Friday, October 10, 2008

Mulberry, R.F.D.

Faithful TDOY follower George Freeman sent me an e-mail earlier today about the DVD release of a Britcom that for many years was a Saturday morning staple on West Virginia Public Television: the 1992-93 series Mulberry, starring Karl Howman as a mysterious gentleman answering to the series' title who befriends an irascible, elderly dowager named Miss Farnaby (Geraldine McEwan of TV's Miss Marple fame) and charms his way into her life as her personal servant…despite the reservations of her hired help, Bert (Tony Selby) and Alice (Lill Roughley). As the series progressed, viewers were made aware that what made Mulberry so secretive was that he was in actuality the Grim Reaper, sent by his father (Death) to collect Farnaby; however, he was able to sweet-talk the old man into giving the woman a three-month extension and in that amount of time attempted to impress upon her the importance of living life to the fullest, despite the objections of loyal Bert and Alice.

Mulberry was created by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde, two successful Britcom scribes who were also responsible for comedy smashes like Please, Sir!, The Fenn Street Gang, The Good Life (aka Good Neighbors), Ever Decreasing Circles and Brush Strokes (which also featured Howman and was likewise a favorite of the programmers at WVPTV). (You might also recognize Larbey’s name from the long-running As Time Goes By, starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer.) I think in the back of my mind I remember reading about Mulberry making its debut on DVD on these shores but more-than-likely shoved it aside because (and this is the part I hate to admit, George) I wasn’t really a big fan of the show. (Unlike my OTR pal Joe Mackey, who loved it.) I’m not saying that Mulberry didn’t have merit (it was a likable if odd sitcom); it just wasn’t my particular cup of Earl Grey. Personally, I liked Brush Strokes a lot more; this Britcom has seen the first series released on Region 2 DVD but appears to be in a holding pattern concerning the remaining series (a total of five in all).

George also passed along to me an amusing blurb from the IMDb that a fan surprised Mulberry star Howman at a football game by asking him if he would autograph the DVD. Howman was apparently so astonished to learn of Mulberry’s DVD status that he asked if he could borrow the fan’s copy to take home and show the wife. (I’m guessing no one approached Howman about doing any commentary on any of the episodes.)

Tony Selby, who played the part of Bert, is a great character actor who’s appeared in more British television dramas and sitcoms than I’ve had hot dinners…but his best-known comedy role (outside of Mulberry) is that of the autocratic Cpl. Percy March in the 1975-78 series Get Some In! The program, a period 50s sitcom that focuses on the misadventures of four RAF recruits putting in their mandatory National Service, was—coincidence of coincidences—also scripted by Larbey and Esmonde, and its first series (complete with Christmas special) will be released via Network DVD on Monday, October 13th. I’m pointing this out because of the Mulberry connections, of course, but also because Get Some In! was the first regular sitcom role for Robert Lindsay, the star of Citizen Smith and My Family. (I watched the most recently available DVD of My Family episodes—from Series 8, I believe—and while I wouldn’t argue that the quality of the show isn’t quite what it once was Lindsay never fails to make me laugh out loud. I’m a lot more charitable toward Family than some of the commenters at the IMDb—the attitudes of some of them would suggest that the show was a blight on the entire Western world.)


Anonymous said...

Bob Larbey also wrote A Fine Romance with Judi Dench and Michael Williams - and Horman played the part of Michael's employee.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Thanks for the addendum, o commenter of mystery!

My mother's favorite Britcom is As Time Goes By--but for some reason she never cottoned to Romance. Once again...some likes chocolate and some likes vanilla.