RETURNING TO THE MANOR AFTER 26 YEARS
After a gap of 26 years the BBC are bringing To The Manor Born back for a one off, hour long Christmas Special. It will be shown on BBC1 at 9:30 pm on Christmas Day 2007. Location filming was undertaken at Cricket St. Thomas in Somerset during October and interior sets shot at Shepperton Studios in November 2007. The plot is still very much Top Seceret.
Scene being shot in the hall at Cricket St. Thomas.
Peter Spence is a gifted and talented writer. He was born in 1944 and was educated at the Bromsgrove School, Worcestershire and became a reporter on the Birmingham Post and Mail at 18. At the same time, he joined the Territorial Army and did 'A' levels at night school.
He put himself through Nottingham University (paid for from his newspaper writing in the vacations) and emerged with a Politics and American Studies degree in 1968. This is the year in which he became a professional writer, and as he says, "never got a proper job."
|Among his many credits, he's written for the Edinburgh Fringe, Crackerjack, Not the Nine O'Clock News, and of course, To The Manor Born. But he's also written for radio (Roy Castle Show and Windsor Davies Presents, to name just two of his programmes) as well as an article on the psychology of Understanding Human Behaviour. He obviously uses his knowledge to great effect.|
If ever a show dispelled any illusions about an idea arriving fully formed on its first script, To The Manor Born is it. I can trace its evolution back to the early seventies when I was a gag writer at BBC radio -a blackout merchant. The star of one of the shows I was involved in was a well known cockney comedian who had just bought a large manor house in a Thames valley village. In a rehearsal break he was telling us of a housewarming party to which he invited the widow who used to live in that house, but who could no longer afford to keep it up, and had moved to a smaller place in the village.His hilarious account of this grand lady, and of the chilling conversation he had with her at the party, was a perfect description of the character who later became Audrey fforbes-Hamilton.A mental note of it would have registered like this: "Sit-com -big manor house bought by nouveau riche -displaced Lady Muck lives next door."Cut to big country manor house three years later. This was Cricket St. Thomas, near Chard, in Somerset, better known as Grantleigh Manor, where the series was to be filmed years later.
It was 1973, I was in that little church where the snowbound funeral of Audrey's husband was to open the first show. Only I was getting married, and the other principal combatant in the ceremony was the daughter of the big house. I was the town boy, but beguiled by the Arcadian idyll of the country, I left London and moved into a seventeenth century, thatched, farmhouse with its own acreage for the first few years of marriage, which - give or take the odd cow and sheep to look after - must be every writer's dream. But I hated it. Writers block. Nothing. Maybe I wasn't getting the country squire bit right. So the Town boy traded his denim jacket for Lovat worsteds and plus-fours andswaggered around with an ashplant, learning the names of all the vegetation, and striking bucolic poses over five-barred gates. Still nothing. This went on for three-and-a-half years, while I desperately tried to write London-based joke-shows by remote control. I chewed the ends of pencils and looked out of the window watching the country life go by - the odd horse (tow or three in rush hours) tractors, shooting parties, ponies and traps, foxhunts in full cry, Sloanes and townsfolk coming down for their country week-ends in t he BMW's and Audrey fforbes-Hamiltons in abundance all lording it over each other. But I still couldn't think of anything to write about. I longed for the town - even the suburbs. Even communting was more inspirational that this. Oh to come home to the smells of cooking coming from somebody else's kitchen, to be summoned from nextdoor's telephone, to have that eerie night-time silence broken occasionally. Even if it is only by somebody hammering on the door to tell me that I have left my car lights on. I yearned for the Metropolis. So I moved back into the thick of show business, and took any job I could get; club acts, television and radio shows, the odd documentary and educational programme.
It was in this period that I first saw The
Good Life by John Esmonde and Bob Larby, a show which established
as a television institution, and suddenly the light entertainment trade
was in search of "vehicles" for Penelope Keith. It was the radio
who asked me to come up with something for her. It was in
to this suggestion that I connected up a earlier thought with a later
Margot was the putative Lady Muck I had heard about in her Thames
exile, and also one of those green wellied-dreadnoughts I had seen in
numbers in my creative doldrums in the sticks. My thought was,
would Margot be like if she actually was all she pretended to be?
The answer was, of course, Audrey fforbes-Hamilton. I had my
and lead character.I then started building the situation round
Having her usurped by a cockney comedian, while humiliating to her
of superiority, I knew was wrong. Then I wondered what would
if the manor was bought by a wealthy American, who had seen it while he
was in this country looking for his roots, and then discovered he was
fact descended from the fforbes-Hamiltons. This was the version that
Keith starred in for a radio pilot in about 1976. That show was never
because television got interested in the idea on the strength of the
enthusiasm for it, and commissioned the seriesI knew that the American
angle had not really worked because it was too hackneyed and
I contemplated having her displaced by pop stars, Arabs, French, Dutch,
leisure park operators - almost anybody who seemed to be buying up old
England at the time, and anything which would offend Audrey's
possessive territorial instincts. Of course all these were in danger of
becoming stereotypes but that wasn't the real problem. Up
a character as forceful as Audrey they would present no contest, and if
she was to have no difficulty lording it over them, it would have been
a war of uneven sides. The kind of war I needed for the comedy could
be a walkover, so I had to plant somebody as her antagonist who was a s
strong as she was. We also needed somebody who was on the face of it
in order as the custodian of her beloved manor, and even credible as a
potential prospect fo a dynastic remarriage. So what about
who appeared to be the perfect English gentleman, only who
The idea of Richard DeVere-the urbane, wealthy, and tough millionaire,
born Bedrich Polouvicki in Bratislava, Czechoslavakia - was probably
year in coming.
copyright Peter Spence 1987
||Well It looks as if we have won a Britcoms award with this web site, and I must say that all of us at the Manor are deeply honoured. Thank you to all the nice people at BRITCOMS.COM|