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.