Features

TV’s Greatest Hits: Tom and Barbara live The Good Life

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What was it all about?
The ultimate suburban sit-com but, unlike its contemporaries (such as Happy Ever After), the comedy did actually have more depth than the lino in the kitchen.

Who were the main characters?
Tom Good, draughtsman with a company which designs plastic toys for breakfast cereal packets, decides to quit the rat-race on his 40th birthday and instead make his living from his garden by going self-sufficient. His pert wife, Barbara, is unsure at first but soon dons dungarees and wellies and mucks in enthusiastically.

The Goods’ next-door neighbours are golf-playing Jerry Leadbetter and his wife Margo. Jerry is Tom’s old boss – Tom and Jerry are friends just like their cat and mouse namesakes — while Margo is a Grade One snob.

Both are prominent members of the local G and T set and Margo, in particular, is appalled at the thought of pigs milling around in next door’s garden. What will it do to property prices? Margo would no more be seen in dungarees than streak along the High Street but, after initially pitying Barbara, Margo comes to admire her for what she is prepared to do to make her marriage work. Thanks to superb scripts and performances, The Good Life became a modern comedy of class and manners.

Felicity Kendal, Richard Briers The Good Life

When was it on?
From 1975 to 1978 – four series, each comprising seven episodes, plus two specials.

Who wrote it?
John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, previously best known for Please Sir!

Who were the star turns?
Richard Briers played Tom with Felicity Kendal as Barbara, Paul Eddington as Jerry and Penelope Keith as Margo. The series propelled Penelope Keith from supporting actress to sitcom stardom and further success opposite Peter Bowles in To The Manor Born.

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Wasn’t Margo originally just a peripheral character?
That’s right. At first, she was only supposed to appear in a few scenes but when one episode was running short, Esmonde and Larbey slipped in an extra scene showing Margo on the phone. Penelope Keith seized the opportunity and turned Margo into the Empress of Suburbia, arguably the show’s most popular – if not its best-loved – character.

Where was it set?
In Surbiton, land of dinner parties and twitching net curtains.

Any guest stars?
Not in vision. But veteran animal impressionist Percy Edwards provided the voice of the Goods’ pig. Even in his 70s, Percy was still bringing home the bacon.

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Who watched it?
Despite the fact that Margo was even more regal than Her Maj, this was another of the Queen’s favourites. When she was asked in 1978 to help raise money for the British Commonwealth Games team by picking a TV programme for which she could sit in the studio audience, she chose The Good Life.

Any real-life resonance?
The series created a surge of interest in self-sufficiency. Throughout the country, herbaceous borders were dug up and replaced with vegetable patches and people everywhere swapped their lawn-mowers for goats. By 1980, the pursuit of the good life had resulted in a record 51,000 smallholdings in Britain… mainly the idea of husbands hoping their wives would look as good as Felicity Kendal in a pair of overalls.