High Table, Lower Orders
High Table, Lower Orders is a BBC Radio 4 comedy-drama murder mystery written by Mark Tavener and set in a fictional Cambridge college in crisis. The first series was broadcast in six episodes from 18 February to 25 March 2005, and the second series was broadcast from 7 April to 12 May 2006. Its title refers to the custom of the College's fellows eating at High Table, and the murders and skulduggery that occurs in the series.
Both series feature a murder mystery set against a background of satirical references to newspaper and television journalism, politics, government bureaucracy, and academic in-fighting. In particular there is a long-running feud between Gilbert (the History fellow, and later the Master) and the Dean of the College. The Dean is the religious leader of the College, in charge of the Chapel, Choir and all religious services. The office was once the most important in the College when it was originally founded, by monks. Actual authority has become vested in the Master and, in an advisory capacity, the Bursar. The current Dean would like to regain the power that his predecessors lost.
Peter Devanti, a notorious TV populariser of history, dies after being the college's guest at High Table. The apparent cause is eating nuts despite a known allergy. However the college's Master suspects foul play. He invites Simon Harrison, a formerly brilliant biology student who is condemned to work as a Health and Safety Executive, to investigate the suspicious death. At the same time, Zoe Redmond, a philosophy graduate and Simon's former girlfriend, loses her job as political sketch-writer on a national newspaper and is forced to freelance. Her first job is covering the aftermath of Devanti's death, which brings her back together with both Simon, whom she left for Devanti on the eve of Simon's final undergraduate exam, and her tutor Patricia, who was also, it emerges, one of Devanti's conquests. Her re-appearance opens old wounds for Simon, who drank himself into oblivion when she left him, leaving him in no condition for a final exam, and resulting in him failing to get the first-class honours degree that would have ensured his continued academic career.
The plot thickens as the Master himself dies, and the various fellows, including the Machiavellian history don Gilbert Devlin, compete to be his replacement. Meanwhile the list of people who might have wanted Peter Devanti dead keeps growing. Nearly everyone connected with the college had a reason to hate Devanti or want him removed, including anyone with ambition to be Master, since Devanti himself was the obvious candidate to succeed. Most of the female characters had affairs with and were abandoned by Devanti, including Zoe and Patricia. Even the Bursar has been wounded by Devanti, as his sole academic venture was plagiarized by the television historian before its official publication.
A year after the events of Series 1, Simon and Zoe are living together in Cambridge, intending to marry. Zoe is now working for a "red top" tabloid newspaper. Simon is initially out of work, but is soon awarded a Fellowship in "Forensic Science and Criminology" by Gilbert, now the Master of the college. Ian Butterworth, a brilliant (if pedantic and intolerably smug) English student, apparently commits suicide by hanging himself after accusing another student of plagiarism. Both students were supervised by Dr. Roisin McDade, the Fellow in English. Simon is not convinced. Meanwhile Bernard, the Bursar is trying to reorganise the college to be more financially viable and relevant to the modern world. The Dean tries to engineer a revolution and abolish the post of Master, but is masterfully "shafted" as Gilbert, the Master, puts it.
Note: in the second series Zoe's last name is changed to "Templeton".
- Gilbert Devlin, Fellow in History and later Master — Geoffrey Palmer
- The Dean — Michael Maloney
- Simon Harrison, biology graduate turned Health and Safety Executive bureaucrat — Samuel West
- Zoe Redmond (renamed Zoe Templeton in Series 2), philosophy graduate turned journalist, and Simon's former girlfriend — Sharon Small
- Bernard, the College Bursar — Jonathan Coy
- Written by Mark Tavener
- Producer Dawn Ellis
- Patricia, Fellow in Philosophy — Rebecca Front
- The Master — Hugh Dickson
- Peter Devanti, heard posthumously through excerpts of his television programmes — Nicholas Boulton (actor)