The Good Life is a British sitcom that aired on BBC1 from 1975 to 1978. It was written by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde. In 2004, it came 9th in Britain's Best Sitcom.
The Good Life
was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey as a vehicle for Richard Briers
, the only cast member famous beforehand. Bob Larbey had just reached 40, and this got him and Esmonde thinking how this was a milestone for some people, and The Good Life
was soon born. The writers decided to make the neighbours old friends rather than enemies, thus creating more comedy as their friendship was tried to the limit.
When it came to casting, Peter Bowles was originally asked to play the role of Jerry, but was unavailable so had to decline. He would later star opposite Penelope Keith in To the Manor Born. Hannah Gordon was also thought of to play Barbara, but she'd recently played a similar role so they decided against the idea. Esmonde and Larbey chose Felicity Kendal and Penelope Keith after seeing them perform on stage together in The Norman Conquests. The programme was filmed in the North London suburb of Northwood, despite being set in Surbiton, Surrey (now in Greater London) The house used for Tom and Barbara's had to be returned to its prior condition after filming, and livestock removed overnight.
On his 40th birthday, Tom Good gives up his job as a draughtsman
in a company that makes plastic
toys for breakfast cereal
packets as he is no longer able to take his job seriously. Their house is fully paid for, so he and his wife Barbara make a decision to live a sustainable
and self-sufficient lifestyle
while staying in their beloved home in The Avenue, Surbiton
. In pursuit of this good life
, they dig up their front and back gardens and convert them into allotments
, growing soft fruit
. They introduce chickens
(Pinky and Perky
) a goat
(Geraldine) and a cockerel
). They generate their own electricity
, using methane
from animal waste, and they even attempt to make their own clothes. They also work at selling or bartering
surplus crops for essentials which they cannot make themselves. They try to cut their monetary requirements to the minimum with varying success.
Their actions horrify their kindly but conventional next-door neighbours, Margo and Jerry Leadbetter. Originally, Margo and Jerry were intended to be minor characters, but their relationship with one another and with the Goods soon became an essential element of every episode. Under the influence of the Goods' homemade wine called "peapod burgundy", their mutual, intermingled, attractions for one another become apparent. Both couples are childless.
Tom had a lack of ambition that meant, despite his skill as a draughtsman, he would not rise any further where he worked. Becoming self-sufficient was entirely his idea, but Barbara was willing to go along. Tom had determination to succeed at self-sufficiency, and was mostly very cheerful; his constant jokes often annoyed Margo, he frequently whistled the opening bars of Over the Rainbow
and he had a childish side to him. Tom was, however, obstinate and sometimes pigheaded. During the few times that he became pessimistic about a situation, Barbara became the optimist.
Barbara was a normal, middle-class housewife before they went self-sufficient. While she sometimes wilted under Tom's determined and dominant nature, her sharp tongue put her on an equal footing with him. She was in many ways the 'heart' of the enterprise, whilst Tom's engineering 'brain' designs and builds what they need. Of the two, she endured far more yearnings for the lifestyle and luxuries they previously enjoyed, but her own determination to succeed, along with Tom's single-minded persuasion, dampened these thoughts.
Jerry worked for JJM
, having joined on the same day as Tom. Through cunning and good self-promotion, rather than particular talent, he rose into the ranks of senior management
. As the series progressed, he moved to within striking distance of the managing director
's job. He was initially convinced that the go-it-alone attempt would fail, and on several occasions, he pleaded with Tom to come back to work. However, he eventually came to appreciate the strength of character it has taken for Tom to "leave the system". He was somewhat henpecked at home but had the strength to put his case across when sufficiently compelled to do so.
Margo, with her stunted sense of humour, was totally unable to understand her neighbours' new lifestyle, but their long friendship was important to her, so she learned to tolerate their lifestyle. Margo Sturgess, as she then was, was bullied at school for having no sense of humour. Something of a social climber, staunchly Conservative
and unafraid to challenge anyone who gets on her nerves, Margo may have been a snob but also had a heart of gold. She involved herself with organisations such as the Pony Club
and the Music Society
, always wishing to play the lead role. Some viewers see this attitude as a precursor to Hyacinth Bucket
in Keeping Up Appearances
, although Margo was at least occasionally made aware of her faults by the others, including her husband — something Hyacinth never experienced — and was not afraid to be apologetic when she was informed she had done wrong.
Andrew and Felicity
Andrew, "Andy" or "Sir", was the Managing Director of JJM
. He did not seem to know anything about Tom while he worked there (Mr Ummm of the Forth Floor
), but once Tom left, Andy became desperate to bring Tom back. His wife, Felicity, was featured less but was much more relaxed than her husband. She is one of the few characters to support Tom and Barbara throughout and believes that just trying to be self-sufficient is exciting enough. She also once said, "I wanted to do something exciting when I was young, and then I met Andrew and that was the end of that." They had one son, unseen, called Martin. Andrew always calls Tom and Barbara "Tim and Fatima", making out that he did not remember their real names. However, in the episode Anniversary
, he reveals he does know their names but pretends to forget as it is an old trick to put people at a disadvantage.
Two characters are frequently mentioned but unseen. Miss Mountshaft is the dictatorial leading light of the Music Society that Margo belongs to and is frequently at odds with her. Mrs Dooms-Paterson is an equally dictatorial acquaintance of Margo and member of the Pony Club, who is said to be incredibly overweight.
The Good Life
aired for four series and two specials from 4 April 1975
to 10 June 1978
. The final episode, When I'm Sixty-Five
, was a Royal Command Performance
in front of The Queen
, The Duke of Edinburgh
and senior BBC management. The cast and crew were presented to The Queen and Prince Philip after the recording. The episode was originally broadcast in a 45 minute slot with footage either side of the 30 minute episode showing the Royal Party entering and exiting.
Two novelisations of The Good Life
were written, both by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey. The first, simply entitled The Good Life
was published in 1976 by Penguin Books
, and this novelised the first series. The second book, titled More of The Good Life
, was published in 1977 also by Penguin, and featured three episodes from series two and four episodes from series three.
In the United States The Good Life
was retitled Good Neighbors
, to avoid confusion with a short-lived American sitcom of the same name, and was shown by most PBS
stations across the country starting in the early 1980s. By the late 1980s it was rarely seen but returned to PBS stations after the release of select episodes on VHS
by CBS/Fox Video
After The Good Life
After the success of The Good Life
, the three cast members who had not been famous beforehand were quickly given their own "vehicles", that were commissioned by the then Head of Light Entertainment and producer of The Good Life
, John Howard Davies
. Felicity Kendal, who had become something of a sex symbol with her tomboy character, often wearing wellington boots
on the show, starred in Solo
and The Mistress
, Penelope Keith starred in To the Manor Born
and Paul Eddington starred in Yes Minister
. Richard Briers later starred in the popular Ever Decreasing Circles
In 2003, the BBC broadcast a mockumentary entitled Life Beyond the Box: Margo Leadbetter, describing Margo's life since the series had finished, although the original actors appear only in archive footage. In 2007, Briers and Kendal were reunited in 2007 on ITV1 series Thats What I Call Television in a mock up of the Goods' kitchen.
There are many organic gardening and self-sufficiency movements within the UK who continue to this day to claim that The Good Life was inspirational and influenced their own lifestyle changes.
In popular culture
The Good Life
features in an episode of The Young Ones
" where Vyvyan (played by Adrian Edmondson
) rips apart the title page after the first 10 seconds of the opening credits of this show while giving negative outbursts about it.
The complete series of The Good Life
is available on DVD (Region 2, UK). The series is also available on DVD in the US (Region 1) under the title Good Neighbors
All four series have been released in their entirety in Australia (Region 4). The series 4 release (on 2 DVDs) also contains an interview with Richard Briers as well as the Royal Command Performance episode.