Sunday, 10 July 2011

Keeping up with the Bucket Woman!

Keeping Up Appearances the excellent sitcom starred the superb Patricia Routledge as eccentric, social-climbing snob Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced bouquet by Hyacinth, but pronouncedbucket by everyone else). Created and written by Roy Clark, it aired on BBC1 from 1990 to 1995 — spanning five series and 44 episodes — four of which are Christmas specials.

In 2004 the show came 12th in the Britain's Best Sit-Com poll that aired on BBC2. It is regularly repeated on BBC 1 and on G.O.L.D. All five series — including Christmas specials — are available on DVD. The show has aired in many countries throughout the world, including present-day reruns weekly on PBS in the USA.

Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge) — who insists her surname is pronounced Bouquet — is a social-climbing snob who passes her time visiting stately homes, hosting "executive" style candlelight suppers (with her Royal Worcester, her Avignon China and Royal Doulton china with "the hand-painted periwinkles"), bragging of her "white slim line telephone with automatic redial", and maintaining the integrity of her woodblock floor, wallpaper, and status in the community, name dropping at any hint of an opportunity.
Her aim in life is to impress neighbours, friends, and important people. When answering the telephone, she greets the caller with "The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!" Frequently she receives calls asking for Chinese take-away, causing her great consternation. Always hindering her best efforts are her underclass sisters Daisy (Judy Cornwell) and Rose (Shirley Stellfox and Mary Millar), and Daisy's proudly "bone-idle" husband Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes). This threesome, along with Hyacinth's senile Father, are forever turning up inconveniently and embarrassing Hyacinth, who goes to great lengths to avoid them. ("Richard, you know I love my family, but that's no reason why I should have to acknowledge them in broad daylight!")

Such excessive snobbery makes life difficult for those around her, especially long-suffering hen-pecked husband Richard (Clive Swift). Most people either dislike or are afraid of Hyacinth, to the point of running or hiding when seeing her or hearing her voice, exclaiming "The Bucket Woman!". The only recurring character who actively seeks out Hyacinth's company is the Major (Peter Cellier) (although a few other people show interest in Hyacinth in some episodes, e.g. Signore Ferrini, the Commodore, the incoherent rural man, etc.)

However one relative Hyacinth isn't ashamed of is wealthy sister Violet (Anna Dawson); the leading lady will often boast to visitors of Violet's home — a luxury bungalow — and of how this sister has a "Mercedes, Sauna, and room for a pony", whilst trying to keep the oddities of Violet's cross-dressing husband, Bruce, a secret. (Bruce's cross dressing is revealed to Hyacinth in series 2.) Hyacinth also tries to impress people with the intellectual prowess of her beloved, but unseen, son Sheridan (he takes courses in needlework at a Polytechnic), inviting the derision of those she is desperately trying to impress. She often begins the stories with "I'm sure you've heard about Sheridan" to which the listener responds "frequently". Sheridan makes frequent phone calls from his polytechnic asking for money, much to the despair of Richard. It is also implied many times throughout the series that Sheridan, who lives with a man named Tarquin (who makes his own curtains, wears silk pyjamas, and has won prizes for embroidery), is gay. Hyacinth, however, seems blissfully oblivious to the fact.

Richard tries to keep his head down and cope with his domineering wife, always getting dragged into her elaborate but unsuccessful plots to avoid the family or to help his wife up the social ladder. Richard initially works for the local council; however, he reluctantly accepts early retirement at the turn of series three.

Hyacinth's brother-in-law, Onslow, sympathises with Richard, only too aware of how difficult Hyacinth is to live with. Onslow calls Richard "Dickey", which Hyacinth does not like. Onslow and his wife, Hyacinth's sister Daisy, are idle slobs who live with younger sister Rose and their senile father, referred to by Hyacinth as "Daddy". Their home is a run-down council house, where Daisy and Onslow spend their time drinking, eating and watching television, whilst Rose spends her time in short skirts and high heels, trying to seduce married men, including Hyacinth’s

Rose might best be described as a full-time "other woman" and part-time door-to-door cosmetics sales girl; she is forever unlucky in love, as her lovers often "sneak back" to their wives. The men in her life have included the following: an unnamed 17 year-old "toy boy," Boris, C.P. Benedict, Charlie, Dennis, Derrick, Edgar, Mr. Bickerstaff, Mr. Blankensopp, Mr. Butterfield, Mr. Crabtree, Mr. Finchley, Mr. Halliwell, Mr. Heppelwhite, Mr. Marinopolous, Mr. Merchesson, Mr. Merriweather, Mr. Murray, Mr. Ripley, Mr. Smith, Mr. Sudbury, Reg, Roger, and Mr. Whatsit? (having an unpronounceable name of Polish extraction, he is also referred to as "Cuddly Chops").

Meanwhile the senile "Daddy" pinches women's bottoms and frequently believes he is back in the trenches of the Second World War. Onslow owns a dog, who lives outside in a ruined Hillman Avenger. The dog always manages to startle Hyacinth into the hedge by barking (though he never barks at Richard, who once actually happily waved at the dog - knowing what was coming for Hyacinth).

Neighbour Elizabeth (Josephine Tewson) is frequently invited round to the Buckets' for coffee. Terrified of spilling drinks in house-proud Hyacinth's home, her nerves get the better of her and she invariably does. She eventually moves to a beaker and in one episode, a pink sippy cup with taped on lid. Her brother, Emmet (David Griffin) arrives at the beginning of series two to live with his sister after a "messy divorce". He produces and directs an amateur Operatic Society, and quickly becomes terrified of Hyacinth, who gives broad hints by "singing at" him, that he should give her a part in his productions.
Keeping Up Appearances aired for five series, four Christmas specials, and one short Children in Need special, from 29 October 1990 to 25 December 1995. The series officially ended after the episode "The Pageant", because Patricia Routledge wanted to focus on other TV and theatre work, including Hetty Wainthropp Investigates which began airing in 1996. Clive Swift, who portrayed Richard, stated in a BBC interview that Routledge "didn't want to be remembered as simply `Mrs Bucket´". In the March 2011 PBS pledge drive programming special Behind the Britcoms: from Script to Screen hosted by Moira Brooker and Philip Bretherton of As Time Goes By, the Keeping Up Appearances creators/writers/producers very sadly stated that they believed the series had many more years in it, that they had many more stories to tell, and that "it still had legs". And so say all of us!

SeriesPremiereLast in seriesEpisodes
129 October 19903 December 19906
21 September 19913 November 199110 + 1 Special (25 Dec 1991)
36 September 199218 October 19927
45 September 199317 October 19937 + 2 Specials (26 Dec 1993 & 25 Dec 1994)
53 September 19955 November 199510 + 1 Special (25 Dec 1995)

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