For a country that doesn't exist, Ruritania crops up a great deal. Comedian Tony Hawks goes in search of the truth. He finds himself at Angels costumiers being dressed up in gold braid and meets historian Jeffrey Richards, who explains that Ruritania was invented in 1894 by novelist Anthony Hope for his adventure The Prisoner of Zenda.
Tony is plunged into the swashbuckling world of romance novels and Ivor Novello operetta. He travels the realms of Hollywood for their versions of Ruritania in films such as Roman Holiday, Duck Soup and Prince and the Showgirl, discovering startling truths behind the fantasies. There was a Romanian prince who behaved as badly as Lawrence Olivier's character - but was Audrey Hepburn's princess who gives up the love of an unsuitable man based on truths closer to home?
When it was written, The Prisoner of Zenda captured a middle Europe of British imagination - full of inbred rulers, florid ceremony, intrigue and threats to democracy. Why did these romances become so popular? What do they tell us about the Britain that adored them?
Geographical detective work with foreign correspondent Alan Little places Ruritania in the Balkans. Belgrade born writer, Vesna Goldsworthy joins Tony and Alan in exploring how the Ruritanian image has had a demeaning effect on political relations with eastern Europe that continues into the present.
Tony has his sword, his epaulettes and knows how a Ruritanian hero behaves, he's even learnt a Ruritanian song but does he still want to go there?
This programme may contain swashbuckling.
Produced by Annie Caulfield and Marilyn Imrie
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.