Author Christopher Buxton has adapted Prudence and the Red Baron into a five episode TV serial – each episode one hour long.
In 1984, Prudence Box, a young woman whose height and upbringing have distanced her from too many expectations of life, arrives as a teacher in Communist Bulgaria. She is 21 and has just graduated in English and Russian Studies. In the port city of Vardez she encounters all the inconsistencies of Communism in a southern European country.
She is conscientious and happily puts up with the eccentricities and unpredictability of her colleagues. These include the garrulous fizzing Tosho Pishev, who combines verbal imprecision with an over-enthusiasm for synonyms; Osman Aliev, a lover of Betjeman and cucumber sandwiches and Kalinna Kalimanova whose simpering idealism masks ruthless self promotion. They all have to cope with the formidable Deputy Director, Comrade Vassileva. She meets and falls in love with Chavdar Chadurov, the brilliant but spoilt son of a Vardez police chief. Their relationship begins over a table tennis table and leads quickly to an extraordinary courtship ritual involving pig’s hearts.
This follows the development of the relationship against the backdrop of the Communist government’s decision to force name changes on its Turkish speaking minority. Prudence becomes slowly aware of the cruel absurdity of this campaign – particularly after a visit to a nearby town with a large Turkish speaking population. She becomes concerned for Osman and worries that Chavdar is actively involved.
Meanwhile in school a disagreement with Katya brings home the favouritism embedded in the education system. More practically, Christmas is coming and Tosho saves the day with a Siberian goose. Prudence finds Chavdar deeply troubled by recent developments and their love quickly deepens. Rashly they ignore the dangers and when they fail to hide their feelings in public, Chavdar’s father acts to bring about an irrevocable separation.
Prudence has to cope with dashed hopes for the rest of the year, but fortunately her colleagues and pupils provide her with a succession of distractions. She helps in the choice of a first of May slogan. On a school trip to historical Balkan sites, Tosho gets locked out of the hotel and is forced to use a ladder with hilarious consequences.
Away from school, Pru encounters three Roma women and gets new insight into communist society. She gets an unexpected visit from Chavdar’s mother. She encounters Colonel Chadurov in a dark bar and is introduced to the Parrot.
Returning to the UK, she finds her mother in terminal decline and her stepfather anxious that Prudence should not stay too long. She finds work in an English school. As the Berlin Wall falls, she learns that Chavdar has married.
Four years later, a recently divorced Chavdar re-enters Prudence’s life. Despite initial misgivings, her feelings for him are rekindled – particularly after his nose is broken by a pupil’s father at a London bus stop.
She is suspicious of his father’s wealth and new business interests in London but accepts too readily Chavdar’s promises of independence and a bright future for his own import/export company.
They get married at an extraordinary wedding in Bulgaria, where Prudence becomes aware of the absurd anomalies of the new “democracy”. Their honeymoon is curtailed when an important “businessman” is murdered after a falling out with the Parrot.
This opens in the comfortable family home with a series of disturbing telephone calls. Prudence has to cope with these, along with a husband stuck in the toilet with the runs, a demanding baby daughter, and a flapped up Tosho Pishev. Dazed by a series of chickens coming home to roost, Prudence learns that the Parrot has been shot, that her father-in-law is in hiding, that she owns a property in SW3 and that Bulgarian lorries have been stopped by British Customs.
Visiting her new property, Prudence meets her tenant, Lasha Byachova, a dominatrix. When Chavdar is arrested, Prudence has to take drastic action to save her family.