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To the Manor Born

To the Manor Born is a British sitcom that aired on BBC1 from 1979 to 1981 and in 2007. Starring Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles, the first 20 episodes and the 2007 Special were written by Peter Spence, the creator, and the 1981 finale by Christopher Bond, the script associate.

In To the Manor Born Penelope Keith, who had become famous for playing Margo Leadbetter in the suburban sitcom The Good Life, plays Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, an upper-class woman who, upon the death of her husband, has to move out of her beloved manor house. The manor is then bought by Richard DeVere, played by Peter Bowles, a nouveau riche millionaire supermarket owner. DeVere and fforbes-Hamilton have a love-hate relationship which is eventually resolved in the 1981 finale, in which they marry. In the 2007 Special they celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

From the first series, the programme proved popular and it received high audience figures for many of its episodes, with one episode being the most watched British television programme, excluding live events, of the 1970s. In 2001, To the Manor Born came 21st in Britain's Best Sitcom, a public poll to find Britain's favourite situation comedy.

Production

Development

Peter Spence first thought of the idea behind To the Manor Born in the early 1970s when he was working for BBC Radio as a gag writer. One of the programmes that Spence wrote for featured a Cockney comedian, who had recently bought a manor house in an English country village. When holding a housewarming party, the comedian invited the previous occupant, a widow who could not afford to keep the house up and had moved to a smaller house in the village. The comedian's account of the lady, and the conversation he had with her, Spence later described as a "perfect description" of Audrey.

A few years later, following the success of The Good Life, Spence was asked by BBC Radio to come up with an idea for a programme to feature Keith. Thinking of Keith's character in The Good Life, Spence had the idea of an upper-class version of Margo Leadbetter, and from the account from the comedian, came up with Audrey fforbes-Hamilton. Instead of a Cockney comedian as the new owner of the manor, Spence decided on an American who sees the manor while in England looking for his roots. The American later discovers he is descended from the fforbes-Hamiltons. This was made into a radio pilot in 1976 with Bernard Braden as the American, but was never broadcast due to the interest to make it into a TV series.

When writing the TV series, Christopher Bond was brought in as the script associate and helped to adapt the series from radio to television. The American character was changed, and the idea of a character who appeared to be an English gentleman but turns out not to be, was thought of. It was then decided that this character needed someone who could reveal his real background, and his mother was created, although it was not until Spence had nearly finished the first series that she was written in from the beginning. The characters of Brabinger and Margery followed soon after. The first episode aired on 30 September 1979, a year after Keith had played Margo Leadbetter for the last time in The Good Life.

Filming

To the Manor Born was filmed on location in Cricket St Thomas, Somerset and in a studio. The Manor, Cricket House, was at the time of the original series owned by the father-in-law of Peter Spence, the show's creator and writer. Some interior scenes were also filmed inside Cricket House. The Old Lodge, which on screen was at the end of the Manor's drive, is in fact about one mile away and called West Lodge. A false gatepost was installed to help the illusion that the two are close together. The 2007 special was, like the original series, filmed on location in Cricket St Thomas in Somerset. This filming took place for about a week starting on 28 October 2007. The studio footage was filmed in front of a live audience at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire on 25 November 2007.

All the episodes were directed by Gareth Gwenlan, who also produced the original series. The 2007 Special was co-produced by Gwenlan and Justin Davies.

Cast

To the Manor Born's cast is led by Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles as Audrey and Richard. The other main cast members in the original series are Angela Thorne, Daphne Heard, John Rudling, Michael Bilton and Gerald Sim. Rudling, who played the butler Brabinger, is absent in the 1979 Christmas special and for much of the second series, being temporarily replaced as butler by Ned. The off-screen reason for this absence was Rudling's ill health. He died in 1983. Peter Bowles had been asked some years before to play Jerry Leadbetter, the husband of Keith's Margo, in The Good Life. Due to prior commitments, Bowles turned down the role, but had he played Jerry, it is unlikely he would have been offered the part of Richard, as Bowles later said, "there's no way I could have played Penelope Keith's screen husband in two separate sitcoms". However, in 1987 Bowles replaced Geoffrey Palmer as Keith's screen husband in the ITV sitcom Executive Stress. Angela Thorne had worked with Keith before when she had played Lady Truscott in a 1977 episode of The Good Life. In the 1990s, Michael Bilton played Basil Makepeace, a main character in the first four series of the sitcom Waiting for God, before his death in 1993. Gerald Sim, who appears as the Rector in To the Manor Born, also played vicars in many other sitcoms including Keeping Up Appearances, Love Hurts and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Aside from the main cast, the original series features many recurring characters, who are either estate workers or members of Audrey's social circle. Celia Imrie, who makes two appearances as Polly, later became famous for her work with Victoria Wood, including a lead role in dinnerladies, as well as lead roles in Kingdom and After You've Gone.

The 2007 Christmas Special features four of the original cast members; Penelope Keith, Peter Bowles, Angela Thorne and Gerald Sim. New characters include Alexander Armstrong as Adam fforbes-Hamilton, Audrey's nephew-by-marriage and godson, Alan David as Emmeridge, Audrey and Richard's outspoken butler, and Michael Cochrane as Archie Pennington-Booth, a neighbouring landowner. While the Rector makes only a brief appearance, the other three original characters are main characters throughout and are credited in the opening credits.

Original series

Main cast

Actor Character
Penelope Keith Audrey fforbes-Hamilton
Peter Bowles Richard DeVere (Bedrich Polouvicki)
Angela Thorne Marjory Frobisher
Daphne Heard Mrs. Maria Polouvicka (Mrs Poo)
John Rudling Brabinger
Michael Bilton Old Ned
Gerald Sim The Rector

Recurring characters

Actor Character
Jonathan Elsom J.J. Anderson
Dennis Ramsden Arnold Plunkett
Betty Tucker Mrs. Beecham
Jayne Lester Linda Cartwright
Daphne Oxenford Mrs. Patterson
Nicholas McArdle Miller
Joyce Windsor Mrs. Dorothy Plunkett
Anthony Sharp Brigadier Lemington OBE
Celia Imrie Polly
John Gleeson Mr. Purvis
Ben Aris Mr. Spalding

2007 Christmas Special

Actor Character
Penelope Keith Audrey DeVere
Peter Bowles Richard DeVere
Angela Thorne Marjory Frobisher
Gerald Sim The Rector
Alexander Armstrong Adam fforbes-Hamilton
Alan David Emmeridge
Michael Cochrane Archie Pennington-Booth

Plot

Original series

To the Manor Born is set in the village of Grantleigh, in Somerset and the nearest town is Marlbury. The series begins with the funeral of Marton fforbes-Hamilton, the Lord of the Manor. Audrey, his widow and cousin, is happy at her husband's death as she now as control of the Grantleigh estate, which her family the fforbes-Hamiltons have controlled for 400 years. Her joy is short-lived though, as her solicitor Arnold Plunkett informs her that Marton was bankrupt and that the Manor will have to be sold to pay off the debts. Audrey tries to buy back the manor at auction, but fails. The new Lord of the Manor is Richard DeVere, a recently-widowed self-made millionaire who started his career on an East End fruit barrow and founded the "Cavendish Foods" supermarket chain, but who to Audrey is simply a "grocer". DeVere brings his domineering mother, who is soon nicknamed Mrs. Poo due to her unpronouceable surname, her full name being Maria Jaroslava Vladimira Martinka Polouvicka, who reveals to a horrified Audrey that they came to Britain in 1939 from Czechoslovakia and Richard, whose real name is Bedrich Polouvicki, is half-Polish and half-Czechoslovakian, with Mrs. Poo being Czechoslovakian and her late husband Lazlo Polish. Mrs. Poo tries hard to fit into country life, but her accent often leads to many mispronunciations and she frequently comes out with sayings from her "old Czechoslovakia". From early on in the series she encourages her son to propose to Audrey.

After leaving the Manor, Audrey moves into the "Old Lodge", at the end of the drive, where she can see most of what goes on at the Manor. Living with her is her elderly and loyal butler, Brabinger, who has worked for the fforbes-Hamiltons' his whole life, and her Beagle Bertie. Audrey's supportive best friend, and a frequent visitor, is the well-meaning Marjory Frobisher, who quickly develops a crush on DeVere. Marjory, who was at school with Audrey, is still a schoolgirl at heart and a committed countryside campaigner. Marjory has no organisational ability, which leads to her being nicknamed "Muddlesome Marj" by some. Despite Marjory's encouragement, Audrey refuses to get a job, saying her only job could be running the Grantleigh estate and doing other public service, which includes her being a magistrate. This means that money is a constant problem. During the second series, Brabinger is away ill and Ned, whose tithe cottage is being renovated by Richard, takes over as butler to Audrey. Ned, a gardener and "outside man", has worked on the estate all his life and finds working indoors difficult to get used to. Other estate staff include the estate foreman Mr. Miller, the estate manager Mr. Spalding and the cook Mrs. Beecham. Another character Polly originally works at the local "Cavendish Foods" store and then at the doctors' surgery, while Linda Cartwright works in the stables and as a domestic. The postman, Mr. Purvis, appears in two episodes.

Other characters include the local Rector, who is very happy when Audrey loses the Manor, and wishes she would leave the area so he could have a bigger say on the running of the Church. The Rector favours Richard, who is frequently generous when it comes to donations to church funds. The village shop is run by Mrs. Patterson, the local gossip who again favours Richard and does not get on with Audrey. The typically English Brigadier Lemington, of the Somerset Rifles, is another local landowner and friend of Audrey's and the Master of Foxhounds and, like Audrey and Marjory, has an interest in nature conservation. Arnold Plunkett and his wife Dorothy are friends of Audrey, while Arnold is also the family solicitor. Grantleigh's local estate agent is J.J. Anderson, of "Anderson and Fish", who appears at Manor parties.

During the course of the three series, Audrey and Richard grow closer. Hostile to each other at the start, they grew to understand and accept each other, as both try to adapt to each other's way. The last two 1981 episodes show Richard having problems at Cavendish, and having to sell the Manor. At the same time, Audrey inherits a cousin's fortune and buys back the Manor. After Audrey proposes, she and Richard marry on 15 October.

2007 Christmas Special

As Richard and Audrey plan to celebrate their silver wedding (25th) anniversary, with both planning a surprise party for the other, Richard confesses to Audrey that he owns "Farmer Tom", a company that has been putting the neighbouring estates out of business. Audrey then leaves him, and stays with Marjory. Richard then tries to think of a way to get her back and goes to the grave of his mother, who died in 1988, for help. He then gets the idea of allowing a rock concert to be held on the estate. When the licence application is up before the Magistrates' Court, Richard changes his mind, in front of a furious Audrey, and says that he does not want the concert held there. However, Audrey still does not forgive him, until the following day, her anniversary, when Marjory leads her to a surprise party organised by Richard.

New characters in the 2007 Christmas Special include Emmeridge, the Manor's outspoken butler, with Brabinger having died some years before, having worked until he died aged 91. Other characters include Adam fforbes-Hamilton, the nephew of Audrey's first husband Marton and Audrey's godson, who has recently moved to Grantleigh to be trained on how to run an estate; and Archie Pennington-Booth, a neighbouring landowner who is close to bankruptcy due to Richard's company, "Farmer Tom". Meanwhile, Marjory is now living in the Lodge, where Audrey used to live, and she develops a crush on Adam. Bertie, Audrey's dog, has long since died and has not been replaced.

Episodes

The original series of To the Manor Born ran for three series and one Christmas special from 30 September 1979 to 29 November 1981. Each episode is thirty minutes long. The first series aired for seven episodes on Sundays at 8.45pm, the second series for six episodes on Sundays at 8.35pm and the seven-episode Series Three on Sundays at 7.15pm. The Christmas special aired at 8.00pm. All episodes aired on BBC1. A one-off Christmas Special, announced on 24 October 2007, aired at 9.30pm on BBC One on 25 December 2007.

Several episodes received high audience figures. In 1979, the last episode of the first series received 23.95 million viewers, the fourth-highest figures for any programme in the UK in the 1970s, and the highest for a non-live event. The following year, 21.55 million people watched the series two finale, the fifth-highest viewing figure for the 1980s. The 1981 finale, when Audrey and Richard marry, received 17.80 million viewers. The 2007 Christmas Special's overnight viewing figures were 10.10 million, the joint fourth most-watched programme of that day.

The theme tune for To the Manor Born was composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst, the BBC's Light Entertainment Music Director who composed the theme tunes for many sitcoms around this time.

Reception

Original series

2007 Christmas Special

Writing in the Sunday Express on 30 December 2007, Marshall Julius described the 2007 Christmas Special as "so cosy and old-fashioned that I could easily have dismissed it with a cynical wave". However, he says he found himself enjoying it "about halfway through" and said "it was a real pleasure to see Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith, for both of whom I feel great affection, once again sparring on the small screen". Julius finished his review by commenting "Not that I'm saying I'd like a whole series of it but as a one-off event it was surprisingly welcome".

The website for the British Sitcom Guide was more critical saying that "whilst it gained great viewing figures it really wasn't a patch on the original episodes.

Novelisations

The writer Peter Spence wrote two books that accompanied To the Manor Born. While they were based on the TV episodes, both books did differ with added conversations, changed storylines and the characters being given different personality traits. The first book, published in 1979 by Arrow Books, was titled To the Manor Born and was based on the first series. In this book, Brabinger's first name, which is never mentioned in the TV series, was revealed as Bertram and Ned's surname revealed as Peasgood. The second book, called To the Manor Born Book 2 was published by the same publisher in 1980. This was a novelisation of the 1979 Christmas Special and the second series. Both books in parts differed from the TV episodes

Radio version

In 1997, 14 years after the original series of To the Manor Born ended on television, ten 30-minute episodes were recorded for radio, the programme's original intended medium. The episodes, originally aired on Saturdays on BBC Radio 2 from 25 January to 29 March 1997, were written by Peter Spence, six adapted from TV episodes and four new episodes. Keith and Thorne returned as Audrey and Marjory, while Keith Barron replaced Bowles as Richard. Other actors, including Frank Middlemass and Nicholas McArdle, who played Miller in the TV version, replaced many of the by then deceased original television cast members. The series has subsequently been repeated on the BBC 7.

Cast

Actor Character/s
Penelope Keith Audrey fforbes-Hamilton
Keith Barron Richard DeVere (Bedrich Polouvicki)
Angela Thorne Marjory Frobisher
Margery Withers Mrs. Maria Polouvicka (Mrs Poo)
Nicholas McArdle Brabinger/The Rector
Frank Middlemass Ned/Arnold Plunkett
Zulema Dene Mrs. Plunkett
Jonathan Adams Brigadier Lemington, OBE

Episodes

# Title Original airdate

DVD releases

All three series, including the 1979 and 2007 Christmas specials, of To the Manor Born have been released in the UK (Region 2). The first series and the 1979 Christmas special were released on 5 May 2003, followed by Series Two on 29 December 2003 and Series Three on 14 June 2004. The DVDs feature an interview with Peter Spence. The 2007 Christmas Special was released on Region 2 DVD on 11 February 2008.

The complete original series was released in a boxset in the United States and Canada (Region 1) on 15 June 2004.

References

External links

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