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To the Manor Born Image

To the Manor Born

January 20, 2019

The British sitcom, To the Manor Born, features actress Penelope Keith in one of her most famous roles. As a former lady of the manor, she falls on hard times following the death of her husband.

The BBC comedy followed the highs and lows of her character, the domineering Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton, who was forced to downsize on becoming a widow - perhaps an unlikely basis for a sitcom, but one that worked surprisingly well. Written by Peter Spence, the series included 22 episodes, beginning in 1979.

It regularly attracted up to 25 million viewers, thanks to the winning formula depicting Audrey's ongoing battle of wits against self-made supermarket tycoon, Richard DeVere, who bought her former home, the manor house.

Their love-hate relationship had viewers glued to their screens and the show received consistently high audience figures, with the final episode of the first series winning the title of the most watched British TV programme of the 1970s!

Where it all went wrong for Audrey

The wealthy aristocrat Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton wanted for nothing while her husband, Marton, was alive. Complete with servants and an expensive Rolls-Royce vintage car, the couple lived in a sumptuous manor house in the fictional village of Grantleigh in Somerset.

However, the first episode reveals Marton has died, leaving Audrey in control of the Grantleigh estate - the family home of the Fforbes-Hamiltons for 400 years. However, little does she know her late husband has left a multitude of debts after squandering their fortune and she is actually bankrupt!

Losing her much-loved manor house, she is forced to move into the estate's old lodge, although she does retain the services of her butler, Brabinger. She is mortified when former East End barrow boy Richard DeVere buys her former home.

The self-made millionaire, a widower, started out on a fruit stall and went on to form the Cavendish Foods supermarket chain, but he will always be "just a grocer" to snobbish Audrey.

Despite being continually short of money, she refuses to get a job. She is a part-time magistrate, but won't look for real work, as she feels it is "below her station".

Audrey and Richard's relationship

The main reason the show was such a huge success was because of the twists and turns of the relationship between the two leading characters, whom audiences loved.

Initially, Audrey can't stand the new lord of the manor, as despite his wealth, he simply isn't aristocratic enough for her! Their relationship forms the basis of the sitcom and has some funny and poignant moments, when they use humour to help with serious life problems.

During the three series, between 30th September 1979 and 29th November 1981, Audrey and Richard grow closer and begin to help each other out. The question was always, "Will they or won't they?" as fans willed them to marry. Although viewers could see they were an ideal match, it took the couple much longer to realise this!

Surrounded by a host of other characters, who each have their own quirks to create the hub of Grantleigh village, their relationship is central to the show.

Main characters

Among the leading characters are Brabinger the butler - a typically British butler who is the perfect foil to Audrey's snobbish ways, as he has been with the Fforbes-Hamilton family for many years.

Audrey's best friend, Marjory Frobisher, is nicknamed "Muddlesome Marj" by some locals, as she has no ability to organise anything and creates chaos. She went to school with Audrey and is a dedicated campaigner for the future of the countryside.

She thinks Richard is dashing and good looking - a sentiment Audrey disputes at first, but gradually, her feelings for him grow.

Twist to the tale

The series ends on an interesting twist after Audrey and Richard's positions suddenly reverse. Richard's fortunes hit rock bottom, as his business takes a turn for the worse and it looks like he may have to sell the manor house.

Meanwhile, Audrey suddenly inherits some money following the death of a distant family member and she finds herself wealthy again. Audrey proposes to the now impoverished Richard, who is very surprised but delighted. He accepts her proposal and they marry in the final episode, both living in the manor house.

The show returned for a one-off Christmas special in 2007, catching up with Richard and Audrey 25 years later. The critics described it as "cosy and old-fashioned" but enjoyable all the same.

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