Nearest and Dearest was a British television sitcom that ran from 1968 to 1973. A total of 46 episodes were made, 18 in monochrome (black & white) and 28 in colour. The series, produced by Granada Television for the ITV network, was set in Colne, Lancashire, in the North West of England.
The premise was set up in the first episode; Joshua Pledge, on his death bed, bequeaths his small pickle business, Pledge's Purer Pickles, to his two middle-aged children; the hard-working Nellie and her style="font-style : italic;">ne'er do well brother, Eli. Nellie was played by veteran comedienne Hylda Baker. Baker was born and bred in Bolton, a town eleven miles north of Manchester), and Eli was played by Jimmy Jewel, a contemporary of Baker's, who had made his name as one half of the music hall (vaudeville) act, Jewel and Warriss.
Also featured was the Pledges' cousin, Lily Tattersall, who was married to the constantly mute octaganerian, Walter. Walter was unable to control his bladder, which led to the one of the programme's notable catchphrases, "'Has he been?". Lily was played by Madge Hindle, Walter by Edward Malin. Also prominent was the toothless and cloth-capped Stan Hardman, the Pledge's oversexed foreman, played by Joe Gladwin.
Much of the comedy was derived from Nellie's constant malapropisms. When asked by Lily if she knew the facts of life, Nellie replied with immense dignity, "Of course I do! I'm well over the age of content!" In another episode, Nellie has a suitor, Vernon Smallpiece, whom she calls 'Vermin Bigpiece'. When Eli insists on playing the high-powered executive once he is in charge of the factory, Nellie asks him who he thinks he is "...sat sitting there like a big business typhoon!" In each episode, Nellie and Eli would hurl insults at each other, often to spectacular effect, as they fought over the family business or domestic matters, with Nellie's constant nagging and Eli's constant drinking and womanising. It was widely alleged that the insults continued offscreen as well, as Baker and Jewel apparently detested each other in real life.
The programme was made in colour from the third series onwards, although the shows were transmitted in October and November 1969, just before ITV started broadcasting in colour, and so would only have been visible in black-and-white on their first run. An industrial dispute at ITV in 1970 led to seven of the eight programmes in the fifth series being made in black-and-white only.
An unsuccessful film version of the series was made by Hammer Films in 1972, complete with a vocal version of the series' theme tune sung by Hylda Baker. The series was also adapted for the American market, re-named Thicker Than Water. The US version was not successful and was cancelled after only 13 episodes.
After Nearest and Dearest, Baker went on to star in Not On Your Nellie (made for ITV by London Weekend Television) in which Lancashire born Nellie Pickersgill (the same character as Nellie Pledge in all but name) travels to London to run her ailing father's pub, The Brown Cow. In a 1973 interview with Baker and Jewel (available on the seventh series DVD of Nearest & Dearest), Baker stated that the forthcoming Not On Your Nellie series actually was a spin-off from Nearest and Dearest, and would follow Nellie's exploits in London after Eli practically deserts her. This would appear to follow on from the final episode of Nearest and Dearest where Nellie and Eli are informed that there had been an explosion at the pickling shed, implying that Pledge's Purer Pickles was now defunct. However, possibly due to an issue over legal rights regarding the Nellie Pledge character, Not On Your Nellie was ultimately made as an "original" new series rather than a spin-off, despite the obvious similarities between the two.
Jewel went on to appear in a sit-com, Spring and Autumn about a friendship between a lonely boy and an elderly man. He later appeared in an episode of the hospital drama series Casualty in which he was able to use one of his famous catchphrases, referring to a nurse as "a knock-kneed, knackered old nose bag" - a term he had previously bestowed upon Nellie.
In 1976, Madge Hindle went on to star in Granada's flagship programme Coronation Street, playing Renee Roberts, the wife of grocer Alf Roberts. Her character was killed off in a car crash in 1980. Hindle has since gone on to work on a variety of roles in television.
Edward Malin who played Walter died on March 1st 1977 four years after the show was axed, Hylda Baker spent her final years apparently penniless and battling dementia. She died in a retirement home on May 1st, 1986 of bronchial pneumonia, aged 81. Joe Gladwyn, who played Stan, died On March 1st 1987. Jewel continued to work in a variety of roles until his death on December 3rd, 1995. Madge Hindle remains the sole surviving member of the cast.