Made in the 1990's The Darling Buds of May was unique in more ways than one. Devoid of car chases, gunplay, sex and bad language -it was pure family viewing as well as a smash hit series that won the ratings war over previous untouchables: Coronation Street and EastEnders. In the process it also made British TV history when all six of its first season episodes made number one in the ratings, for never had the British taken a series so instantly to their hearts.
Based on the popular novels of H.E. (Herbert Ernest) Bates (1905-1974), a Northamptonshire born author who published his first novel in 1926, The Darling Buds of May was the first of five books centred round the life loving, happy-go-lucky Larkin Family, who was headed by Pop (Sidney Charles) and Ma, his common-law wife. The fact that the two were not married appalled contemporary critics when the first book was published in 1958, for they had produced no less than six children, Mariette (a combination of Marie and Antoinette), Primrose (because she was born in the Spring), twins Zinnia and Petunia (named after Ma's favourite flowers), Victoria (born in the plum season), and Montgomery (named after Britain's famous wartime general). However, the demand for more of Bates' books soon silenced the detractors, and a year after the first one's publication it reached the big screen by way of a far less subtle Hollywood version called 'The Mating Game', starring Debbie Reynolds and Tony Randall.
Numerous other attempts had been made to capture the essence of Bates' originals, including a London stage adaptation starring Peter Jones and a BBC radio series. Richard Bates, the author's son had sold the rights to an American TV company, but when the production was slow to get off the ground those rights were rescinded and sold to Yorkshire Television. Bates worked as executive producer and the opening episode was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, who's numerous collaborations had resulted in the creation of Brush Strokes, Ever Decreasing Circles, Get Some In!, The Good Life and Please Sir! (to name just a few), with the following 11 episodes being handled by Eddie Maguire.
David Jason's portrayal of the jovial Pop, a man of independent means who ran a 22-acre smallholding and was never flustered nor lost for a word, was nothing short of 'Perfick' (Pop's favourite saying). Possibly one of the greatest character actors that Britain has ever produced, it is testimony to Jason's acting ability that the careful creation of each character he portrays is so well-defined that the viewer can put aside the memory of the last one, especially impressive when you remember that he has created some of the country's most memorable TV characters of all time, including Granville in Open All Hours, Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses and Jack Frost in A Touch of Frost. Ably and amply supporting Jason was Pam Ferris as the roly-poly, fun loving, laugh-out-loud, Ma, always at work in the kitchen cooking up giant feasts for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which Pop would liberally cover in Tomato Ketchup. The eldest of their children was played by the then unknown Catherine Zeta Jones. The perfect combination of good writing, excellent acting and the inherent 'feel good factor' of the series proved to be the perfect antidote to a televisual dramatic universe dominated by cold, hard-hearted cynicism. The Darling Buds of May proved to be a delightfully unexpected oasis of golden summer sunshine in a wasteland of post-modern grimness.
The series basked gloriously in days of nostalgia from an era of innocence long gone from the face of the Earth. Filmed delightfully in Britain's Garden County of Kent it increased the tourist trade of the little village of Pluckley, (where it was filmed) no end. This was pure family viewing in every sense of the word. In the first episode, Cedric Charlton (Charlie), a naïve young Inland Revenue official turned up to investigate Pop's financial affairs. Befuddled by Pop's accounting logic, Charlie stayed for lunch, fell in love with Mariette, and never left. And as it was for him, so it was for us all.
Published on December 7th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus & Peter Henshuls for Television Heaven.