Connect with us

Features

Everything you wanted to know about classic BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances

Published

on


Deflating pompous snobs has long been a comedy staple, especially in Britain, where class and social status have always played a keen role. Think of Basil Fawlty, Rigsby in Rising Damp or even Red Dwarf’s resident git, Arnold J. Rimmer.

However, there may be nothing that says snobbery better than the lines “The Bucket residence. The lady of the house speaking.” Of course, Bucket must be pronounced “Bouquet” (it’s French, you know) and the lady of the house is the epitome of social correctness and manners, Hyacinth Bucket. For those who aren’t of the proper socioeconomic status to have been introduced, just think of Hyacinth as Martha Stewart’s evil twin. However, she considers herself “just a typical British housewife living in a typical British detached house with net curtains, a well-behaved garden and Westminster chimes on the doorbell.”

For five series, Patricia Routledge ruled the roost as that prissy, proper monster in posh frocks Hyacinth Bucket. Keeping Up Appearances has also stayed perennially popular in the US on PBS as one of British comedy’s most enduring and popular imports and also gets regular re-runs around the world. So get out your best china and dress appropriately as we answer everything you wanted to know about Keeping Up Appearances and somethings you didn’t…

How many episodes of KUA are there?

There were 44 episodes made between 1990 and 1995. This includes 42 episodes of thirty minutes each, one hour-long episode and one fifty-minute episode. There was also a short special shown as part of a Children in Need charity telethon.

Who wrote this series?

KUA was written by the phenomenally prolific Roy Clarke, who at the same time was writing the classic Last of the Summer Wine. Clarke also wrote the successful Ronnie Barker sitcom Open All Hours and many other classics such as Last of the Summer Wine.

 

Where did Patricia Routledge get her start?

In the theater. Indeed, it may come as a shock to know that Ms. Routledge is actually from the gritty north of England. She was born in Birkenhead (near Liverpool), the much-loved daughter of a haberdasher named Issac and his wife, Catherine, who died when Patricia was just 20. She became a bit of a disruptive show-off at the local high school, but went on to study English at Liverpool University. She planned to be a teacher, but involvement with local plays and work as an unpaid assistant stage manager at Liverpool Playhouse caused her to change direction. She then left home to attend the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol and the rest is history.

 

What kind of roles did she play before she became Hyacinth?

Her list of appearances is too long and varied to mention all of them here, but they include extensive work in theater, films and televison. One of her first starring role in a sitcom, however, was as Marjorie Belton in the 1985 series Marjorie and Men. Marjorie is a divorcee who returns home to live with her mother, who is determined to find her daughter another husband.

Ms. Routledge also had roles in the films To Sir With Love, The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom and appeared on the popular soap Coronation Street, as did her KUA co-stars Geoffrey Hughes and Josephine Tewson.

Can Patricia Routledge actually sing?

She certainly can. Her performance in the Jules Styne muscial Darling of the Day earned her a Tony Award in 1968 for Best Actress in a Musical. She has appeared in numerous other musicals, sang Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in 1998 with the London Symphony Orchestra and even recorded an album of her favorite songs called Presenting Patricia Routledge.

 

What kind of roles did Clive Swift play before he became Richard Bucket?

He appeared in a satirical series during 1963 and 1964 called (and I am not making this up) Dig This Rhubarb. DTR was a satirical program also featuring the great John Fortune and the performers would debate a current topic by way of historical writings.

Swift also played Ernie Nesbitt, the father of a roving band of crooks, in the 1980 ITV comedy The Nesbitts Are Coming.

 

Is Clive Swift any relation to the actor David Swift?

Yes, indeed. Clive is the younger brother of David, who showed off his own comedic chops as pompous newsreader Henry Davenport on Drop the Dead Donkey. Swift was also married to famed British author Margaret Drabble, and the couple had three children.

Who are the other members of Hyacinth’s family?

Hyacinth’s sisters Rose and Daisy are played by Mary Millar (who replaced the original Rose, Shirley Stelfox, after the first series) and Judy Cornwell respectively. Rose is a man-hungry vixen who goes through a string of boyfriends during the series. Hyacinth often gets her hopes up that Rose’s men will be men of proper social connections and status, but she’s inevitably disappointed. In one episode, Rose’s Greek boyfriend, Mr. Marenopoulous, comes to collect Hyacinth and Richard in hearse instead of the limousine Rose had promised, causing Hyacinth no end of embarrassment during her pre-dinner cocktail hour.

Daisy, on the other hand, lives her romantic life vicariously through one of the Harlequin type novels she’s often seen reading. She has a husband, Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes), but he’s a tremendous couch potato/slob who is much more interested in the races and drinking beer than in his wife.

Daisy, Rose and Onslow all share the same dilapidated house with the broken fence and take care of the girls’ Daddy. Though he is beloved by all, especially Hyacinth, Daddy isn’t quite all there and keeps the family in continual chaos chasing him down after one of his escapades.

Finally, there is Violet (Anna Dawson), the one sister Hyacinth is actually proud to claim due to her Mercedes, sauna and a home that has room for a pony. Hyacinth loves mentioning Violet in the proper social setting, but leaves out the fact that her husband Bruce (a turf accountant) enjoys wearing Violet’s clothes.

All of the sisters were named after flowers since “Mummy loved flowers and chose to name her daughters after the blooms that appeared in our splendid garden.” A Hyacinth, as she explains, is “flower of exquisite perfume which blooms best indoors” and that suits her because she “blooms in the social environment.”

Which character is often spoken about but never seen?

Sheridan, who is Hyacinth and Richard’s son. The only way his character is established is through telephone calls and one brief glimpse of the back of his head. The fact that we get such a strong impression of him despite his absence is a tribute to Clarke’s talent as a writer and Routledge’s delivery of the lines.

In short, Sheridan (named after famed writer/politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan) is his mummy’s pride and joy, a student at the Poly who shares her artistic leanings. She continually shows pictures of him and brags incessantly about his accomplishments. However, viewers are shown that Sheridan isn’t exactly what Hyacinth thinks, and poor Richard is often exasperated at his son’s constant pleas for money.

 

Who else lives on the Avenue?

Hyacinth’s next door neighbor is Elizabeth (Josephine Tewson) who turns into a shaking, nervous, cup- breaking wreck when invited chez Bucket. She is too weak and polite to stand up to the domineering Hyacinth, but at the start of the second series she gets a sympathetic ear in the form of her brother Emmet. Emmett moves in after his divorce and becomes the object of Hyacinth’s “affection” due to his musical ability. He then divides his time trying to avoid Hyacinth (she always sings at him to demonstrate her musical prowess) and feeling sorry for Richard. Also parts of the “Avenue set” are the Barker-Finches, live at number 23. They feature prominently during the episode when the Buckets get new furniture. Hyacinth is desperate to make them jealous and does everything she can to make sure they see the delivery van, which has the royal warrant decal on both sides.

 

What avenue do they live on?

The happy couple lives on Blossom Avenue.

Where does Richard work?

Until his retirement, Richard was a “power in Local Authority Circles” a.k.a. a senior manager within the Finance and General Services department of the Local Authority.

 

What is “The Memoirs of Hyacinth Bucket?”

A compendium of KUA clips shown on PBS in 1997, but never screened in Britain. The clips are linked by Judy Cornwell and Geoffrey Hughes, in character as Daisy and Onslow. They have somehow come across Hyacinth’s “memoirs,” which lead into clips of her most memorable moments.

 

What is Hyacinth’s Bucket’s Book of Etiquette for the Socially Less Fortunate?

The introduction sums it up well when it calls this book “the definitive work on modern social behaviour.” This tie-in (written by Jonathan Rice) is the ultimate guide to good manners from the lady herself. Chapters include Etiquette in the Home, Family, Relations and Friends, The Perfect Hostess, Social Obligations and A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body.

Originally written with “a gold- nibbed found-pen containing a blue-black ink by appointment to Her Majesty,” this important volume was put into type (I’m sure, of only the highest standards) and published by BBC Books in 1993, with a paperback version released the following year.

 

Why did Richard marry Hyacinth in the first place?

Clive Swift stated in an interview that Patricia Routledge thought Richard might’ve been orphaned, leaving him in need of a strong, motherly figure to look after him. However, he himself thought of Richard as a bit of a “lazy sod, really. His penance was that he had to put up with her personality.” In the end, though, he figures that Richard and Hyacinth stay together because they’re a bit like Tom and Jerry – ‘it’s a joke,” he said.

Hyacinth herself describes the marriage as “the perfect partnership of organizational skills, social connections and good looks, combined with Richard’s willingness to learn.”

 

What do the letters FH on Onslow’s hat stand for?

The hat was a present to Geoffrey Hughes from Fulton Hogan Ltd., a New Zealand asphalt and roadbuilding company.

 

Which KUA actors were guest stars on Doctor Who?

Clive Swift, Geoffrey Hughes, Jeremy Gittins (the Vicar) David Griffin (Emmet) and Judy Cornwell all appeared in episodes of the popular sci-fi series.

 

Why did KUA cease production?

Mainly due to Patricia Routledge’s desire to concentrate on Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, in which she plays a housewife/detective. Hetty lasted for five series.

and this just in

EPISODES

VINTAGE EPISODES