The Pallisers

The Pallisers is a 1974 BBC television adaptation of Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels. Set in Victorian era England with a backdrop of parliamentary life, Simon Raven's dramatisation covers six of Anthony Trollope's novels and follows the events of the characters over two decades.[1]

The Pallisers
GenreCostume drama
Based onNovels by Anthony Trollope
Written bySimon Raven
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes26
Producer(s)Martin Lisemore
Running time50 minutes
Original networkBBC Two
Original release19 January (1974-01-19) 
21 November 1974 (1974-11-21)

The series featured a huge cast of prominent and rising actors.


The series begins with the story of Lady Glencora (Susan Hampshire), fiancée of the dry, aristocratic Plantagenet Palliser (Philip Latham) who will inherit the title of the Duke of Omnium and Gatherum from his uncle (Roland Culver). Although they marry, Lady Glencora still pines for her unsuitable but handsome admirer Burgo Fitzgerald (Barry Justice).

Palliser becomes aware of this situation and takes his wife on a long tour of Europe, even though he had recently been offered the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer, the one political position he craves. While on their grand tour, the newlyweds come to a better understanding, and upon their return to London Glencora becomes an ambitious society hostess.

Whilst Plantagenet succeeds in his political aspirations, Irish barrister Phineas Finn (Donal McCann) is elected to Parliament for the family seat of Loughshane. In London, Finn rises quickly in high society and falls in love with Lady Laura Standish (Anna Massey) who is struggling to maintain her lifestyle after paying off the debts of her brother, Lord Chiltern (John Hallam).

Lady Laura marries Robert Kennedy (Derek Godfrey), a wealthy Scottish MP and Finn is forced to resign after a defeat on the Irish Tenant Right. Lady Laura's marriage collapses and she moves to Germany. Finn spends Christmas with Lady Laura only to be accused of adultery by Kennedy. Finn is later arrested for murder but the Pallisers finance his defence.

Episode synopsis[2][3]

1 to 6

Alice Vavasor cannot decide which man she loves - the upright but boring John Grey or the dashing but unreliable cousin George, whom she turned down once already; Glencora's love for Burgo Fitzgerald and her marriage to Plantagenet Palliser. These episodes cover more or less the ground of Trollope's first Palliser novel, Can You Forgive Her?.

7 to 11

The start of Phineas Finn's political career and love for Lady Laura Kennedy, then Violet Effingham. Just as Phineas screws up his courage to ask Lady Laura to marry him, she forestalls him by telling him she has accepted Finn's fellow parliamentarian Robert Kennedy's proposal of marriage. Finn turns to the beautiful Violet Effingham who is also pursued by her childhood sweetheart and Lady Laura's brother, Lord Chiltern. The Duke of Omnium courts Madame Max Goesler. Covers the events in the second of Trollope's Palliser novels, Phineas Finn.

12 to 19

The Eustace Diamonds disappear and Lizzie Eustace is embroiled in a society scandal. The Duke of Omnium dies and Plantagenet and Lady Glencora inherit the title. Phineas Finn (M.P.) is accused of the murder of a fellow M.P. and Madame Max arrives in Prague to find evidence to prove his innocence. Squeezes into 8 episodes the main events of Trollope's Palliser novels The Eustace Diamonds and Phineas Redux.

20 to 26

Plantagenet Palliser becomes Prime Minister. Lady Glencora becomes a society hostess. It concludes with the death of Glencora, and the story of the marriages of the children. These episodes cover the events of the last two of Trollope's Palliser novels, The Prime Minister and The Duke's Children.

Cast (partial)



Production stretched over 13 months and the series was transmitted at the height of industrial strikes, marked by Three-Day Weeks and power shortages at the start of the year. A sudden general election called for February 1974 resulted in the postponement of the series as it dealt with political storylines heavily featuring the Liberal Party, albeit completely fictional. The series resumed, but a second general election in October 1974 caused further transmission challenges. All this contributed to scheduling difficulties and though the series was meant to have finished in June, the final two episodes didn't go out until November (because of strikes at the BBC).[4]

The series was partly financed by the American Time-Life Films and, in its first presentation in the United States, was the first weekly series of extended length to be screened on pay-television which had previously principally screened films and sport. The then new Home Box Office (HBO) paid a reported $500,000 for a one-year screening license.[5]


The series followed the dramatisation of John Galsworthy's Forsyte cycle of novels in The Forsyte Saga (1967). Both projects share the Victorian time period, the multi-generational narrative and the six-month length of the series. Some writers at the time termed it 'Son of Forsyte', although it did not have the impact of the earlier series.[4]

Reviewing the series in The Daily Telegraph for its rebroadcast, Gerald O'Donovan wrote: "In a world where BBC drama tends to be commissioned in taste-testing dribs and drabs of three or six episodes the mere fact that this is a 26-parter seems to imbue The Pallisers with a relaxed, witty confidence that's hard to find in TV drama now". However, he concluded that "The Pallisers, for all its pleasures, is a bauble left over from more extravagant TV times."[6] The series was re-edited to 22 episodes for its 1970s screenings in the United States on PBS.[7] Neil Clark, writing for The Guardian in 2016, commended this costume dramas welcoming "the return of what I would argue is the best of them all". Clark commented: "The Pallisers stands as a reminder of how satisfying television drama can be when writers, producers and directors concentrate on emotion instead of editing, and don't underestimate their audience."[8]

DVD release

All episodes of The Pallisers are available on DVD in Australia, the United Kingdom and North America.


  1. The Pallisers (1974) at Television Heaven, Accessed 5 February 2018
  2. Anthony Trollope: TV and Radio: The Pallisers Archived 6 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  3. 'The Pallisers' at, Accessed 5 February 2018
  4. Angelini, Sergio (2003–14). "Pallisers, The (1974)]". Screenonline. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  5. Brown, Les (21 October 1975). "Trollope Series Bought by Pay TV". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  6. O'Donovan, Gerald (5 May 2015). "Why can't we make drama like The Pallisers anymore?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  7. Zad, Martie (24 September 2000). "Trollope's The Pallisers Arrives". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  8. Clark, Neil (27 January 2016). "Forget War and Peace – 1970s costume drama The Pallisers is the thing to watch". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
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