Hark at Barker

1969 | United Kingdom

Lord Rustless' ancestry was obscure but said to go back to Hubert de Rustless, who arrived from Normandy with an army of serfs in 1166 and almost decimated the Hastings Public Library before the error was realised. The family was granted estates on what later became Broadmoor. And it was here, in 1968, that the British public were introduced to the present Lord, who bore a startling resemblance to Ronnie Barker! 

The character was created by Alun Owen, the noted Welsh playwright and screenwriter who first came to popular notice writing the Armchair Theatre production 'No Trams to Lime Street,' before going on to contribute scripts for a number of plays that helped shape British drama's distinctive 1960s feel. Most famously he wrote the script for The Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night. This was his first excursion into comedy writing and was presented originally as part of the Ronnie Barker Playhouse (the episode was entitled 'Ah, There You Are') in which Barker, not for the last time on television, took on a range of different characters. "The one with his Lordship" said Barker referring to the character's debut, "was particularly successful with the viewers. So was one in which I played a monk. But as the monk was in a silent order and I didn't in fact say a word through the whole play, it would have been rather difficult to bring back and sustain." 

Alun Owen had originally planned to write the series but a previous commitment to go to America prevented him doing so. Instead, he tape recorded his outline for the character and for the series future development for Alan Ayckbourn (writing under the pseudonym of Peter Caulfield), the writer who took over the scripting for the series. "Basically, Lord Rustless is an ageing but perennial scatterbrain." Said Barker. "In his way, he is rather innocent. He is in a sort of second childhood. He is a caricature of the old rumbustious aristocrat." Others writers contributed scripts over the two seasons the show ran, including John Brendan, Bernard McKenna, John Junkin, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Gerald Wiley (an alias for Barker himself). 

The series may have seemed like a straight sitcom, but it was structured slightly differently as Barker explained: "This will probably be the first situation comedy series that also has sketches. The way it works is that his Lordship sounds off about his various recollections and experiences. Then we do a sketch about it in which I play the other characters involved. Of course, Lord Rustless has his adventures, too. Little goes right in his household. He has a secretary, Bates, played by Josephine Tewson and a butler called Badger-Frank Gatliff." Also cast in this series was David Jason as Dithers, the one hundred-year old gardener. Barker and Jason hit it off immediately. Josephine Tewson remembers what Barker had to say about David Jason in 1969. "I can remember Ronnie saying then 'he's going to give us work when we get old and crotchety.' He could see the potential David had and how good he was." Jason was also appearing in Do Not Adjust Your Set at the same time. There were occasional parts for David Jason's brother, Arthur White, in Hark At Barker as well as future 'Monty Python' star Michael Palin. The show earned Ronnie Barker the Variety Club's TV Personality of the year award for 1969. Lord Rustless returned in 1972 in His Lordship Entertains on BBC television.

Published on December 20th, 2018. Based on an original TV Times article.