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Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-87)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-87)
BBC1, 29/1/1984-6/12/1987
26x30 min episodes in three series plus one special, colour
DirectorsSydney Lotterby
 Harold Snoad
ProducersSydney Lotterby
 Harold Snoad
Written byBob Larbey
 John Esmonde

Cast: Richard Briers (Martin Bryce); Penelope Wilton (Ann Bryce); Peter Egan (Paul Ryman); Stanley Lebor (Howard); Geraldine Newman (Hilda)

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The exploits of Martin Bryce, obsessive neighbourhood busybody, and his long-suffering wife, Ann.

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Seven years after the demise of their successful satire of suburban non-conformity, The Good Life (BBC, 1975-78), writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey reunited with its star Richard Briers for another suburban comedy.

The character created for Briers, Martin Bryce, is a neighbourhood busybody and chairman of the residents' association, who has transformed his box room into an office with essential duplicating machine. He is also an obsessive-compulsive, who is deeply uncomfortable about change and insists that the telephone receiver is the 'right way round'. Ever Decreasing Circles is full of such acute observations of human behaviour. Though happy to interfere in the lives of his neighbours (in particular Howard and Hilda Hughes, a devoted couple with a penchant for matching sweaters), Martin takes for granted his long suffering wife, Ann, leaving her in a state of perpetual exasperation.

Martin's world is turned upside down by the arrival of next door neighbour Paul, his complete antithesis. A hairdresser and a suave ladies man, Paul has a long list of friends to call on to solve problems, and ingratiates himself into the community with little effort. Martin's inferiority complex kicks in and he becomes obsessed with his own little game of one-upmanship.

Frustrated with the emotional inhibitions of her insufferable bore of a husband, Ann strikes up a flirtatious relationship with Paul, leaving the audience wondering if they will embark on an affair. The writers had intended the pair to elope at the end of the first series, but instead Ann remains as faithful, if vexed wife.

After a repeat of the first series, more than nine million viewers tuned into the second. The sitcom's success owed much to Briers' characterisation, by turns infuriating and endearing. When Martin briefly leaves Ann at the end of the fourth series, Briers' performance is poignant and genuinely moving as he wrestles with the character's inner turmoil.

With 'alternative' comedy now almost the mainstream, suburban sitcoms were increasingly unfashionable by the end of the 1980s, and the writers brought the story to a close with an 80-minute special (tx. 24/12/1989), with Martin and Ann's marriage finally finding some openness. Martin is hit by a number of bombshells: his firm, Mole Valley Valves, is relocating and Anne is expecting their first child. Martin's final act as the pair leave for a new life in Oswestry is to place the telephone receiver around the right way.

Graham Rinaldi

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Video Clips
1. The new neighbour (4:52)
2. Chicken salad (2:21)
3. The pub table (3:20)
Complete first episode (27:00)
Briers, Richard (1934-2013)
Esmonde, John (1937-2008) and Larbey, Bob (1934-)
Larbey, Bob (1934-) and Esmonde, John (1937-2008)