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Trouble With Our Ivy, The (1961)

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Main image of Trouble With Our Ivy, The (1961)
For Armchair Theatre, ABC Television for ITV, tx. 19/11/1961
60 minutes, black & white
DirectorCharles Jarrott
ProducerSydney Newman
Adaptation and original stage playDavid Perry
DesignerGeorge Haslam

Cast: Barrie, John (Mr. Chard); Laurence Hardy (Mr. Tremblow); Gretchen Franklin (Mrs. Chard); Dandy Nichols (Mrs. Tremblow); Roddy McMillan (Joe Muggins)

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Gardening-obsessed Surbiton neighbours the Tremblows and the Chards are not on speaking terms. But their cold war is about to heat up, thanks to the Chards' latest horticultural offensive.

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Such was the association of ITV's showcase drama strand in the early '60s with grim social realism that it earned the unkind nickname 'Armpit Theatre'. It might seem a surprise, then, to discover in a late 1961 Armchair Theatre a comedy of suburban horticultural rivalry - the kind of subject sometimes assumed to have been buried by the 'Angry Young Man' theatrical avalanche of the late 1950s. In fact, Armchair Theatre was never as relentlessly 'kitchen sink' as it is often remembered, and 'The Trouble With Our Ivy' is far from a conventional comedy of manners.

The play charts the climax of a three-year feud between champion rose-growers the Tremblows and the similarly green-fingered Chards, which apparently began when the Chards' only daughter, Ivy, met an untimely end on the 'up-line' passing by the neighbours' adjoining gardens. The Chards blame the Tremblows, whose own daughter, Rose, broke Ivy's heart by stealing away her fiancé. The Chards' plan of revenge is ruthless - they have stolen a rare type of super-fast-growing ivy, an 'Amazonian creeper' from Kew Gardens and carefully timed its planting to coincide with an approaching tropical storm to accelerate its growth. The ivy, they hope, will succeed where their previous plot (an orchestrated greenfly attack) failed, and destroy their neighbours' beloved rose garden - even if it brings a similar destruction upon themselves.

But behind the personal feud lies a more familiar dispute, one of class differences. The Tremblows are representatives of a supremely self-satisfied suburban middle-class, utterly preoccupied with their own comfort and the sterile beauty of their Betty Uprichards, and indifferent to their neighbours' suffering, which they cruelly attribute to Ivy's misplaced aspirations.

David Perry's two-act play followed shortly after another florally-themed Armchair Theatre entry, Alun Owen's 'The Rose Affair' (tx. 8/10/1961), with which it shares its director, Charles Jarrott. Perry's play also shares something of Owen's fantastical ambition, but, unlike Owen's, it had been written for the stage; the playwright's own adaptation for television retained both Gretchen Franklin and Dandy Nichols from the original production.

Jarrott's direction makes a good fist of reconfiguring the drama for the television screen, with the Chards' demonic glee at their neighbours' mounting panic highlighted in distorting close-ups and expressionistic camera angles. But the play's abandonment of familiar TV realism irritated many contemporary critics, especially the absurdist ending, which transforms both Chards and Tremblows into howling monkeys in an ever-expanding jungle of vines.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. A garden bulging with beauty (3:59)
2. The shock of their lives (3:09)
3. A horticultural surprise (4:12)
4. Dead quiet (1:12)
Rose Affair, The (1961)
Trial of Dr Fancy, The (1964)
Nichols, Dandy (1907-1986)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)