1 9 6 8 – 1 9 7 3 (UK)
46 x 30 minute episodes
Upon the death of Joshua Pledge, a veteran pickle-magnate, his two unmarried middle-aged children, Nellie and Eli, jointly inherit their father’s assets: £9 17s 6d and Pledge’s Purer Pickles – the old man’s condiment company, with its decrepit factory, ragbag staff, 12 tons of pickled onions, and stores of gherkins, cauliflower and beetroot.
Endowed with the responsibility of keeping the concern afloat, the pair are hindered by the fact that they cannot abide each other’s company – let alone the company they have to keep – and bicker constantly.
Set in Colne, Lancashire, this North Country comedy was rooted in Blackpool-style humour and worked well because of its strong scripts and the prowess of its two major stars; 4ft 10in battler Hylda Baker (Nellie) – complete with her “He knows, you know” and “ooh, I must get a little hand put on this watch” catchphrases and armoury of double entendres and malapropisms – and Jimmy Jewel (Eli), the veteran comic cast as a leering Lothario who inexplicably manages to pull all the blonde young beauties.
Julie Goodyear – about to take off as brassy Bet Lynch in Coronation Street – was one such conquest.
In the show (and reputedly off-stage too) Baker and Jewel hurled insults at one another with good aim and hilarious regularity. Eli liked a drink while prudish Nellie was untouched by the male hand and seemed determined to stay that way.
Nellie and Eli shared a large rambling house and socialised with Pledge’s Purer Pickles’ foreman, Stan (Joe Gladwin), their cousin Lily (Madge Hindle) and her nervous husband, Walter (Edward Malin), who was always rushing to the toilet (“has he been?”).
There were two British spin-offs from the series: a Nearest And Dearest summer stage show at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool in 1970, and a Nearest And Dearest feature film in 1972, written by Tom Brennand and Roy Bottomley and directed by John Robins for Hammer Films.
The American version of Thicker Than Water never screened in Britain and starred Julie Harris and Richard Long as Nellie and Ernie Paine. This time the squabbling siblings ran Paine’s Pure Pickles for their still-living but aged father, Jonas.
The series ran for just nine episodes in the summer of 1973, before being cancelled by ABC.