Noble House (miniseries)

Noble House is an American action-drama television miniseries that was produced by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, and broadcast by NBC in four segments on February 21–24, 1988. Based on the 1981 novel of the same name by James Clavell, it features a large cast headlined by Pierce Brosnan as business tycoon Ian Dunross and was directed by Gary Nelson. Due to time restrictions, several of the many subplots from the book were removed.

Noble House
Noble House DVD cover.jpg
North American DVD cover (2008)
Based onNoble House
by James Clavell
Written byEric Bercovici (screenplay)
Directed byGary Nelson
ComposerPaul Chihara
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes4
Executive producerJames Clavell
ProducersEric Bercovici
Frederick Muller
Production locationHong Kong
EditorPeter Holt
Running time376 minutes
Original networkNBC
Picture formatTechnicolor
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseFebruary 21, 1988

This was NBC's second miniseries adaptation of a Clavell novel, the first being 1980's highly successful Shōgun. Both take place in the same fictional universe with Noble House featuring connections to Shōgun and another Clavell work, Tai-Pan.

For the miniseries, the timeframe of the novel was changed; Clavell's original novel takes place in the early 1960s, but the miniseries was updated to the 1980s. The building prominently displayed and used as Struan's is Jardine House.


Despite its impressive history and reputation, the international trading company Struan's (the Noble House of the title) is in trouble. Overextended by the previous management, new tai-pan Ian Dunross (Pierce Brosnan) has had to issue public stock to improve the company's financial standing. Even this, however, has not given him the capital he needs. As a result, he is courting a private investor, American billionaire Linc Bartlett (Ben Masters). Bartlett decides secretly to back Dunross' arch enemy, Quillian Gornt (John Rhys-Davies), who will stop at nothing to destroy Struan's. When Dunross realises that Gornt is suddenly strong enough to ruin the Noble House, he must urgently forge new alliances or reshape ancient ones. He romances Bartlett's second-in-command, Casey Tcholok (Deborah Raffin).

A subplot involves the missing half of an ancient coin. Whoever possesses it may ask any favor of the Tai-Pan. Half the coin is acquired by crime lord "Four Finger" Wu (Khigh Dhiegh), who aims to ask the Tai-Pan to help him smuggle opium.

Wu and Bartlett are killed in a natural disaster. Wu's son redeems his father's stolen half-coin for a highly paid position in the Noble House. Dunross gains access to the Bank of China, whose funding allows him to foil Gornt's scheme. Tcholok becomes head of Bartlett's company, allying it with Struan's.

Differences from the novelEdit

Many of the subplots from the novel were left out of the miniseries to simplify the plot. A significant story arc involving KGB espionage in Hong Kong was deleted as the mini-series aired near the close of the Cold War. A further story line involving visiting UK Members of Parliament was removed, as was another involving a former prisoner of war, which provided a link to Clavell's novel King Rat. In the miniseries, Tip Tok-Toh was changed from a mysterious, unofficial contact of the Bank of China to a good friend of Dunross who often appeared at parties.

Several subplots involving Dunross' family were removed. In the novel, Dunross is married and his wife, eldest daughter, sister, and two brothers-in-law (his wife's brother and his sister's husband) are involved in significant subplots while his youngest daughter, son and a cousin also appear in minor roles. In the mini-series, Dunross is a widower and no family members are mentioned.

The bank run depicted in the mini-series was significantly smaller in scope and significance than that depicted in the novel. Finally, in the novel, Struan's is bailed out by the fictional First Central Bank of New York. Although First Central and its vice-president, Dave Murtagh, a significant character in the novel, are mentioned in the mini-series, they play no role in bailing out the Noble House. The Bank of China assumes this role in return for Dunross arranging the release of captured Chinese police mole, Brian Kwok.

The romance between Dunross and Tcholok is not present in the book, as Dunross was a much older man in the novel than the one portrayed by Brosnan.



Brosnan had signed to play James Bond but been prevented from doing so because of his previous commitment to the Remington Steele television series. This was his first role after Remington Steele.[1]

Clavell said of the adaptation:

I never really want to doctor my work for TV. We had a problem with Noble House, as with most of the books. There are so many subplots and interwoven characters that we had to drop some things. We felt the changes would work well—and I approved it. Eric goes through the book and literally tears out many of the lesser characters. There's no way it can be done otherwise. I hope Noble House will do for Hong Kong what Shogun did for Japan. In my opinion it remains the queen city of Asia and will go on forever despite the changes coming up in the next few years.[2]

Clavell said that production of the mini series was rushed. NBC did not offer to make it until September 1986, and wanted it within 14 months. He said:

Pierce... simply fell into our lap when he couldn't do the 007 job... It was NBC who suggested Masters (as American corporate raider Linc Bartlett). Frankly I'd never heard of him. Raffin (Casey Tcholok, Bartlett's vice president) was the best of the actresses available to us. Casting, especially at this speed, always has a huge element of luck. Later you learn whether your luck was good or bad. If I sound cavalier, I assure you I'm not. It's terribly important to me that this be well received. Miniseries deals for King Rat and Whirlwind are riding on the success or failure of Noble House, which explains my current state of sweaty anticipation.[3]

The budget was $20 million. Filming took place in Hong Kong and North Carolina.[4]


Broadcast in competition with the 1988 Winter Olympics on ABC, the ratings for the program were generally disappointing. The first installment was the 16th most watched prime time television show of the week (27 rating). The last three installments fell into the next week of Nielsen ratings, and the second installment was 22nd (15.9 rating/24 percent audience share), overshadowed by Olympics coverage.[5] Part 3 was ranked 28th (15.0 rating), and the last episode was 20th (16.3 share).[6]


  1. ^ Maksian, George (November 19, 1986). "Brosnan Wins a Noble Prize". Philadelphia Daily News. p. 55.
  2. ^ Davis, Ivor (February 20, 1988). "Clavell Is a Big Winner on the Small Screen". The Globe and Mail. p. 8.
  3. ^ Wisehart, Bob (February 20, 1988). "Japanese Prison Freed His Muse: James Clavell Lived a Lifetime in 3 Years As a POW". Philadelphia Daily News. p. 18.
  4. ^ Hill, Michael E. (February 21, 1988). "Pierce Brosnan; Good Luck, Bad Luck or Joss?". The Washington Post. p. Y10.
  5. ^ Carmody, John (24 February 1988). The TV Column, The Washington Post
  6. ^ (3 March 1988). Snapping NBC's ratings weep was an Olympic feat for ABC, San Bernardino Sun (Associated Press content)

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