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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.

the good life

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.

the-good-life-3

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.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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