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Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95)
BBC1, tx. 29/10/1990 - 25/12/1995
40 x 30 min episodes across 5 series, plus 6 specials, colour
Production CompanyBBC
WriterRoy Clarke
ProducerHarold Snoad
Theme musicNick Ingman

Cast: Patricia Routledge (Hyacinth Bucket); Clive Swift (Richard Bucket); Josephine Tewson (Liz); David Griffin (Emmet); Judy Cornwell (Daisy); Geoffrey Hughes (Onslow); Shirley Stelfox (Rose/Mary Millar)

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Uber-snob Hyacinth Bucket's attempts to climb the social ladder wreak havoc on those around her.

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As the author of Open All Hours (BBC, 1976-85) and Last of the Summer Wine (BBC, 1973-), Roy Clarke had already booked his place in the pantheon of sitcom writers when he created this equally popular satire of middle-class pretension. Patricia Routledge's flawless characterisation of the monstrous Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced 'Bouquet') personified the worst kind of suburban snob, her efforts to acquire the trappings of gentility forever hovering between manic bullying and pathetic desperation.

Bearing the brunt of Hyacinth's quest for upward mobility and obsession with candlelit suppers are her long-suffering husband, Richard, and neighbour Elizabeth, who is thrown into a frenzy of nerves by a simple invitation to afternoon coffee. In the second series Elizabeth's brother Emmet moves in while recovering from a messy divorce; his role as director of the local operatic society results in Hycianth bursting into song whenever he is present (much to Emmet's distress), in the vain hope of being offered the leading role. Although Hyacinth aspires to the social position of her sister Violet (unseen until series three, but possessed of a swimming pool and so one rung further up the ladder), she is frequently shown up by her more 'common' siblings, of whom she is desperately ashamed. These comprise miniskirt-wearing man-chaser Rose and the placid Daisy, who is married to unrepentant couch potato and working-class philosopher Onslow. Oslow has no time for his sister-in-law's pretensions, and is one of the few willing to prick her balloon of pomposity.

Hyacinth's tragedy is that few among the society glitterati that she aims to impress regard her with anything other than disdain or aversion, and the key to Routledge's performance is the way in which - just occasionally - she allows Hyacinth's mask to slip. These rare moments reveal the seeming obliviousness to what Hyacinth considers the less palatable facts of her existence (such as her never-seen son Sheridan's incessant sponging and implied homosexuality) to be a defence mechanism rather than outright obtuseness. This in turn lends depth to Hyacinth's relationship with Richard, who becomes less a henpecked spouse than a patient buffer between his wife and the rest of the world.

As with Clarke's other popular successes, the storylines were reassuringly formulaic, but even after five series audiences were keen for more. Production only ceased because, following two BAFTA nominations, Routledge was keen to move to pastures new, turning detective for Hetty Wainthrop Investigates (BBC, 1996-98).

Richard Hewett

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Video Clips
Clip 1 (2:01)
Clip 2 (2:06)
Clip 3 (2:53)
Complete episode (29:23)
Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The (1976-79)
Good Life, The (1975-77)
Clarke, Roy (1930-)
The Sitcom Family