Classic TV Revisited: Keeping Up Appearances

Keeping Up Appearances

Written by Roy Clarke Keeping Up Appearances was a sitcom starring Patricia Routledge that ran on the BBC from 1990-1995.

What was it all about?
Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘Bouquet’) was a snob of the first order. Residing in Blossom Avenue, she forced callers to take their shoes off at the front door for fear of muddying her shag-pile and sipped tea out of nothing less than Royal Doulton.

To her intense irritation, her phone number was similar to an establishment as common as the local Chinese takeaway which meant that she regularly received calls ordering a 69 or whatever. An interfering busybody, she delighted in organising other people’s lives, not least that of her long- suffering husband Richard who yearned for a peaceful existence. As a result, he seemed to derive precious little pleasure from life since, to Hyacinth, sex was something the coal came in.

When was it on?
From 1990 to 1995 – 40 episodes plus four Christmas specials. Roy Clarke recently wrote a prequel called Young Hyacinth for BBC’s Sitcom Season celebration.

Who were the star turns?
Patricia Routledge played Hyacinth with Clive Swift as the hen-pecked Richard. Josephine Tewson was the Buckets’ nervous neighbour Elizabeth, who was forever spilling the tea in Hyacinth’s presence, and David Griffin was Elizabeth’s musician brother Emmet. Two of Hyacinth’s sisters — Rose (Shirley Stelfox then Mary Millar) and Daisy (Judy Cornwell) — lived on a nearby council estate where even the muggers went around in pairs for safety. Rose, whose short skirts made Liz McDonald look like Mary Whitehouse, and Daisy were an intense disappointment to Hyacinth, Daisy having the added social disadvantage of a beer-swilling, vest-wearing layabout husband in Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes). Hyacinth also had a third floral sister, the wealthy Violet (Anna Dawson), and an unseen son, Sheridan, the apple of her jaundiced eye.

Who wrote it?
Roy Clarke, creator of ‘Last of the Summer Wine.’ ‘Every neighbourhood around the world has a Hyacinth Bucket type,’ he said. ‘She’s a monster but she also has character traits to admire, like clinging to genteel values that have been discarded.’

Was Patricia Routledge instantly hooked?
She read the script at one o’clock in the morning and said afterwards that ‘Hyacinth just leapt off the page. It was the very stuff of character comedy and so very English.’

Who watched it?
Up to 13 million people. The Queen Mother was said to be a fan of Hyacinth but when Patricia Routledge went to collect her OBE in 1993, the Queen simply asked her: ‘Are you anything to do with television?’ Perhaps Her Maj. used to watch You’ve Been Framed on the portable.

Did it sell abroad?
Viewers in New England hailed it their favourite programme and it also went down well in Australia and New Zealand. Onslow’s hat, bearing the initials FH, was actually a gift from New Zealand. Geoffrey Hughes was promoting the show there when he was given the hat by a lorry driver for Fulton Hogan Ltd, a New Zealand asphalt company.

Any catchphrases?
‘The Bouquet residence, Lady of the House speaking’

Any real-life resonance?
Patricia Routledge claimed to be almost as nosey as Hyacinth and was not averse to knocking on neighbours’ doors to ask them to keep the noise down. She found that shopkeepers became wary of her, terrified that she was going to boss them about, a la Hyacinth. To counter this, Routledge used to sneak out in a disguise of woolly hat and glasses. Even the rest of the cast treated her like Hyacinth and would dutifully hold doors open for her, just as Richard did in the series.

Any distant cousins?
The snob has long been a staple character in British comedy, from Hancock to Basil Fawlty, Captain Mainwaring to Rigsby. But perhaps the closest female character to Hyacinth was Thora Hird’s Thora Blacklock in the Sixties sit-com Meet The Wife. Remember how she used to answer the phone… ‘Yaysss’? Well, you had to be there at the time.