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TO THE MANOR BORN
Radio series starring Penelope Keith >>> Full cast comedy >>> 10 episodes >>> 1997
Audrey Fforbes Hamilton is widowed and forced to sell the family estate. As if this weren’t indignity enough, the new owner of the manor is a supermarket chain owner with no knowledge or experience of the countryside or how to run the estate. Richard Devere moves into the manor house with his mother, Mrs Pugh who immediately sees possibilities of romance between her son and Grantly’s former owner.
This radio series is not a continuation of the BBC television series that ran between 1979-81 , mostly comprising renactments of the most popular episodes, with Keith Baron replacing Peter Bowles as Devere and several other key roles re-cast. This is mainly because these episodes were made in 1997, after many of the original actors had retired or died.
The television series had always relied heavily on the characters and shot in the static multi-camera style of the day, making To the Manor Born perfect radio material. But it doesn’t quite work.
To me, re-casting key roles merely to re-play stories many of the audience already know is a risky move. Going back in time to a period before Audrey and Devere got married (in the final episode of the television series) is a good idea because it’s the set-up everybody fondly remembers, with the former lady of the manor in the lodge complaining to Marjorie about whatever Richard’s done to annoy her. Some new material, set between the TV episodes has been attempted for this radio series, with four episodes out of the ten quite new. This softens an otherwise wholesale re-tread.
The performance of the impressive cast successfully evoke the era of the early 1980’s, and the cosy comedy of the decade. As an ensemble the actors play well against each other and do justice to the familiar material. The parts that have been re-cast have been skilfully managed by all concerned and are most definitely not simple karaoke versions.
Having Penelope Keith on board to reprise one of her most famous TV creations is an absolute gift. She slips back into Audrey’s shoes easily and is one of the biggest reasons why this series successfully recreates the atmosphere of the television originals. Sadly, it is difficult to shake the feeling this was a missed opportunity . In the main these radio versions simply invite comparisons with their superior TV counterparts.
These episodes are fine for anyone not familiar with the TV episodes, and enjoyable if you don’t have access to you DVDs collection. But when the episodes are repeated with such regularity on TV and the DVDs so easily available, these radio versions offer little that is new or interesting enough for me to revisit.
To The Manor Born the Radio Series can be found on radioechoes.com.
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Copyright Martin Gregory