TV: MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE, GEORGE AND MILDRED, ROBIN’S NEST

by Peter Tatchell

manaboutthehouseBy the early 1970s, British television comedy was able to push back a few boundaries. A decade of Steptoe And Son, Till Death Us Do Part and Monty Python’s Flying Circus had resulted in a more liberal attitude to what was permissable on living room tv screens, with concepts now able to reflect some of the things that were actually happening out there in the real world.

In 1973, writers Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (the men responsible for Father Dear Father, and contributors to the latter days of Round The Horne) had an idea for a sitcom about three young people sharing a flat in suburbia. The twist was that two were girls and one was a guy, and though there would be lots of sexual repartee and the occasional weakening of resolve, nothing would actually happen.

Thames Television liked the idea and commissioned a series of seven half hours. The pivotal role of Robin Tripp (the thorn among the roses) was taken by one-time child actor Richard O’Sullivan, recently seen as sycophantic medico Lawrence Bingham in Doctor At Large and Doctor In Charge. His flatmates Chrissy and Jo were played by Paula Wilcox (who had partnered Richard Beckinsale in The Lovers) and Sally Thomsett (one of the participants in The Railway Children). Rounding out the cast, and to represent the older generation, were the landlords George and Mildred Roper (Brian Murphy and sitcom perennial Yootha Joyce).

The Ropers were an odd couple to be sure … she, an over-age refugee from the swinging sixties (in thought and fashion), and he, a self-centred layabout (or, to use Mildred’s description, a “nasty little toe-rag”) with the mind of an adolescent and the manners of a five-year-old.

As the series begins, Jo and Chrissy are recovering from a wild sendoff party for the third girl in their flat (who is getting married). Amongst the flotsam littering the apartment they find cookery student Robin who has spent the night sleeping it off in the bathtub. In need of someone new to help share the rent, and enticed by his culinary skills, they suggest he move in … but on the proviso he’s only getting lodgings.

Thus began six seasons of comic byplay highlighting the romantic pursuits of the tenants upstairs and the marital bickerings of the landlords below. Along the way, we meet a handful of periferal characters like Robin’s mate Larry (played by Doug Fisher), who arrives as an unwanted house guest before moving into the attic, and George’s handyman friend Jerry (one of Roy Kinnear’s many classic portrayals).

In 1974 the series spawned a spinoff movie (which premiered at Christmas) with all the original cast taking part, along with comedy greats Spike Milligan and Arthur Lowe, plus a gallery of sitcom faces like Michael Robbins, Jack Smethurst, Bill Pertwee, Melvyn Hayes and Bill Maynard.

In 1976, it was decided to allow Man About The House to evolve into two new series featuring the show’s most popular characters. Would Robin finally get Chrissy to fall for him (after thirty-nine episodes of lustful pursuit) and ride off into a sequel? The writers thought not, and a mere three stories before the finale, introduced Robin’s older brother, Norman, who makes his first visit to the flat and it’s love at first sight. He and Chrissy tie the knot in the show’s last edition (and are never heard of again).

Five months later, we see the Ropers moving up in the world to their own house in a more genteel neighbourhood. In George And Mildred, the couple find themselves keeping up with the Joneses (or, in this case, the Fourmileses) the economically-correct family next door. Wife Anne (Sheila Fearn) hits it off with Mildred from day one, but husband Jeffrey (played by Norman Eshley, an actor who looks remarkably like the fellow who made off with Chrissy a mere sitcom ago) feels George is a waste of space, who’s now residing far too near his space. To further populate matters, the Fourmiles have a precocious youngster, Tristram (Nicholas Bond-Owen), who has his own special way of tormenting George.

With one set of antagonists not enough, the writers introduced a second pair, in the form of Mildred’s snobbish sister Ethel and her well-off husband Humphrey (played by Avril Elgar and Reginald Marsh) who make several appearances throughout the show’s run. Other plot advancements included a baby for the Fourmile family and George getting a job that suited his personality … that of traffic warden.

In 1979, following the success of  Man About The House (and numerous other seventies sitcoms) George And Mildred made it to the big screen as well. The duo also appeared in a stage production (which eventually toured far-off Australia), though trivialists will note the pair first trod the boards as ugly sisters in the 1976 pantomime Cinderella at the London Palladium (which also starred Richard O’Sullivan as Buttons).

The series ended on a sad note, when Yootha Joyce died suddenly just before the movie was released, leaving her co-star (and millions of fans) stunned.

Meanwhile (back in 1977), the character of Robin Tripp had survived the heartbreaking loss of his lady love by shacking up with an air hostess, Vicky (played by Tessa Wyatt) and launching his own restaurant Robin’s Nest. (Apparently special permission from the I.B.A. had to be given before lead characters in a sitcom could be seen co-habitating before wedlock had been performed!).

Needing finance, Robin agrees to let her father, James Nicholls (Tony Britton), invest in the enterprise. The businessman feels a day-to-day involvement, keeping an eye on his daughter as well as his money, should be part of the deal and before long Robin feels he’s being usurped under his very roof.

Entering the fray, in search of employment, comes a one-armed Irishman Albert Riddle (played by two-armed actor David Kelly). Despite his handicap (in the hand department, there’s a deficiency of one), he is engaged as dishwasher. Kelly had some wonderful moments of black humour with the role … on one occasion he’s seen helping a customer on with his jacket and (by force of habit) puts the left sleeve in the leftside coat pocket.

Other characters making an appearance include Nicholls’s ex-wife (played in the earlier episodes by Honor Blackman, but later by Barbara Murray) and, after Robin and Vicky have duly married and in the best sitcom tradition had twins, restaurant help Gertrude (Peggy Aitchison). Needless to say, Albert and Gertrude form an emotional bond in the fullness of time.

Writers Mortimer and Cooke only provided storylines for about a quarter of the episodes as by 1978 they had moved on to oversee the U.S. version of their original incarnation, there titled Three’s Company. Like the Till Death Us Do Part adaptation All In The Family, it was another huge success, eventually leading to the American spinoffs The Ropers and Three’s A Crowd*.

For the British series, ex-Doctor In The House alumnus George Layton and a plethora of other sitcom scripters contributed the majority of the plots.

Robin’s Nest was the least popular of the three ventures but, strangely, yielded more episodes. When it concluded (in March 1981) the characters of Robin Tripp and the Ropers faded into video history.

* For the full story of these productions, including episode guides, see Come And Knock On Our Door by Chris Mann (St. Martins Press paperback, 1998).

 

MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE
all scripts by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke

Season 1: ITV August 15 to September 26 1973 (7 x 25 min)
Three’s A Crowd
Chrissy and Jo want Robin to move in but think the only way the Ropers will agree is if they’re under the impression he’s gay
And Mother Makes Four
The girls want Robin to disappear when Chrissy’s mother wants to stay for the night
Some Enchanted Evening
Chrissy wants Robin to prepare a meal to impress her date
And Then There Were Two
Chrissie feels nervous when she’s left alone in the flat with Robin
It’s Only Money
When the rent money disappears, the flatmates have to come up with ideas to raise some cash
Match Of The Day
Robin’s big chance of playing with the college football team is threatened by a dose of the flu
No Children, No Dogs
Robin is given a puppy which has to be hidden from the Ropers

* All Star Christmas Spectacular (ITV December 25 1973) featured a short Man About The House segment

Season 2: ITV January 9 to February 13 1974 (6 x 25 min)
While The Cat’s Away
Robin and the girls throw a party when the Ropers are away for the night
Colour Me Yellow
Robin ends up looking like a coward when confronted by a bully in the pub
In Praise Of Older Men
Chrissy feels frustrated with dating youths so decides to turn her attention to someone a bit more mature
Did You Ever Meet Rommel?
The flatmates aren’t sure Mr. Roper will get on with their German dinner guest
Two Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue
While babysitting with Chrissy, Robin considers the romantic possibilities of the evening
Carry Me Back To Old Southampton
After failing his exams, Robin contemplates returning home to live with his family

Season 3: ITV October 9 to November 20 1974 (7 x 25 min)
Cuckoo In The Nest
Robin’s friend Larry causes trouble by moving in
Come Into My Parlour
Chrissy tries to wreck Robin’s romantic evening
I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me
Chrissy talks Robin into accompanying her to the firm’s formal dance
Of Mice And Women
The appearance of a mouse in the flats creates opportunities for both Robin and Mr. Roper
Somebody Out There Likes Me
Chrissy finds she has an unknown admirer, but who can it be?
We Shall Not Be Moved
Mr. Roper wants to convert the building into self-contained units
Three Of A Kind
Chrissy wants to join in Robin’s all-male poker school

Season 4: ITV March 6 to April 10 1975 (6 x 25 min)
Home And Away
Robin and Chrissy use Mr. Roper’s decrepit car to drive to a football match out of town
One For The Road
There’s trouble brewing when Mr. Roper decides to make his own beer
All In The Game
Mr. Roper’s layabout friend Jerry is called in when woodworm is found in the flats
Never Give Your Real Name
Larry has used Robin’s name during a romantic encounter with a girl who is now pregnant
The Tender Trap
Chrissy’s mother is unhappy with her daughter’s marital situation
My Son, My Son
Robin has to pretend to be Mr. Roper’s non-existant son to thwart a tax investigation

Season 5: ITV September 4 to October 9 1975 (6 x 25 min)
The Last Picture Show
Chrissy’s home movie gets mixed up with Mr. Roper’s adult one
Right, Said George
Chrissy agrees to teach Robin how to play the piano but moving the Roper’s upright upstairs is not easy
A Little Knowledge
Robin has come up with a new moneymaking venture
Love And Let Love
When Robin interrupts Chrissy’s romantic evening with her boyfriend, he wonders if she’ll try to get even
How Does Your Garden Grow?
While clearing the overgrown garden, a strange looking weed catches everyone’s eye
Come Fly With Me
George buys Mildred a female budgie as an anniversary present

Season 6: ITV February 25 to April 7 1976 (7 x 25 min)
The Party’s Over
Following an argument, Mildred walks out on George
One More For The Pot
When Mr. Roper announces he’s putting up the rent, Robin and the girls consider taking in a fourth flatmate
The Generation Game
Robin’s romantic dinner with Chrissy is interrupted with the arrival of two extra mouths to feed
The Sunshine Boys
The flatmates want to use Mr. Roper’s sunlamp to prepare them for their holidays
Mum Always Liked You Best
The girls are fascinated to meet Robin’s older brother Norman
Fire Down Below
Robin and Norman fight it out over Chrissy’s affections
Another Bride, Another Groom
Chrissy’s wedding is thrown into turmoil when Robin drops the cake he has created

GEORGE AND MILDRED
all scripts by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke

Season 1: ITV September 6 to November 8 1976 (10 x 25 min)
Moving On
The Ropers move to a new house in middle-class suburbia
The Bad Penny
George and Mildred get to know their neighbours and an invisible dog
And Women Must Weep
The Ropers need employment … but Mildred ends up with the job
Baby Talk
George and Mildred consider adoption
Your Money Or Your Life
George is worried when he finds out he’s more valuable to Mildred if he’s dead
Where My Caravan Has Rested
George buys a ramshackle caravan
The Little Dog Laughed
George becomes jealous of Mildred’s devotion to her dog and then accidentally loses it
Best Foot Forward
George blames Jeffrey Fourmile for his broken leg and intends to sue him
My Husband Next Door
When the Roper’s television breaks down it’s bad news for the neighbours
Family Planning
Mildred wants her elderly mother to move in, but George threatens to move out

Season 2: ITV November 14 to December 26 1977 (7 x 25 min)
Jumble Pie
George is heartbroken at the loss of his budgie
All Around The Clock
George surprises Mildred with an unexpected anniversary present
The Travelling Man
A commercial traveller boards with the Ropers
The Unkindest Cut Of All
Mildred’s well-off sister and her husband come to dinner
The Right Way To Travel
The Ropers consider joining the Conservative Party to get a cheap holiday
The Dorothy Letters
Mildred finds some secret letters George has written
No Business Like Show Business
The Ropers are to appear in a local stage production but Mildred loses her voice

Season 3: ITV September 7 to October 12 1978 (6 x 25 min)
Opportunity Knocks
George tries to sell the house without Mildred’s knowledge to finance a hare-brained scheme
And So To Bed
Mildred wants a new bed but George has been banned from the hire-purchase scheme
I Believe In Yesterday
Mildred renews acquaintance with an old wartime flame
The Four-Letter Word
George gets a job with his brother-in-law Humphrey, the wholesale offal merchant
The Delivery Man
George has to use his motorbike to take Anne to hospital
Life With Father
George’s father doesn’t like being a resident at the old folks’ home

Season 4: ITV November 16 to December 27 1978 (7 x 25 min)
Just The Job
George gets a job as a traffic warden
Days Of Beer And Rosie
Owing to a past indescretion by George, it looks like Mildred has become a step-grandmother
You Must Have Showers
Jerry is hired to install Mildred’s new shower
All Work And No Pay
George is sacked from his traffic warden job
Nappy Days
George manages to misplace the Fourmile’s new baby
The Mating Game
George sees Truffles as a moneymaking proposition in providing pedigreed pups
The Second Day Of Christmas
The Ropers have had a most uninteresting Christmas

Season 5: ITV October 24 and October 30 to December 25 1979 (repeats on Nov 20 and Dec 11) (8 x 25 min)
In Sickness And In Health
When Mildred unexpectedly arrives home from hospital, she finds George has a house guest
Finders Keepers
George somehow manages to remember it’s their 25th wedding anniversary
The Last Straw
Still not feeling accepted in the local social set, Mildred decides to revisit the old neighbourhood
A Driving Ambition
Mildred pretends she is doing a fitness course but in reality is learning to drive
A Military Pickle
His brother Charlie insists George was an army deserter
Fishy Business
George takes up homing pigeons to replace his goldfish which has disappeared down a drain
I Gotta Horse
The Ropers think Mildred’s china horse could be worth a fortune
Twenty-Six-Year Itch
George has arranged some entertainment to keep him busy while Mildred is off to a Young Conservatives dinner dance

ROBIN’S NEST
scripts by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (unless noted)

Season 1: ITV January 11 to February 22 1977 (7 x 25 min)
Sleeping Partners
Robin has moved in with his air-hostess girlfriend Vicky
The Bistro Kids
The bistro’s opening day is beset with problems, including a visit from the local health inspector
A Little Competition
The rivalry with the restaurant next door takes an unexpected turn
The Material Triangle
Vicky wants to introduce Robin to her mother
Piggy In The Middle
Vicky’s father wants to redecorate the restaurant’s interior
A Matter Of Note
A forged £10 note turns up at the bistro
Oh, Happy Day
Robin and Vicky decide to have a quiet relatives-free wedding at a registry office

Season 2: ITV February 23 to March 30 1978 (6 x 25 min)
As Long As He Needs Me
Vicky has to tend to her father who has strained his back
The Seven Pound Fiddle
Mr. Nicholls sacks Albert when he thinks money has been stolen from the day’s takings
Ups And Downs
Robin and Mr. Nicholls find themselves locked in the bistro’s cellar
Three Times Table
The bistro adopts a continental flavour by putting tables on the footpath
Great Expectations
Marriage is again on the cards when Vicky believes she’s pregnant
Love And Marriage
Robin and Vicky finally make it to the altar and think about cashing in Mr. Nicholls’s present

Season 3: ITV September 25 to December 1978 (13 x 25 min)
You Need Hands (by Bernard McKenna)
Mr. Nicholls hires an ageing pianist to perform at the bistro
The Candidate (by David Norton and Roger Taylor)
When Vicky’s father runs in the council election he uses the restaurant as his headquarters
Just Desserts (by Bernard McKenna)
An old flame of Mr. Nicholls turns up at the bistro
Away From All What? (by Terence Brady and Charlotte Bingham)
Robin needs a replacement chef so he can have a holiday with Vicky
England Expects (by David Norton and Roger Taylor)
Mr. Nicholls arranges for Robin’s Nest to be the venue for his regimental reunion
Once Two Is Three (by Jon Watkins)
Robin is considering opening a restaurant in far-away Brighton
Dinner Date (by Terence Feely)
Vicky’s father rekindles romance with a ladyfriend who’s been living overseas
Everything You Wish Yourself (by Willis Hall)
A mix-up in birhday dates causes confusion at the bistro
Be It Ever So Humble (by Ken Hoare)
Albert hands in his notice
Day Trippers (by Bernard McKenna)
Robin and Vicky’s picnic is anything but peaceful
The Long Distance Runner (by Jon Watkins)
Suspicions are aroused when Robin suddenly takes up early-morning jogging
At Harm’s Length (by Terence Brady and Charlotte Bingham)
Vicky believes her uncle is being unfaithful
The Happy Hen (by Dave Freeman)
Vicky’s father buys the premises next door and sets up an omelette restaurant

Season 4: ITV February 22 to April 5 1979 (7 x 25 min)
Should Auld Acquantaince (by Dave Freeman)
One of Robin’s ex-girlfriends arrives to review the restaurant
Person Friday Required (by Adele Rose)
Vicky thinks she is being taken for granted so gets another job
Lost Weekend (by Adele Rose)
A holiday to Portugal is interrupted by a visit from Vicky’s mother
Too Many Waiters Spoil The Bistro (by Bernard McKenna)
When a new waiter is required, everyone hires an applicant
September Song (by George Layton)
Vicky’s father is feeling old and needs cheering up
Sorry Partner (by David Norton and Roger Taylor)
Nicholls and his sporting partner are chasing the same ladyfriend
Albert’s Ball (by Richard Waring and Gail Renard)
After twelve months’ employment at the bistro, Albert is hoping for an anniversary party

Christmas Special: ITV December 27 1979 (25 min)
Christmas At Robin’s Nest (by George Layton)

Season 5: ITV January 8 to February 12 1980 (6 x 25 min)
Pastures New (by George Layton)
With Albert no longer washing the dishes, Vicky’s father is forced to lend a hand
A Man Of Property (by George Layton)
Robin begins looking for a bigger house for when the baby arrives
If You Pass “Go” Collect 200 (by George Layton)
Robin decides to buy out his father-in-law’s stake in the bistro
Never Look A Gift Horse (by Adele Rose)
Nicholls ex-wife wants to shower the baby with presents
Just An Old-Fashioned Girl (by Adele Rose)
The bistro becomes a hotbed of romance
Great Expectations (by George Layton)
Vicky seems to be the only one remaining calm about the upcoming birth

Christmas Special: ITV December 24 1980 (25 min)
No Room At The Inn
Vicky’s mother is forced to stay with her ex-husband when she comes to visit the twins

Season 6: ITV February 17 to March 31 1981 (7 x 25 min)
Move Over Darling (by George Layton)
Robin employs someone to take over Vicky’s duties at the bistro
The Homecoming (by George Layton)
Rivalry erupts over whose car should be used to bring home Vicky and the twins
No Smoke Without Fire (by George Layton)
Albert is sure Vicky’s father is having an affair with Gertrude
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (by George Layton)
In need of a break, Robin and Vicky move in with her father
Anniversary Waltz (by George Layton)
A coach party has booked the bistro on the night of Robin and Vicky’s anniversary
Wish You Weren’t Here (by George Layton)
Vicky’s father employs a temporary chef
The Head Hunters Of S.W.6 (by George Layton)
Robin has been offered a job with a big multinational company

Movies

Man About The House (E.M.I./Hammer, 1974. 90 minutes)
starring the television cast, plus Peter Cellier, Patrick Newell, Spike Milligan, Arthur Lowe, Aimi McDonald, Jack Smethurst, Bill Pertwee, Melvyn Hayes, Michael Robbins, Bill Maynard and Julian Orchard

George And Mildred (Chips/I.T.C., 1980. 93 minutes)
starring the television cast, plus Stratford Johns and Kenneth Cope

Books

George And Mildred by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (Arrow paperback, 1977)
novelisation (by Roger Bowdler) of the ten episodes of season one

Robin’s Nest by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (Arrow paperback, 1977)
novelisation (by Roger Bowdler) of the seven episodes of season one

Man About The House/George and Mildred – The Definitive Companion
by Tex Fisher (Deck Chair Publishing, 2010)

Videos

George And Mildred
Jumble Pie / All Around The Clock / The Unkindest Cut Of All

Video Collection LC 0020: Moving On

Video Collection LC 0024: Where My Caravan Has Rested

Thames TV 9973

Channel 5 CFV 00842

Channel 5 SPC 00222

DVDs

MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE

Series 1: Network DVD, Umbrella DVD

Series 2: Network DVD, Umbrella DVD

Series 3: Network DVD, Fremantle Media/Talkback Thames DVD

Series 4: Network DVD

Series 5: Network DVD

Series 6: Network DVD

GEORGE AND MILDRED

Series 1: Network DVD, Umbrella DVD

Series 2: Network DVD, Umbrella DVD

Series 3: Network DVD, Fremantle Media/Talkback Thames DVD

Series 4: Network DVD

Series 5: Network DVD

George and Mildred (movie): Umbrella DVD

ROBIN’S NEST

Series 1: Network DVD, Fremantle Media/Talkback Thames DVD

Series 2: Network DVD

Series 3: Network DVD

Series 4: Network DVD

Series 5: Network DVD

Series 6: Network DVD

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: