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by Bamber Gascoigne

Leif Panduro (1923-1977)


Danish dramatist and novelist, whose work combined satiric humor with pessimistic view of the world. Leif Panduro gained in the 1960s and 1970s a central position in Danish literature. He often depicted young rebels and middle-aged neurotics, who were in conflict with the established society. Panduro also wrote several scripts for television, radio, and film. Often characterized as a kind of national psychotherapist, his TV dramas penetrated deep into the consciousness of the audience.

"But just as the old man realized that there was no road back, and just as his life loomed up before him like a huge question mark, something happened that projected him out into the Denmark he had so futilely sought. It is not so astounding as it sounds. Every physician can relate instances in which persons marked for death live on long after they should have died." (in One of Our Millionaires Is Missing, translated by Carl Malmberg, 1967, p. 122)

Leif Panduro was born Leif Thormod Petersen in Frederiksberg, near Copenhagen. His childhood was traumatic: his parents separated shortly after he was born and he spent times in children's home, before he moved into the home of his aunt. Anne Johanne, Panduro's mother, was confined to an institution for a long period after the divorce. When German occupied Denmark during World War II, Panduro supported the Resistance movement – his father, Aage Petersen, sympathized the Nazis, and was killed in 1944. Panduro himself was wounded in May 1945 in Copenhagen.

Upon finishing dental school in 1947, Panduro married Esther Larsen, whom he had met at the school. They then moved to Sweden, where he practiced dentistry in Borås and Osby until returning to Denmark. Between 1956 and 1962 he worked as a school dentist in Esbjerg. Panduro had already began to write in Osby as a form of therapy but from 1965 he devoted himself entirely to writing. In 1976 he was elected member of the Danish Academy. His last years Panduro spent in Fredriksværk on the island of Sjælland, where he led a very regular life. Once a week, on a certain day, he visited the local public library. With his wife Esther he bicycled on sunny afternoons to the beach and had a swim. After writing Sunday columns for some years, Panduro gave it up, saying that he got tired of always having to have an opinion. Panduro died at the age of 53 on January 16, 1977, in Asserbo. He received many prizes including the Critic's Prize for 1963, the Danish Academy Literature Prize in 1971 and the Holberg Medal in 1971.

Panduro made his literary debut with Historien om Ambrosius (1956), a radio play produced by Radio Denmark. His first novel, Av, min guldtand (1957), was partly autobiographical about a dentist – dentists appeared also in several other book.

"Plan. Der er Brøns' standardudtryck. Se at få plan over jeres tilværelse, si'r han altid. Mennesket adskiller sig fra dyrene derved, at det kan planlægge. Det lyder da af noget!" (in Rend mig i traditionerne, 1958)

Rend mig i traditionerne (1958, Kick Me in the Traditions), a story about the difficulties of puberty, was written in the spirit of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. The protagonist in the humorous novel is a young boy, David, who escapes from school. He is confined in a mental hospital due to his unyielding attitude towards the society – like Holden Caulfied he refuses to conform himself to its rules and regulations. "When David makes it clear to the reader that the story he is telling is . . . directed at a deaf-mute . . . Panduro appears to be emphasisising the impossibility of a communication that is both authentic and capable of bridging the generation gap between the child and the man." ('Books of Innocence and Experience. Holden Caulfield’s Scandinavian Brotherhood' by Camilla Storskog, in Bridges to Scandinavia, edited by A. Meregalli and Camilla Storskog, 2016, 193)

De uanstændige (1960) was set during the years of German occupation of Denmark in World War II. Also the film Hvad med os? (1963) dealt with the occupation through the themes of guilt and obsession. The protagonist, Martin, is haunted by his memories of his participation in the murder of a Nazi collaborator. At the end he is killed by his wartime acquaintances, who want to forget the past. In Øgledage (1961, Saurian Days), a monologue novel, Panduro used modernistic narrative technique. It is considered his most ambitious work of ficion and explored the psychological problems of youth. Saurians in the story represent repressed elements in society and in the individual.

Like Villy Sørensen, Panduro wrote on the disintegration of the bourgeois world from a humanistic point of view. "When Panduro opts for exploring conflicts between people rather than between classes, and yet places his thematics within the bourgeois class, his purpose is probably to show that human problems resist the benefits of social progress." ('Leif Panduro' by Poul Houe, in A History of Danish Literature, edited by Sven H. Rossel, 1993, p. 459) The later novels dealt with demands of conformity in the lives of middle-aged heroes. Panduro's protagonists, who are tied to their past, have difficulties with their commitments, the outside world, and the younger generation. They try to find a way out of their crisis with different choices and ways of being. Martin Fern, a forty-year-old man, loses his memory in Fern fra Danmark (1963) and refuses to accept the role he is offered. Vejen til Jylland (1966), translated into English as One of Our Millionaires Is Missing, told about a rich Danish-American, who returns to his native country.

In Fejltagelsen (1964) the paranoid Marius Berg developes a severe hypochondria. Healthy friend Hilmer is too normal. In Den gale man Edvard Morner, a bank manager, rejects all human emotions. Daniel from Daniels anden verden (1970), who has a fear of becoming insane, finds salvation in the meeting with the young, schizophrenic Laila. Farvel, Thomas (1968) was a story of a man who loses his own identity when he is abandoned by his wife. Paduro's last novel, Høfeber, came out in 1975.

Panduro's early one-act plays, which were produced by provincial repertory theatres, provided an alternative to the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. These works, Kufferten (1962, The Suitcase) and Kannibaler i Kaelderen (1962, Cannibals in the Basement), show the influence of  Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco.

In the 1970s Panduro had became one of the most successful Scandinavian dramatists. He gave name to the so-called "Panduro formula" which has been described "as a serious approach to telling realist, mainstream stories with a social-psychological core based on principles of classical narration." (Writing and Producing Television Drama in Denmark: From The Kingdom to The Killing by Eva Novrup Redvall, 2013, p. 43) Though his central themes were defects of the modern welfare state and the conflict between normal and abnormal, Panduro's approach to his subjects was not political – his dialogue suggested rather than clearly stated arguments. As a social critic Panduro often taunted norms generally shared by the audience. Rundt om Selma (1971, Around Selma), Panduro's most pessimistic play, depicted the failure of the whole middle-class way of life.

Between 1963 and 1977 Panduro wrote twelve television plays. I Adams verden (1973, In Adam's World) and Louises hus(1974, Louise's House) are considered among the best Scandinavia. By the time Panduro wrote his final plays for the TV theatre, "the aesthetics of a single room" had been abandoned to create visually and emotionally compelling television drama. Et godt liv (1970, A Good Life), directed by Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt and starring Louis Miehe-Renard  and Lily Weiding, belongs to one of Panduro's most beloved TV movies. In the story a middle-aged owner of a shoe factory comes to understand that "a good life" is not what he had thought it would be.

For further reading: Panduro og tredivernes drøm by Jørgen E. Tiemroth (2021); 'Books of innocence and experience. Holden Caulfield’s Scandinavian Brotherhood' by Camilla Storskog, in Bridges to Scandinavia, edited by A. Meregalli (2016); Writing and Producing Television Drama in Denmark: From The Kingdom to The Killing by Eva Novrup Redvall (2013); 'Panduro, Leif,' in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Volume 3, edited by Steven R. Serafin (1999): 'Leif Panduro' by Poul Houe, in A History of Danish Literature, edited by Sven H. Rossel (1993); Leif Panduro: en biografi by John Chr. Jørgensen (1987); A History of Scandinavian Literature by Sven H. Rossel (1982); 'Panduro, Leif' by S.H.R. [Sven H. Rossel], in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Writers, edited by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); 'The King's New Clothes. The Irreverent Portrayal of Royalty in the Works of Leif Panduro and Finn Søeborg' by Hugus, Frank, in Scandinavian Studies, LI (1979); Den gale kærlighed: Motiver i Leif Panduros forfatterskab by Bodil Wamberg (1978); 'Mensch und Gesellschaft in Leif Panduros Dramatik' by Gabriele Sokoll, in 20th Century Drama in Scandinavia, ed. J. Wrede et al. (1979); Leif Panduro: romaner, noveller, journalistik by Birgitte Hesselaa (1976); Leif Panduro - radio, film, teater, TV by John Chr. Jørgensen (1973)

Selected works:

  • Historien om Ambrosius, 1956
  • Av, min guldtand, 1957
  • Rend mig i traditionerne, 1958
    - Kick Me in the Traditions (tr. Carl Malmberg, 1961, reissued in 1985)
    - Film adaptation 1977, prod. by Det Danske Filminstitut, dir. Edward Fleming, featuring Henrik Koefoed, Karin Wedel, Bodil Kjer, Niels Hinrichsen, Hans Rostrup
  • De uanstændige, 1960
  • Øgledage, 1961
  • Harry og kammertjeneren, 1961 (with Bent Christensen)
    - Film adaptation dir. Bent Christensen, featuring Osvald Helmuth, Ebbe Rode, Gunnar Lauring
  • Kufferten, 1962 (The Suitcase)
  • Kannibaler i Kaelderen, 1962 (Cannibals in the Basement)
  • Fern fra Danmark, 1963 (Fern from Denmark)
  • En af dagene, 1963 (One of the Days)
    - TV play dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, featuring Erik Paaske, Jørgen Ryg, Axel Strøbye
  • Hvad med os?, 1963
    - Film: Epilogue, dir. Henning Carlsen, featuring Erno Müller, Maud Berthelsen, Buster Larsen, Preben Neergaard
  • Støvsugerbanden, 1963
    - Film dir. Bent Christensen, featuring Henrik Bentzon, Clara Pontoppidan, Gunnar Lauring, Agnes Rehni
  • Fejltagelsen, 1964 (The Mistake)
  • Den gale mand, 1965
  • Lollipop, og andre spil, 1966 (Lollypop and Other Plays)
  • Naboerne, 1966
    - Film dir. Bent Christensen, featuring Ebbe Rode, Hanne Borchsenius, John Price, Grethe Sønck, Peter Steen
  • Vejen til Jylland, 1966
    - One of Our Millionaires Is Missing (tr. Carl Malmberg, 1967)
  • Farfar till häst, 1966 (Grandfather on Horseback)
    - TV play dir. Hans Abramson, featuring Morgan Andersson, Gösta Ekman, Frej Lindqvist, Catrin Westerlund
  • I stykker, 1966 (In Pieces)
    - TV play prod. by Danmarks Radio, dir. Leon Feder
  • Ka' de li østers, 1967 (Do You Like Oysters?; with Bent Christensen)
    - TV series, prod. ASA, dir. by Ebbe Langberg, cast: Pouel Kern, Erik Paaske, Bjørn Watt-Boolsen, Karin Nellemose, Birgitte Bruun
  • Holdningsløse tidende, 1967-1975 (radio series)
  • Farvel, Thomas, og andre TV-spil, 1968
  • Karlsens kvarter, 1968-1976 (Karl's Quartet; radio series)
  • En af dagene, 1968
  • Rastrgani, 1968
    - TV drama, prod. Televizija Zagreb (Yugoslavia), dir. by Mario Fanelli
  • Kys til højre og venstre, 1969
    - Film dir. Ole Roos, based on Jens Gielstrup's novel, featuring Peter Bonke, Jens Østerholm, Birgitte Bruun, Poul Reichhardt
  • Et godt liv, 1970
    - TV  film, dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, starring Louis Miehe-Renard, Lily Weiding, Kirsten Peüliche, Bent Mejding
  • Daniels anden verden, 1970 (The Other World of Daniel)
  • Tju-hej!, 1970 (with Johannes Møllehave)
    - TV comedy series, featuring Christian Arhoff, Mime Fønss, Helle Hertz, Anna-Louise Lefèvre, Per Pallesen, Willy Rathnov
  • Bella, og Et godt liv: To TV-spil, 1971
  • Farvel, Thomas, 1971
    - TV play 1968, prod. by Danmarks Radio, dir. Henning Ørnbak
  • Vinduerne, 1971
  • Hjemme hos William, 1971 (At Home with William)
    - TV play 1971, prod. by Danmarks Radio, dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, starring Henning Moritzen, Lykke Nielsen and Finn Storgaard
  • Rundt om Selma, 1971 (Around Selma)
    - TV play 1971, prod. by Danmarks Radio, dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, featuring Astrid Villaume as Selma
  • Selma, William, og Benny: Tre TV-spil, 1972
  • Amatørerne, 1972 (The Amateurs)
  • Den store bandit, 1973
  • I Adams verden, 1973 (In Adam's World)
    - TV play 1973, prod. by Danmarks Radio, dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, featuring Preben Neergaard as Adam
  • Den ubetænksomme elsker, 1973 (The Thoughtless Lover)
    - Film 1982, dir. Claus Ploug, screenplay by Claus Ploug, featuring Dick Kaysø, Karen-Lise Mynster, Pia Vieth, Ghita Nørby
  • Louises hus, 1974
    - TV play 1977, dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, featuring Poul Bundgaard, Louis Miehe-Renard, Preben Neergaard, Ghita Nørby
  • Den beste af alle verdener, 1974 (The Best of All Worlds)
  • Bertram og Lisa, og Anne og Paul: To TV-spil, 1974
    - TV play Bertram og Lisa, 1975, dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, featuring Peter Steen, Ghita Nørby, Jens Okking; TV play Anne og Paul, 1975, dir. Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt, featuring Frits Helmuth, Lane Lind, Birgit Conradi
  • Høfeber, 1975 (Hay Fever)
    - Film 1991, prod. by Obel Film, dir. Annelise Hovmand, featuring Frits Helmuth, Lisbet Dahl, Kirsten Lehfeldt, Axel Strøbye,
  • Gris på gaflen, 1976
  • Spøgelsestoget, 1976
    - Film dir. Bent Christensen, featuring Dirch Passer, Kirsten Walther, Axel Strøbye, Preben Kaas, Lisbet Dahl
  • Hvilken virkelighed?: Kulturkritiske og selvbiografiske artikler, 1977 (i udvalg ved John Chr. Jørgensen)
  • En by i provinsen, 1977-1980 (A Town in the Provinces; TV police series, dir. Bent Christensen)
  • Bella, 1980
    - TV play prod. by Danmarks Radio, dir. Henning Ørnbak
  • Den ufuldendte dommer, 1986 (ed. John Chr. Jørgensen)
  • Brev fra Leif, 1986
  • Bare det hele var anderledes: noveller fra 1950’erne, 1987 (efterskrift ved John Chr. Jørgensen)
  • Leif Panduro, 1988
  • Et ordentligt kaos: tekster, 1994
  • Uro i forstæderne – og andre noveller, 1995
  • Øgledage, 2014 (afterword by Klaus Rifbjerg)
  • Den bedste af alle verdener: Noveller i udvalg, 2018

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