Driving back from my parents into a congested M6, happily free from Christmas television, Katharine insisted that the To the Manor Born Christmas special was at least three hours long. I agreed that it felt like five, but insisted it was a mere one hour and was proved right (if only it had been on ITV, then we’d have had some ads to spare us the tedium).
We wondered what Alexander Armstrong was doing, apart from looking bored. Armstrong’s a talented man, but here he played the role of disinterested observer, asking silly questions to make sure the slower witted viewers kept up (or more likely caught up after dozing off). If creator Peter Spence had anything about him, he’d have used Armstrong to inject (in the way clever kids films and pantomimes do) a different, subtle humour aimed over the heads of his usual audience at those he must have known were watching under sufferance with reminiscing parents.
And yet a comedy that apparently anticipated the tension between the countryside establishment (in the form of the aristocratic Audrey fforbes-Hamilton) and the supermarkets (caricatured as Richard DeVere, a slimy businessman who actually worked for his wealth), sounds like something that might have had an edge. But as Peter Spence makes clear, that apparent prescience was accidental. And that includes the stuff about DeVere being born Bedrich Polouvicki, that is of East European stock and so the lowest of the low.
Sadly Peter Spence did have a go at appearing cleverer than he is and attempt the politics thing, opening the episode with lengthy scene setting monologues that could easily have been written as party political broadcasts on behalf of the Countryside Alliance. Surely, even the most loopy pro-hunting nutter would have preferred Spence to have cracked a couple of jokes instead.
Life after To the Manor Born has clearly not been so kind to Peter Spence, a mediocre writer who has had no other hits. But a career writing propaganda for the UKIP or the Tories clearly beckons.