KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. (1990-1995) WRITTEN BY ROY CLARKE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY HAROLD SNOAD. STARRING PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE, CLIVE SWIFT, JOSEPHINE TEWSON, JUDY CORNWELL, GEOFFREY HUGHES, MARY MILLAR, SHIRLEY STELFOX, JEREMY GITTINS, MARION BARRON AND DAVID GRIFFIN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘It’s my sister Violet, the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony…!’
‘The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!’
‘She’ll sing at me, I know she will…!’
‘Coffee in ten minutes, Elizabeth…!’
‘Mind the pedestrian, Richard!’
This is one of the best British sitcoms ever made. It’s right up there with FAWLTY TOWERS and ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES for sheer brilliance and terrific writing. I was thrilled to find the complete box-set containing a whopping forty episodes (FAWLTY TOWERS only ever made twelve, lol) and three fifty-minute Christmas specials. My kids and I have been watching these at the weekend since the summer started, and it’s brought us together like you wouldn’t believe.
Hyacinth Bucket- pronounced ‘Bouquet,’ if you please, under pain of death- is Britain’s most snobbish and house-proud middle-aged housewife. She’s the world’s most enthusiastic social climber, desperate to prove her social superiority to herself and others.
Her house could be featured in HOMES AND GARDENS, it’s so clean and sparkling and stylish. Her candlelight suppers are the talk of the town, and as for her waterside suppers which include riparian entertainment, well, even the characters in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS couldn’t manage it quite so nicely.
Her Royal Doulton china with the hand-painted periwinkles is the envy of all England, and if you phone this lady up looking for a No. 41 with rice and beansprouts, you’d better be aware that you’re calling her on her slim-line pearl-white telephone with last number redial facility and ‘within the precincts of a vicar,’ so you’d just better watch out, that’s all…!
Her long-suffering husband Richard Bouquet- Dickie Bucket as was, before he met the wife- has terrible trouble filling his days now that he’s rather reluctantly taken early retirement. Every activity in which he engages has to be devised or at the very least supervised by his wife, who would almost certainly tidy him away in a cupboard when she’s not using him, if she could get away with it.
He can do the garden, but he has to look like he’s enjoying it, which would imply to anyone watching that they could easily afford a gardener, only Richard enjoys gardening so much he prefers to do it himself, see? Hyacinth is most dreadfully worried that the neighbours will see Richard gardening with a miserable face and think he’s being forced to do it because they’re too poor to… Well, you get it, don’t you…?
Richard has marched to Hyacinth’s tune since they were married. He’s completely under the thumb of his high maintenance wife, who regularly requires driving to stately homes to hob-nob with the big nobs, to travel agents to pick up brochures for the most expensive holidays they have on offer (they don’t have to GO on the holiday; all that matters is that people think they can AFFORD to go!) and into the countryside to look for a holiday home. Poor Richard lives in fear of Hyacinth’s spending too much, which she nearly always does, as he’s utterly unable to put his foot down on any subject under the sun.
Elizabeth from next door is a bag of nerves in Hyacinth’s pristine showhouse. She’s so terrified of spilling her coffee on the lovely perfect furniture that it becomes a running gag that she does exactly this in every episode.
Her brother Emmett, who is living with Elizabeth now he’s divorced, tells his sister to refuse to go next door when the call comes from Hyacinth. Elizabeth snorts in justifiable derision. You try saying no to her, she tells her brother. She never listens!
Emmett finds this out the hard way. You really don’t say no to Hyacinth, who would climb over you in her highly polished court shoes to get to a local celebrity or councillor or a minor aristocrat.
When Hyacinth wants a part in Emmett’s ‘Twenties musical THE BOYFRIEND, which calls for slim young women to play flappers in sheath dresses, feathers and heels, he’ll find out just how determined she can be. ‘Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…!’
Hyacinth is immensely proud of her seldom-seen sister Violet, who was fortunate enough to marry Bruce, a rich turf accountant, and now she has the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony. Never mind that Bruce is at the very least a transvestite and quite possibly bisexual or even homosexual into the bargain. Violet must keep her marriage vows, if only for the sake of the Mercedes…!
Hyacinth loves all her family, but maybe she’d quite like to tidy away the Daisy-and-Onslow branch, purely for cosmetic reasons, you understand? Her sister Daisy- not the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony!- is married to Onslow, a self-confessed bone-idle slob in a vest who spends his days in an armchair swilling beer and watching telly.
Daisy, a hopeless romantic who spends her time devouring Mills & Boons, still finds Onslow attractive (which he definitely is; he exudes a distinct air of sweaty, hairy masculinity), but he seems terrified at the idea of entering into any intimacies with his wife. He’ll even get out of bed before noon to do the garden just to get out of a romantic interlude with a disappointed Daisy.
He’s a bit of an enigma, is Onslow. You might be forgiven for judging him on appearances and thinking him as thick as a short plank, but he occasionally lets slip the fact that he’s actually a deep philosophical thinker with a penchant for the Open University and big thick books about Quantum Physics. No wonder Daisy can’t get enough of him after all these years.
Rose, the attractive unmarried sister with the heart of pure gold, lives with Onslow and Daisy and has had her share of husbands. Always someone else’s, unfortunately. She’s been hurt in love many times but she never gives up. If a Mr. Blenkinsop fails to give satisfaction, well, there’s always a Mr. Halliwell waiting round the next corner.
Played in the first series only by Shirley Stelfox (Edna from Emmerdale) and from then on by the sadly now deceased Mary Millar, the highly strung and over-emotional Rose often feels in need of spiritual guidance, in which case the obvious person to go to is the dishy local Vicar, Michael.
He’s almost as afraid of the man-mad, short-skirted Rose as he is of ‘the Bucket woman,’ as he and his sensible, no-nonsense lady wife call her. His wife is aware of her husband’s good looks and charm and would prefer to keep him out of the clutches of all and any neighbourhood floozies, if you don’t mind.
Daddy, the ancient paterfamilias of Hyacinth, Rose, Daisy and Violet’s branch of the family, lives with Onslow and Daisy. Hyacinth would be happy to have him at her house, of course, except for the fact that he leaves such hard-to-remove stains.
She pops round frequently, though, to make sure that her sisters haven’t lost him or left him to wander off to Africa on his own. He’s usually easy enough to find, though. When he’s not renting out his bed- and issuing a receipt too, by Jove!- to a Mr. Mawsby and then going walkabout, that is.
Daddy, who has a keen eye for the ladies and is not above chasing them while naked on a bicycle, fought in World War Two and he sometimes continues to fight in it fifty years later, in his gas-mask and with his bayonet to hand. Don’t bother trying to get in the house when Daddy’s on duty. He has orders to defend it to the last man…!
Hyacinth is inordinately proud of her never-seen son, Sheridan, who’s off at University majoring in needlework and rooming with his ‘friend,’ Tarquin. He only phones his Mummy to get her to ask Daddy for money, but Hyacinth is always thrilled to hear from him anyway.
A conspiracy of sympathy for Richard, the browbeaten husband, exists amongst Emmett, Elizabeth, Daisy, Onslow, Rose and the Vicar, a sympathy which Richard is only too eager to encourage. He stands up to Hyacinth just once, in the episode in which she demands that Richard forcefully evict a man from a telephone box just because ‘our Hyacinth’ wants to make a call. She nearly has a fit, it’s so very out of character for him.
‘Our Hyacinth’ can be quite formidable when she wants to be. Just ask the nervy postman (‘Where’s my invitation to the Lord Mayor’s garden party?’), who never used to be nervy before he met Hyacinth, or any tradesman calling to the door who’s asked to remove his shoes before entering the house because she’s just had her herringbone re-lacquered, if you please.
And God help you if you have the temerity to brush up against her walls! She can be a bit of an old battleaxe at times, but her heart’s in the right place. In a genuine antique Waterford crystal glass tumbler on top of the display case with the polished walnut doors. God bless her and all who sail in her.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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