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Queenie's Castle (1970-72)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Queenie's Castle (1970-72)
Yorkshire for ITV, tx. 5/11/1970-5/9/1972, 18 x 30 min episodes total across 3 series, colour
ProducersIan Davidson, Graham Evans
ScriptsKeith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, Stuart Harris, Oliver Free, John Junkin, Brian Marshall, Peter Robinson, David Rutherford

Cast: Diana Dors (Queenie); Tony Caunter (Jack); Barrie Rutter (Douglas); Freddie Fletcher (Raymond); Brian Marshall (Bunny); Lynne Perrie (Mrs Petty); Bryan Mosley (landlord)

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The life and times of Queenie Shepherd and her feckless family, as they scrape a largely illegal living while running rings round the police and Residents' Association alike.

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As Diana Dors' film career declined, she increasingly turned to television, and this popular Yorkshire sitcom gave her one of her most memorable 1970s roles. Devised and mostly written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, it cast her as the blowsy Queenie Shepherd, matriarch to a family of feckless scroungers and petty criminals who spend much of their time terrorising the inhabitants of Margaret Rose House in general, and hapless Residents' Association secretary Mrs Petty (Lynne Perry) in particular. The location was unspecified on screen, but exteriors were shot at Quarry Hill in Leeds.

Queenie's husband Lionel never appears - the neighbours assume, probably correctly, that he's in prison - but she shares his flat with four other men: wheeler-dealer brother-in-law Jack (Tony Caunter) and her sons: van driver Bunny (Brian Marshall), labourer Raymond (Freddie Fletcher) and unemployed layabout Douglas (Barrie Rutter). When things get too crowded, they decamp to the nearby Builders' Arms, usually for a raucous sing-song or to prepare their alibis for the next time the police come knocking.

As for Queenie herself, her creators offered this vivid pen-portrait to the TV Times: "She is not a despot. She will always listen (albeit with an icy smile which freezes all but the most intrepid) to any complaint about the running of her household. She will not jump the queue at the butcher's, although she will affect not to notice if the queue moves nervously to one side to let her pass. She always has a word for the neighbours' children, and it is not her fault if they sometimes repeat the word to their scandalised parents. It would be going too far to say that Queenie has a heart of gold. Perhaps a heart of brass would be nearer the mark."

With the writers' joint ear for the eccentricities of regional speech as acute as it was when they adapted Waterhouse' debut novel Billy Liar for stage and screen (d. John Schlesinger, 1963), Queenie's Castle stands the test of time surprisingly well. Although much more family-friendly than Paul Abbott's Shameless (Channel 4, 2004-), it was cut from very similar cloth, and some of the material is unexpectedly near the knuckle for a peaktime sitcom. Dors proved so popular as the brassy Queenie that after the third and final series, she and Caunter essentially reprised their characters under different names for the rugby league sitcom All Our Saturdays (ITV, 1973).

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Queenie's birthday (2:34)
2. Sign the petition! (5:29)
3. The celebration (3:37)
Complete first episode - Part 1 (11:50)
Part 2 (13:23)
Title sequence (1:03)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Funny Women on TV