Home Television Comedy Dear John

Dear John

1 9 8 6 – 1 9 8 7 (UK)
14 x 30 minute episodes

John Lacey, a schoolteacher, is a recent divorcee whose wife Wendy has left him for his best friend, taking Toby, their eight-year-old son, with her. In the subsequent divorce proceedings, John lost his house and was forced to move into a crummy bedsit.

This event has left him shell-shocked, unable to speak without stumbling over his words and finding it difficult to face up to living alone.

To aid the healing process, he joins a divorced and separated encounter group called the ‘1-2-1’ club, where others in a similar situation seek solace in each other’s company. Unfortunately, on the surface at least, the group throws up more problems than it solves.

The 1-2-1 Club is organised by officious beauty consultant Louise Williams, a matronly woman determined to remain chirpy throughout, hoping to jollify the others by example.

Prone to the odd insensitive remark – but oblivious to them – she sports an unhealthy interest in the sexual history of her charges, probing into the bedroom habits behind the failed marriages.

This tendency embarrasses the rest of the group but Louise carries on regardless, seeming to derive a sensual thrill from the revelations.

Apart from John, the group’s regular members are Ralph Dring, a timid, relentlessly ordinary chap beside whom John seems positively dynamic; Mrs Arnott, who mostly keeps herself to herself; the attractive and vulnerable but bitter, frigid and thrice-married Kate; and the ‘black sheep’ of the congregation, Kirk St Moritz (pictured at left), a massively insecure medallion man fantasist who overcompensates by maintaining a braggartly front, boasting of a fabulously full life of wild parties and sexual adventures.

Although the others see through him, and his lies (his real name is Eric Morris) Kirk persists in keeping the pretence going.

Despite all the hurdles, however, the group members slowly start to rebuild their lives. Also seen were Sylvia Watkins (with the silly laugh) and rock star of yesteryear, Ricky Fortune – of Ricky Fortune and The Fortunates.

A dysfunctional bunch of adults who rely upon one another for companionship and hope is not an obvious subject for comedy, but much humour was wrought from it thanks to John Sullivan’s deft writing and well-observed characters.

By his own high standards, the series was only a modest success, but Ralph Bates made a likeable lead – his real-life son William played his on-screen son, Toby, incidentally – and the series may have continued if a fatal illness hadn’t claimed the actor’s life prematurely in 1991.

Following its demise on the BBC, the series was sold to the USA where it was remade from 1988 to 1992 with the same title (90 x 30-minute episodes).

The US version starred Judd Hirsch as John Lacey, Sabella Hoffman as Kate, Jere Burns as Kirk and Jane Carr as Louise. Other US cast members included Harry Groener, Billie Bird, Carlene Watkins, Deborah Harmon, Ben Savafe and Billy Cohen.

John Lacey
Ralph Bates
Kirk St Moritz (Eric Morris)

Peter Blake
Kate

Belinda Lang
Ralph Dring

Peter Denyer
Roger

Michael Cochrane
Louise Williams

Rachel Bell
Mrs Arnott

Jean Challis
Ken

Terence Edmond
Clive

Ruddy L Davis
Wendy

Wendy Allnut
Toby

William Bates
Ricky Fortune

Kevin Lloyd
Sylvia Watkins
Lucinda Curtis
Fay

Pippa Steel
Mrs Lemenski
Irene Prador