1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 2 (UK)
21 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 60 minute episode
After encapsulating British middle-class snobbery as Margot Leadbetter in The Good Life, actress Penelope Keith took a stab at the stuffy upper-crust by stepping into the (sensible) shoes of high-society widow Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton.
Keith had already proved adept at milking laughs out of snobbery, and so was ideal in the part of Audrey, a well-to-do, upper-class elitist who falls on hard times following the death of her husband.
So desperate are her financial straits that Audrey is forced to sell her husband’s huge Grantleigh Estate to pay off her late husband’s debts and thus move out of stately Grantleigh Manor – the grand home to which she has become accustomed – and into the humble gatekeeper’s lodge in the grounds.
Aristocratic Audrey is further horrified that her country estate is bought by nouveau-riche tycoon, Richard DeVere – a man of distant Czech ancestry and the head of a supermarket chain called Cavendish Foods. The two become uneasy neighbours.
Audrey tries to come to terms with her new social standing and the real world of launderettes, buses and supermarkets, but her deeply ingrained feelings of superiority, and her natural tendency to want her own way, cause her many problems.
Slowly, however, loathing gradually develops into love, with more than a little help from Richard’s Czech mother, Mrs Polouvicka (Richard’s original surname which he changed to improve his business dealings).
Other regular members of the cast are Audrey’s best friend, Marjory Frobisher, and her faithful but decrepit butler, Brabinger.
The series ends when they tie the knot and Audrey finds happiness with Richard and is once more the lady of the manor.
Peter Spence created the idea in 1968, for a projected radio series to feature Penelope Keith and Bernard Braden – in this first version, Braden played an American businessman, not a Czech descendant.
But although it was recorded, the show never aired, and it was only after the premise had been novelised that it finally arrived on TV, with the American element dropped and Christopher Bond on board to help translate the idea for the small-screen. Bond himself wrote the final episode.
Although the TV production came across as twee to some viewers, it struck a chord with a large section of the public, the high-profile casting, allied to the British fascination with class, proving irresistible; the series attracted huge viewing figures, sometimes in excess of 20 million, and the final episode was seen by almost 24 million, easily the biggest-ever audience for a single programme on British TV, beaten only in 1996 by Only Fools And Horses .
The exterior scenes were filmed on location at the thousand-acre Cricket St Thomas estate in Somerset, with Grantleigh Manor being, in reality, Cricket House.
To The Manor Born finally appeared in its originally intended medium when BBC Radio 2 aired ten especially recorded episodes from 25 January to 29 March 1997, six being adaptations by Peter Spence of his TV scripts, four being written expressly for the purpose.
Penelope Keith and Angela Thorne reprised their TV roles but Keith Barron played Richard DeVere in place of Peter Bowles.