1 9 8 8 – 1 9 9 2 (UK)
38 x 30 minute episodes
Sarah France (Prunella Scales) is 42 and a widow of two years – her GP husband, Henry, having been killed in a car crash.
Dr France has left Sarah well provided for, with a large Edwardian detached house in Stipton (a leafy town about 70 miles out of London), which she shares with their 18-year-old daughter Clare (Janine Wood) and her seventy-something mother Eleanor (Joan Sanderson).
”Mother” is a manipulative sort, but Henry had assured Sarah that, between the two of them, and with Clare’s help, they would cope with her presence without undue trouble. Now he’s gone and all three women have to cope ”after Henry”.
Of the three generations in the one household, Sarah is most definitely piggy in the middle, not only because of her age but also through simple geography – mother Eleanor resides in the upstairs flat and daughter Clare moves into the basement.
Both women bring her grief – Mother is the ultimate in cunning, forever sapping Sarah’s confidence and undermining her principles. She is also a terrible gossip (Sarah calls Eleanor and her friends ”The Geriatric Mafia”), prone to making pronouncements about what she’s heard from “Valerie Brown on the pension counter’s sister Mary’s gentleman friend Maurice” or from her friend Vera Poling (Peggy Ann Wood) who lives at the Sycamores, a residential home for the elderly.
Clare, meanwhile, is at that precocious age, keen to assert her independence when it suits her but equally quick to go running back to mother when it doesn’t.
Life being what it is, Eleanor and Clare frequently gang up on Sarah, whose only source of refuge is Russell (Jonathan Newth), the owner of Bygone Books, the second-hand bookshop where she works.
Russell is Sarah’s counsel, and, because he’s homosexual, they can exchange frank confidences without threat of romantic entanglement.
A gentle and sensitive comedy, After Henry was a special creation, exploring parallel mother/daughter relationships within an intelligent framework. The episodes were scripted superbly, with all loose ends neatly tied up inside every story.
Originally created for BBC radio, After Henry shone within that medium and quickly became a favourite among listeners. Mystifyingly, the BBC is reported to have turned down the TV adaptation, however, so it went instead to Thames, an inexplicable error of judgement.
Although unlike ITV’s normal sitcom fare, After Henry was given the perfect treatment by Thames, which omitted any fancy graphics or visuals to present the series for what it was: a radio sitcom with reams of literate dialogue and little action, beautifully played by a fine cast – and by Prunella Scales and Joan Sanderson in particular, their combined chemistry being a most potent force.
Peggy Ann Wood
Edward de Souza