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To The Manor Born

By Phil Udell

To the Manor Born is another BBC sitcom from the genre's golden age, one that came to dominate the ratings during its initial three-season run from 1979-80. Providing Penelope Keith with her first major role after The Good Life, the show focuses on a way of life that now appears hard to comprehend, with storylines concerning hunt balls, village committees, and eccentric brigadiers only adding to the dated feel. What provided the program's key interest, however, was not the terribly quaint Little England setting but the burgeoning relationship between Keith's Audrey fforbes-Hamilton and Richard De Vere (Peter Bowles), the new owner of Audrey's old home, Grantleigh Manor. It's all very, very English (the show is set in a village called Cricket St. Thomas) and the continuing use of farce almost creates a sense of parody. But look beyond the infuriating stereotypes and there is some sharp writing going on, predating the city vs countryside debate by nearly two decades. Penelope Keith is, as ever, fantastic value and while new viewers may simply not get the joke, those looking for a spot of nostalgia could do far worse.

Follow the hilarious misadventures of the upper crust but impoverished Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, once Lady of Grantley Manor, and Richard DeVere, the mysterious millionaire who buys her ancestral estate.

Where is the Real Grantleigh Manor?

The real Grantleigh Manor, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 (six villagers, two slaves, and a variety of livestock), exists in the Somerset countryside. Until 1999, it was owned by the brother-in-law of Peter Spence. Who is Peter Spence? He was the writer and creator of To the Manor Born! Warner Holidays purchased the estate and has turned it into a hotel. Yes, you too can live like a fforbes-Hamilton!

Episode Guide:

Episode One. When newly widowed Audrey is forced to auction Grantley Manor to an unknown businessman, she immediately starts scheming how to get it back. (Aired: September 30, 1979)

Episode Two. Audrey takes up residence in nearby lesser quarters and is aghast to discover that Richard is a foreigner who intends to run his grocery empire from the manor. (Aired: October 7, 1979)

Episode Three. When Richard fails to attend church in his role of Lord of the Manor, Audrey undertakes to instruct him in his proper social responsibilities. (Aired: October 14, 1979)

Episode Four. After Audrey helps Richard buy a horse, he attempts to win her goodwill with the gift of a detestably ugly fireplace. (Aired: October 21, 1979)

Episode Five. Richard tricks Audrey into organizing the traditional Hunt Ball at Grantley Manor and then is too distracted by his business to invite her as his guest. (Aired: October 28, 1979)

Episode Six. When Audrey pretends to go on vacation in Spain in order to maintain appearances with her wealthy friends, Richard discovers her secret and is forced to confess one of his own. (Aired: November 4, 1979)

Episode Seven. In order to create a genteel appearance, Richard embarks upon a posh television commercial to be filmed at the manor, but Audrey steals the starring role. (Aired: November 11, 1979)

1979 Christmas Special. Richard and Audrey compete to supply the traditional Christmas creche to the village church, and the question soon becomes which offer is more ridiculous—her homemade monstrosity or his crassly commercial model? (Aired: December 25, 1979)

Episode Eight. Hilarity abounds as Richard imposes new efficiency standards upon farm management and Audrey learns a few hard lessons in housekeeping. (Aired: October 5, 1980)

Episode Nine. Audrey enthusiastically helps Richard to catalog his antique china until a valuable piece is missing and she becomes the likely suspect. (Aired: October 12, 1980)

Episode Ten. An itinerant laborer pits Audrey against Richard in a contest of charity, with the reputation of Grantley Manor’s hospitality at stake. (Aired: October 19, 1980)

Episode Eleven. Audrey’s scheme to set up a blind date between Richard and his dumpy old school friend backfires when the friend turns out to be a glamorous divorcee. (Aired: October 26, 1980)

Episode Twelve. Determined to make the farm profitable, Richard proposes to clear the trees and hedgerows, igniting a storm of protest from Audrey and the local conservation society. (Aired: November 2, 1980)

Episode Thirteen. When Audrey injures her back carrying firewood, an attentive Richard invites her on a skiing holiday, then discovers he actually needs to learn how to ski! (Aired: November 9, 1980)

Episode Fourteen. It’s the “War of the Scouts” with Richard sponsoring the local Boy Scout troop and Audrey, as Commissioner of the Girl Guides, competing for use of the common clubhouse. (Aired: October 18, 1981)

Episode Fifteen. When Marlbury Rail Station is marked for closure, Audrey leads the protest to save it as Richard schemes to turn it into a new grocery store. (Aired: October 25, 1981)

Episode Sixteen. Audrey, unable to pay the repair bills for her ancient Rolls Royce, decides to get about on horseback—much to Richard’s dismay. (Aired: November 1, 1981)

Episode Seventeen. When Audrey embarks upon a beekeeping enterprise, a rare bird takes up residence in her garden, attracting hordes of bird-watchers…and honey customers. (Aired: November 8, 1981)

Episode Eighteen. Richard fends off the attentions of an amorous French businesswoman by pretending he is married and then asks Audrey to pose as his wife…a chance for mischief she just can’t pass up! (Aired: November 15, 1981)

Episode Nineteen. When the stockholders of Richard’s company threaten to throw him off the board for being an upstart foreigner, Audrey calls upon her uppercrust family connections to come to the rescue. (Aired: November 22, 1981)

Episode Twenty. Fate takes an ironic twist when Richard is forced to sell Grantley Manor and Audrey inherits a fortune to buy it back. But will this reversal of roles mean the end of their romance? (Aired: November 29, 1981)

 

Share Your Memories In Our Forums!

Check out our To The Manor Born forum! Do you have a favorite episode of the show? What do you remember about the series? Do you have any questions about it or its stars? Now you can post comments and questions directly to our TV forums! Click here to see what other To The Manor Born viewers have said or to post your own comments about the show!

Your Memories Shared!

I was looking for another intelligent Britcom and decided to give this a try. What a pleasant surprise! I have to admit not being a fan of "Good Neighbors" nor did I care much for the character Penelope Keith played in that earlier series. But she is PERFECT as Mrs. fforbes-Hamilton. In fact this is about as well-cast a series as I've ever seen. I've let several friends borrow my tapes and they've all enjoyed them.

--Patrick Mondout

Note: This is just a random sample of the To The Manor Born messages in our TV forums! Click here to see what others have said or to post your own comments!

 

TV TIDBITS

Aired: 1979-1981

Cast: Penelope Keith (Audrey fforbes-Hamilton), Peter Bowles (Richard DeVere), Daphne Heard, John Rudling, Angela Thorne

Network: BBC, PBS

Genre: Sitcom

Theme song

Image courtesy of the BBC


   
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