1 9 5 4 – 1 9 5 7 (UK)
138 x 20 minute episodes
The Grove Family, which ran from 1954 to 1957, was the first British television soap for adults. It was set in the north London suburb of Hendon and featured three generations of a successful builder’s family who took their name from the BBC’s Lime Grove studios.
The Grove family consisted of Dad (Bob), a jolly although sometimes harassed ‘jobbing builder’; Mum (Gladys) a warm and forthright housewife; 12-year-old Lenny, bright but a fibber; 14-year-old Daphne; Pat, a 20-year old assistant librarian who turned actress; Jack, who was doing National Service; and Grandma who was always complaining: “I’m starved for want of nourishment”.
Viewers of all ages wrote angry letters to the BBC about the atrociously ungrateful Gran; asked for estimates for building work from Bob Grove; advised Gladys about slimming, Jack about his girlfriends and Pat about her admirers.
They held their breath when actress Ruth Dunning was rushed to hospital with appendicitis. The show even had royal patronage. On a visit to the studios, the Queen Mother declared herself a fan, calling the family “so English, so real”.
First and foremost entertainment, it nevertheless contained public service elements as well as reflecting the post-war growth in prosperity.
Then suddenly in June 1957 the series was scrapped after a row between the BBC and the father and son writing team of Roland and Michael Pertwee.
Exhausted from three years of writing, the Pertwees wanted a break and asked instead whether they could oversee the scripts of other writers. The BBC wouldn’t agree to this, hired new writers but then axed the Groves altogether.
Michael Pertwee later reflected: “The people at the BBC then didn’t have the foresight, the commercial sense, to see what the people making Coronation Street saw – that these series can go through quiet spells but they can survive and last and be important”.
It was a sad end for the Groves. Edward Evans and Ruth Dunning never again achieved such stardom. Only Christopher Beeny prospered, as the accident-prone under-butler in Upstairs Downstairs and the gormless nephew in the funeral parlour comedy In Loving Memory.
All that remains of The Grove Family is a short film. No copies of the series exist.
Sheila Sweet (1)
Carole Mowlam (2)