Wednesday, 25 May 2016

399 To The Manor Born

First  viewed  :  30  September   1979

After  the  phenomenally  popular  The  Good  Life  came  to  an  end  in  1978  the  search  was  on for  suitable  vehicles  for  all  four  of   its  stars. For  Penelope  Keith  it  came  in  the  form  of  To  the  Manor  Born, the  epitome  of  the  Sunday  night  sitcom.

She  played  Audrey  Fforbes-Hamilton   a   recent  widow  forced  out  of  the  family  manor  house by  her  husband's  debts  and  forced  to  downsize  to  the  gatehouse  with  only  faithful  family   retainer  Brabinger  ( John  Rudling ). To  make  matters  worse  the  estate  is  purchased  by  suave food  millionaire  Richard  DeVere   who  it  transpires  is  a  second  generation  Czech  immigrant with  an  embarrassing  mother  Mrs  Polouvica  ( Daphne  Heard ) in  tow  to  prick  his  social pretensions. Richard  finds  he  can't  enjoy his  new  estate   without  bumping  into  his  awkward neighbour  and  her  friend  Marjorie  ( Angela  Thorne )  at  every  turn.

To  the  Manor  Born  had  no  pretensions  to  being  a  kitchen  sink  drama. How  Audrey  supported  herself  and  Brabinger  and  what  enabled  Marjorie  to  have  so  much  free  time  to  lavish  on  her  friend's  affairs  was  never  really  explained. Nevertheless  it  was   a  massive  success; Keith  appeared  to  have  brought  The  Good  Life's  audience  with  her. I'm  not  sure  how  much  of  it  I  actually  watched;  I  was  never  a  great  fan   and  details  of  individual  storylines  now  escape  me. It  lasted  for  three  series,  at  the  end  of  which  the  pair  got  married. There  was  a  one-off  episode  in  2007  but  that  passed  me  by.  

It  proved  to  be  the  high  watermark  of  Keith's  career. Although  Audrey  was  gentry  on  the  way  down  rather  than  a  social  climber  like  Margot  Leadbetter, the   two  characters  were  pretty  similar  and  her  image  as  a  well-spoken,  bossy,  harridan  became  fixed  in  the  public's  mind. A  lot  has  been  said  about  Margot  being  an  unwitting  herald  for  Thatcher  and  conversely,  perhaps  Keith's  popularity   waned   as  Thatcher  became  a  more  polarising  figure.  When  her  next  sitcom,  Sweet  Sixteen in  1983   bombed , she  took  herself  off  to  ITV  and  four  separate  sitcoms  which,  while  not  disasters,  failed  to  make  the  same  impact. She  returned  to  the  BBC  in  1995  to  make  Next  of  Kin   but  when  that  was  axed  two  years  later  largely  forsook  TV  in  favour  of  the  theatre ( apart  from  the  aforementioned  2007  special ). In  recent  years  she  has  turned  to  presenting  rather  than  acting.    


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