1 9 7 9 (UK)
10 x 50 minute episodes
Filling what some people still thought of as The Brothers‘ slot on BBC1 on Sunday evenings, A Family Affair was the best quality soap, expensively made, beautifully packaged and scented with the sweet smell of success.
The hero, Richard Barnes (Barry Foster), was a Top Executive with a wife (Wendy Gifford), a daughter, two sons, a daughter-in-law, a difficult father and a mistress, so the field of human relationships to be explored was wide open.
The series started with a bride crying off on her wedding day, a skirmish in the class war, our hero ousted from his job by the treachery of a trusted friend, a daughter’s discovery of her father’s clandestine amours, not to mention a lot of exposition about a dead brother and a father’s hopes dashed – and that was only episode one.
Richard made heavy weather of his messed-up life while trying to keep the sordid details from his perfectly intelligent wife.
NJ Crisp’s script was rich in cliches (“Is everything all right between you and Richard?”, “Everything seems to be breaking up”, “You were never like other girls’ fathers”, “Where have all the years gone?”) but the cliche was proffered as a kind of shorthand that everyone could understand.
Barry Foster was broad enough of shoulder to bear the weight of the series, with a believable authority and the kind of charm that authority brings. Wendy Gifford, as his wife, had had little to do but did it most elegantly.
Frank Middlemass’s wonderfully eccentric manner and countenance shone though as Richard’s father while Jan Harvey contributed her grave beauty and Richard Duncan his lively humour.
As the daughter, Sylvestra Le Touzel delicately indicated that real emotion could lurk behind a Home Counties voice and face.
Myles Lang’s settings were masterpieces of observation – the stockbroker-belt furnishings, all Dralon sofas and leather chairs – right down to the requisite golden labrador. Philip Dudley’s stylish direction achieved some nice contrasts and variations of pace and managed to capture the essential qualities of each character most neatly.
The series provided easy, effortless, enjoyable viewing with the added attraction of allowing us to feel smugly that success brings its own problems and that money can’t buy happiness.
Sylvestra Le Touzel
William Morgan Sheppard
Christiana Van Meergeren
Sir Charles Byford
The Wedding | That Settles It | Home Truths | Quick as You Can | A Bit of a Troublemaker | Daytime Wife | Adrift | One Last Meal | A Good Day | Finding the Words