Classic TV Revisited: In Loving Memory

Popular ITV comedy In Loving Memory, which ran from 1979-1986, was set in a Lancashire undertaker’s business in the ’20s and ’30s. Thora Hird, Christopher Beeny, Sherrie Hewson starred.

Doesn’t sound promising. Why was it so good?
It was mainly because the cast was headed by the late, lamented Dame Thora Hird, who’s been rightly described as “a national treasure”. There was also a solid supporting cast of Christopher Beeny and Sherrie Hewson.

How did it begin?
Funnily enough there was a huge gap between the pilot episode in 1969 and the first of five series 10 years later.

No one seems to know. Maybe ITV bosses were nervous about the subject matter of Dick Sharples’ comedy, the inevitable coffin jokes and the taboo of death being made light of. Originally made by London-based Thames TV, it was resurrected by Yorkshire TV.

What was it about?
Thora Hird, who died recently, aged 91, played doughty Ivy Unsworth who took over her husband’s funeral business when he died. Ivy was aided, but mostly hindered, by gormless nephew Billy – Christopher Beeny, best known as footman Edward in Upstairs, Downstairs. Thora took over from Marjorie Rhodes who played Ivy in the 1969 pilot which topped the ratings with 8.6m.

Who else was in the cortege, sorry, cast?
Sherrie Hewson of Corrie and Crossroads fame was Billy’s girlfriend Mary. Other regulars included Liz Smith (Nanna in The Royle Family), Avis Bunnage and Colin Farrell.

Hollywood’s new heart-throb?
No, some other guy with the same name. Guests included Richard Wilson, Joan Sims and EastEnder Gretchen Franklin.

Did the subject matter pall with viewers?
No, they loved it. More than 15m people regularly tuned in, though many critics hated it.

What sort of stories did it feature?
One funeral took place after a knife thrower’s act went fatally wrong.

Sounds hilarious. Anything else?
Many of the plots centred on dim Billy’s job as an undertaker ruining his love life. His Auntie Ivy was also a regular thorn in his flesh over his romances.

Why did it end?
After five series shot on location with Luddenden, Yorks doubling up as Oldshaw, Lancs it simply ran out of steam.

Could it be revived?
Unlikely, but its irritating oboe theme tune can be heard regularly when it’s repeated by digital channels.

Was it Thora Hird’s finest hour?
Probably not as she won four Baftas for other acting roles.

Such as?
She picked up gongs for Alan Bennett’s A Cream Cracker Under The Settee and as a stroke victim in Lost For Words during her 70-year acting career. She also played Edie in Last Of The Summer Wine until her death and presented Songs Of Praise.

Distinguishing features?
It was saved by the great acting ability of Thora Hird as bossy northerner with a heart.

Do say:
“Only Thora could raise a smile in a funeral parlour comedy.”

Don’t say:
“A tasteless comedy which didn’t raise a laugh in seven years.”

Not to be confused with:
It’s Your Funeral; Six Feet Under; Men In Black; Funeral In Berlin; Death In Venice; Dead Ringers.

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.