‘Keeping Up Appearances’ BBC’s most successful ..
It was lunchtime at the BBC Acton rehearsal rooms (no longer functioning as such). Time for myself a writer and production team from ‘Flip’ (1991) to make our way up to the cafeteria for subsistence, reflection and showbiz storytelling in this tall building where nearly all BBC drama, sit-coms, variety and such like were rehearsed and developed at the time. Pushing my tray along the dinner railings, while helping myself to the delights of what the BBC call food, I came upon a slightly flustered Patricia Routledge at the checkout till on her break from her own rehearsal of the ever popular TV sitcom ‘Keeping up Appearances’ several floors below. We had never met or been introduced, but she was fiddling in her purse for the allusive loose change, which would pay for her meal exactly, without using her credit card. We’ve all been there. Feeling rather hungry and wishing to speed up matters my hand went in to my own pocket and pulled out the necessary ten pence. ‘Oh you’re are kind … I do have it. Somewhere. I’ll bring it to you’ she said sweetly. ‘No need’ I said, and on giving each other a smile at the situation, we both moved off to our respective production lunch tables where colleagues were still struggling with the lamb shank. You wandered how her successful character of Hyacinth’ would have reacted? Possibly, with the success of Hyacinth, the talented actress could now hand me the ten pence a few times over as this week the BBC announced the sit-com ‘Keeping up Appearances’ is its most popular programme internationally.
The hit 1990’s sit-com being only 25 years old, has been bought 992 times by channels in other countries – more than any other BBC programme for at least 40 years. ‘Keeping up Appearances’ ran between 1990-95, for 5 series, 44 episodes starring Patricia Routledge and Clive Swift. Indeed, the programme continues its appeal, recently been acquired by broadcasters in Australia, Bulgaria, Ireland, Nigeria, Denmark and Latvia.
Creator and writer of the series Roy Clark says: ” I think the secret to her wide fan base is that everyone knows a Hyacinth. Wherever you are it seems there’s a Hyacinth next door, or just down the road or in the family. I shouldn’t grumble. Bless her she’s been good to me.”
Clarke was a frequent visitor himself to those rehearsal rooms at Acton as one of the UK’s top comedy writers with ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and ‘Open all hours’ just part of his catalogue of work.
The BBC rehearsal rooms at Acton were a fascinating place, it is often considered by those outside the business that every actor, celebrity or successful comedian know each other. The plain fact is they don’t. Individual productions may rehearse there but that does not mean everyone knows each other amongst the glitterati that sit down to sample BBC steak pie.
Les Dennis in his autobiography (2008 p136) recalled Liverpool comedian Greg Rodgers queuing next to Sir John Gielgud. The great Actor tapped Greg on the shoulder and asked. ‘Excuse me. Are you a comedian?’. Greg thought he’d seen him on the TV show ‘The Comedians’ and confirmed he was. ‘I thought so. All comedians have funny curly hair’ (Greg had a naff 1980’s perm at the time). He continued ‘If you had been an actor playing a Resistance man, you’d have neat short hair. But no, you’re obviously a comedian. Do have a lovely lunch. And walked off tray in hand’.
BBC Worldwide 40th anniversary of its Showcase events
Dennis Les, ‘Must the show go on ?’ Orion Publishing 2008
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.