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Classic TV Revisited: To The Manor Born

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In sitcom To The Manor Born, saddled with death duties following the demise of her husband, the grand Audrey fforbes-Hamilton was in such dire financial straits that she was forced to sell her stately home, Grantleigh, and move into a poky lodge in the grounds. To rub her nose in it yet further, the estate was bought by Richard DeVere, a self-made millionaire grocer, whom Audrey considered to be somewhat common.

When was it on?
From 1979 to 1981 on BBC1 — three series plus a Christmas 1979 special, a total of 21 episodes.

Where was it set?
On the fictional Grantleigh Estate, somewhere in well-heeled rural England.

Who were the principal characters?
Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, snob of this parish, who, forced to live in reduced circumstances, had to adjust to such alien phenomena as public transport, ironing and supermarkets. Unable to come to terms with the fact that in future she would have to forsake pheasant for pressed turkey, she became frostier than a packet of fish fingers; Richard DeVere, a suave and successful businessman who, although sympathetic to Audrey’s plight, was initially met by a barrage of hostility; Marjory Frobisher, Audrey’s more practical best friend, who managed to put Audrey down once per episode;

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Who were the star turns?
Penelope Keith starred as Audrey with Peter Bowles as Richard, Angela Thorne as Marjory, John Rudling as Brabinger and Daphne Heard as Mrs. Polouvicka.

Who wrote it?
Peter Spence, a former gag writer for Kenneth Williams and Roy Hudd.

How did it come about?
Peter Spence lived in the Somerset village of Cricket St. Thomas where the widow of the owner of the 1000-acre estate had moved into the small estate lodge and watched a businessman transform the place. Spence thought this true story had comic potential and, in 1968, planned a series for radio to star Penelope Keith as the widow and Bernard Braden as an American businessman. Although the series was recorded, it was never broadcast and it was only after Spence had written a novel based on his idea that it finally made it to television.

Was there a happy ending?
Yes, after all that back-biting, Audrey eventually mellowed, fell in love with Richard and the two got married in the final episode.

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Who watched it?
The wedding episode was watched by a staggering 24 million.

Any spin-offs?
After its chequered history, To The Manor Born did reach the airwaves in the spring of 1997 when Radio 2 broadcast ten episodes, six of which were adptations by Peter Spence of his TV scripts. Penelope Keith and Angela Thorne were present and correct but Richard DeVere was played by Keith Barron instead of Peter Bowles.

Any distant cousins?
With its accent on the British class system, there were immediate echoes of Penelope Keith’s previous hit,’The Good Life’.

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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