EMI took over ABP the project was axed. Having subsequently bought London Films, Clark then also bought another option on the novels and it was he who interested the BBC in producing the first four as the TV series Poldark that hit the screens in the 1970s.

That first Poldark series starring Robin Ellis as Ross and Angharad Rees as Demelza was extraordinarily popular, with audiences peaking around 14 million and vicars reportedly moving or even cancelling Sunday services rather than facing a much-depleted congregation. It was such a huge success that a second series was rapidly commissioned with the same stars and covering the next three books – The Black Moon (1973), The Four Swans (1976) and The Angry Tide (1977).


At that time the remaining five ‘Poldarks’ were yet to be written and indeed were scarcely a gleam in the Winston Graham eye. And despite entreaties to ‘write another so we can have another TV series’ he had shifted focus and it was not until the 1980s that he returned to the Cornish characters he had created. It was then that he wrote The Stranger from the Sea (1981), Miller’s Dance (1982), The Loving Cup (1984) and The Twisted Sword (1990). And then much later still Bella Poldark (2002). Despite that considerable popular demand for a third series only Stranger from the Sea (the 8th Poldark novel) has ever made it to TV. This was as a ‘one-off’ by HTV in 1995. Apart from this, the remaining five Poldark novels have still never been filmed for TV or for the big screen.


Nonetheless, the Poldark’s life on screen has proved to be far from over. In 2013 Mammoth Screen asked if the TV rights were available. The answer was ‘yes’ and in a collaboration between Mammoth, the BBC and PBS (in the USA) a completely fresh adaption hit the screens in 2015. This new series saw Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson as the new Ross and Demelza, supported by Heida Reed as Elizabeth and Jack Farthing as George and with Robin Ellis (the original Ross) renewing his connection with Poldark as Reverend Halse. A strong supporting cast included Warren Clarke in his final scene as an actor (sadly he died soon after completing Series 1 filming).


The first eight episodes of Series 1 were quickly followed by Series 2 in 2016, Series 3 in 2017, and Series 4 in 2018. There was a final Series 5 in 2019 acting as a kind of bridge between The Angry Tide and Stranger from the Sea. All were brilliantly adapted by Debbie Horsfield and produced by Mammoth Screen. Andrew Graham commented: ‘I am thrilled to see the Poldarks returning to the screen. I have worked closely with Mammoth Screen and their concern to stay faithful to the books has been wonderful. My father would be totally delighted’.


Coinciding with each TV series, Pan Macmillan has produced new editions of the Poldark novels. To buy from selected booksellers link to the Macmillan Publishers website



BBC1 1st series, 1975: based on Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan.

BBC1 2nd series, 1977: based on The Black Moon, The Four Swans and The Angry Tide.

HTV 1995, based on The Stranger from the Sea.

BBC New series 1, 2015, Mammoth Screen – based on Ross Poldark and Demelza.

BBC New series 2, 2016, Mammoth Screen – based on Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan.

BBC New series 3, 2017, Mammoth Screen – based on The Black Moon and The Four Swans.

BBC New series 4, 2018, Mammoth Screen – based on The Angry Tide.

BBC New series 5, 2019, Mammoth Screen – based on the 10 year time period between The Angry Tide and The Stranger from the Sea.

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