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Fine Romance, A (1981-84)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Fine Romance, A (1981-84)
ITV, tx. 01/11/1981-30/07/1989
26 x 30 mins in 4 series, colour
Production CompanyLWT
ProducersJames Cellan Jones
 Don Leaver
ScriptBob Larbey
Theme sung byJudi Dench

Cast: Judi Dench (Laura); Michael Williams (Mike); Susan Penhaligon (Helen); Richard Warwick (Phil); Geoffrey Rose (Harry); Angela Curran (Jean)

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Perpetual singles Laura and Mike fumble their way towards togetherness.

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As co-creator (with John Esmonde) of Please, Sir! (ITV, 1968-72) and The Good Life (BBC, 1975-78), Bob Larbey had an impressive sitcom pedigree when he embarked on this solo project charting the halting relationship between the mismatched Mike and Laura. His sharp writing was enhanced by the matchless playing of real-life marrieds Michael Williams and Judi Dench, with Dench's previously unrecognised gift for light comedy rewarded with two BAFTAs.

The series opened with the pair being set up at a party by Laura's sister, Helen, who is married to Mike's friend Phil. At first they seem to have little in common but their social ineptitude. She is a linguist, resentful of her prettier sibling's attempts to find her a partner; he is a shy landscape gardener, resigned to a life of dull bachelordom. Although they end up in the bedroom together, it is only in order to seek refuge from their matchmakers - and each other. However, a hesitant romance gradually develops, with Mike and Laura finally consummating their relationship at the end of the first series.

Much of the show's humour sprang from the contrast between these reluctant partners and model couple Helen and Phil, likeably played by Susan Penhaligon and Richard Warwick. Dench delicately evoked the seemingly organised Laura's underlying vulnerability, continually worrying that life is passing her by, while Williams offered deft visual comedy as Mike, whose every attempt at intimacy seems somehow to result in personal injury. His physical awkwardness is exemplified by his recurring uncertainty over how to greet Helen (handshake, hug or peck on the cheek?).

Subsequent episodes saw the couple move in together (Laura typically misinterpreting Mike's suggestion that they co-habit as a proposal of marriage), but the path of true love continues to be far from smooth. Laura becomes broody in the wake of Helen's pregnancy, but Mike's hesitancy to commit results in her departing for a job in Brussels, leaving Mike disconsolate. Audiences needn't have worried; the programme's fourth and final series saw the couple reunited and - against all odds - seemingly set to live happily ever after in the closing episode.

The combination of Larbey's off-beat scripts with Dench and Williams' skilful playing - which at times entered the realms of poignant drama - resulted in a rare example of an adult ITV sitcom which stood up against the very best of its BBC counterparts.

Richard Hewett

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Video Clips
1. Napkin rings (3:31)
2. Emergency (3:08)
3. The missing hosts (3:49)
Complete episode - Part 1 (13:11)
Part 2 (13:10)
Barclay, Humphrey (1941-)
Dench, Judi (1934-)
Larbey, Bob (1934-) and Esmonde, John (1937-2008)