1 9 6 6 (UK)
50 x 30 minute episodes
This short-lived twice-weekly soap opera from Anglia was intended to be television’s answer to popular radio serial The Archers and followed the activities of two country vets in the fictitious East Anglian English village of Weavers Green.
The serial revolved around local vet Alan Armstrong (Australian actor Grant Taylor) and his wife Dotty (Megs Jenkins) and their interaction with local farmers and villagers, chief among them Alan’s fellow vet Geoffrey Toms (Eric Flynn), recently arrived from Knightsbridge in London with his highly-strung wife Celia (Georgina Ward).
‘Sixties chick’ Celia represented the modern liberal ideals, cultural mores, fashion – and perhaps even emergent feminism – associated with city life in the mid-1960s and was the pivotal entry point for national viewing audiences.
Celia’s disruptive influence and her ongoing difficulty in acclimatising to the slower pace of village life was a key narrative drive of Weavers Green. She eventually tried to make a go of it and took a job as a tractor driver on Jack Royston’s farm.
This was initially scandalous to the villagers, and instead of changing their outlook on gender, led to her having an affair with progressive young farmer Jack (Richard Coleman) that threatened to destroy both couples’ marriages.
The village was crammed with characters like Mrs Vincent (Susan Field), Dotty’s daily help and her cowman husband, Bert (Charles Lamb); old-timer Ernie Arkwright (Frederick Piper); retired colonial civil servant Archibald Langley OBE (Gerald Young); Hazel Westcott (Marjie Lawrence, pictured) who lived in a small cottage with her son Colin (John Moulder-Brown) and labrador dog, Holly; Captain Tony Patterson (Jack Melford) who trained jumpers – including those of middle-aged playboy Bobby Brent (Edward Underdown) – and worried about his daughter (Sheila Fearn) and his overdraft; wily old local handyman and poacher Daniel Jessop (John Glyn-Jones); Sam Moneypenny (Peter Lawrence) the village policeman; and agricultural machinery salesman Derek Swan (Maurice Kaufmann) who had only recently come back to Weavers Green.
Much of the “action” took place in the Fat Ox pub where disaffection at political intervention and capital investment in rural and agricultural life was often vigorously discussed. As maverick farmer Jack Royston complained, ‘outsiders’ were “paying up more for the land than it’s worth and pushing up the prices. These amateurs should be kept out of farming. Now that’s something the government could control instead of interfering with people like us.”
In the end, Celia remained the outsider. There was no place for her ideas – or her frocks – in Weavers Green, and with their marriage on the dung heap, Celia and Geoffrey decided to return to Knightsbridge in the final episode.
But not before Geoffrey revealed that he had always been in love with childhood crush ‘Mick’ (Kate O’Mara), the daughter of Alan and Dotty Armstrong.
Mick had also trained at Cambridge to be a vet and would have been Geoffrey’s perfect match, allowing him to stay in Weavers Green and take over the family business.
Luckily, Will Akers (Dennis Waterman) turned up and proposed to Mick at the end of the episode, and Alan and Dotty embraced saying “Well. We’re right back where we started”, cueing the final credits to roll.
Weavers Green was the creation of husband and wife team Peter and Betty Lambda, who after 30 episodes were succeeded by Troy Kennedy Martin.
The serial was envisaged as ‘a mirror of country life’ but country living was not idealised, and the difficulties of village life, both for those who were new to the country and those who wished to escape, were sensitively, if a little earnestly portrayed.
The series was initially shown on Thursdays and Saturdays but succumbed to TV politics when ATV wanted the slot for Emergency – Ward 10.
It was one of the first shows to be shot primarily on location on mobile VTR equipment (the Norfolk village of Heydon, north of Reepham, was used for the main outside filming).
This made the show extremely expensive and it was widely described in the press as the most elaborate and, at £250,000, the most expensive television serial to date.
But despite this blaze of publicity and optimism, Weavers Green lasted for only 25 weeks and is barely remembered today.
A scheduling decision by ITV dictated that while the Thursday episode of Weavers Green would be in peak-time (7.00 pm), the Saturday episode was only fit for children’s hour and, in some regions, a slot opposite Doctor Who.
Anglia argued, quite reasonably, that the high ratings of the weekday episodes would only be matched by a peak-time weekend slot, but amid much publicity in June 1966, ITV announced that Weavers Green would end in September.
Anglia accused the network of bullying and what had begun as a simple show about country living ended in acrimony and bitterness. It was no coincidence that years later Anglia was the last ITV region to promote Emmerdale Farm (often wrongly described as the first rural TV soap) to a peak-time slot.
Mrs Jessie Vincent
Archibald Langley OBE
Captain Toby Patterson
PC Sam Moneypenny