TV: MOTHER AND SON

by PETER TATCHELL (reprinted from LAUGH MAGAZINE # 17, 1997)

MotherandsonIt’s not often a performer can escape from typecasting, but Garry McDonald succeeded in shaking off his almost indelible Norman Gunston persona in the 1980s with a sitcom that has become one of Australia’s favourites, Mother And Son.

In late 1982, writer Geoffrey Atherden came up with the idea of a journalist in his mid-thirties, Arthur Beare, who finds himself trapped in a domestic situation where he must look after his widowed mother, Maggie, who has become increasingly forgetful and erratic. Arthur’s own life is in a spot of turmoil with his wife Deirdre having walked out on him, no longer willing to share a home with her husband’s dotty and interfer­ing mother.

Cast in the pivotal role of Maggie Beare was respected stage actress Ruth Cracknell who was able to inject just the right degree of subtlety to ensure her part did not become farcical or unbelievable. The mental frailties of Alzheimer’s Disease, senile dementia and the like are an everyday part of life and it’s a tribute to both writer and performer that it’s handled with affection and not mockery. Like the famous Fawlty Towers episode with the deaf Mrs. Richards, the hu­mour comes from how the situation is exploited by the sufferer, who exaggerates the incapacity to gain maximum benefit.

Rounding out the cast (and ensuring it doesn’t go too far down the Steptoe And Son or Ronnie Corbett’s Now Look Here trail), Mother And Son also features Henri Szeps as Maggie’s other son, Robert, a dentist whose selfish approach to the situation makes him the erstwhile antagonist of the piece, and his wife Liz, played by Judy Morris.

Mother And Son
became a resounding success (and a re­liable ratings winner) for the A.B.C. throughout the 1980s, and even inspired the TEN Network to purchase repeat rights for the first 28 episodes (which they aired in 1991). A year later the A.B.C. screened a fifth season of shows, followed in 1994 with a further batch, which ended up being the final series.

With the Australian production concluded, writer Atherden was commissioned by the B.B.C. to adapt his original scripts for a British version. Two eight episode seasons under the title Keeping Mum aired in Britain in 1997 and 1998.

Episode Guide

Season 1: ABC January 16 to February 27 1984 (7 x 30 min)
Maggie Takes A Holiday
Arthur decides the time has come for Maggie to move to a nursing home
Maggie Gets The Milk
Maggie has been taking advantage of the local Meal On Wheels service
Maggie Alone
When she arrives home in a garbage truck, Arthur decides something must be done about Maggie’s wanderings
Arthur’s Holiday (aka Arthur vs. Miss Right)
Arthur plans a fortnight in New Zealand with a lady friend
Arthur’s Night Out
Maggie is intent on stopping Arthur having an evening out with Deirdre
Maggie In Love
Maggie surprises everyone by inviting a gentleman friend to her birthday dinner
Maggie Makes A Will
Maggie insists she is dying and refuses to leave her bed

Season 2: ABC March 4 to April 15 1985 (7 x 30 min)
The Money
Arthur and Robert are both in urgent need of funds and believe Maggie’s stockpile of uncashed pension cheques might solve their problems
The Divorce
Maggie isn’t pleased when she learns Arthur and Deirdre’s divorce is about to become finalised
The Funeral
Maggie causes chaos when she attends a burial
The Promotion
Arthur is offered a new job, but it means moving to Canberra
The Aunt
Arthur arranges for his Aunty Lorna to visit so he’ll be able to have more time with his new ladyfriend
The Card Game
Maggie wants to join in Arthur’s card evening but would pre­fer snakes and ladders to poker
The Morning After
When Arthur has a new girlfriend, Maggie decides to move in with Robert

Season 3: ABC March 3 to April 7 1986 (6 x 30 min)
The Sign
When Maggie meets the new minister she donates all of Arthur’s clothes to his church
The Picnic
Maggie wanders off from a family outing
The Accident
Maggie goes to buy Arthur something to eat and ends up at the local Baby Health Centre
The Last Will
Maggie lets everyone know what she’s left them in her will
The Neighbours
When Maggie suspects the foreign lady next door is watching her, an all-out war develops
The Cruise
Maggie is planning on an ocean trip with a strange man

Special: ABC December 22 1986 (30 min)
The Christmas Drinks
Arthur has organised a Christmas Eve party but Maggie wants him to take her to church for carol singing

Season 4: ABC February 1 to March 14 1988 (7 x 30 min)
The Medals
Maggie wants to take part in the ANZAC Day march
The Friend
Arthur thinks he can “buy” a friendship
The Car
Maggie decides to sell her late husband’s car
The Surprise
Robert is in the company of a ladyfriend when he arrives home to a surprise party
The Dog
Maggie craves a bit of affection and buys a puppy
The Fridge
When Maggie helps one son and not the other, it causes friction between the brothers
The Last Straw
Arthur has had enough and decides to move out

Season 5: ABC February 10 to March 23 1992 (7 x 30 min)
The Deed
Arthur’s decision to leave inadvertently results in the status quo
The Budgie
An altercation between Robert and Maggie causes the arrival of a budgerigar and all manner of chaos for ten dentists
The Big Sleep
Arthur is forced to move his father’s ashes
The Clock
Maggie isn’t pleased knowing her wedding anniversary clock is across the street
The Rest
Maggie returns from a respite care break in the middle of the night
The Baby
Arthur can’t understand why an infant has suddenly taken up residence in the Beare home
The Sunday Roast
Arthur decides to invite his new ladyfriend to Sunday dinner

Season 6: ABC February 7 to March 21 1994 (7 x 30 min)
(episodes were originally untitled)
The Ride
A visit to the doctor convinces Arthur he is not long for this world
The Trip
Aunty Loma wants Maggie to accompany her on a trip to London
The Family Feud
It’s up to Arthur to settle the feuds between Maggie and Lorna and Liz and Robert
The Caravan
Maggie’s choice of her favourite son causes Arthur to move into the caravan
The Lamingtons
Maggie has to bake 18 dozen lamingtons on the day she is to report for jury duty
The Promise
Robert divulges details about Arthur’s medical tests
The Ring Cycle
Maggie’s loss of her wedding ring further complicates Arthur’s day

 

Videos

A.B.C./Festival 12685
The Money
The Aunt
The Accident

A.B.C./Festival 12686
The Card Game
The Promotion
The Funeral

 

DVDs

Volume 1
A.B.C. DVD 
contains 9 episodes
The Money
The Aunt
The Accident
The Card Game
The Promotion
The Funeral
The Picnic
The Last Will
The Cruise
 

Volume 2
A.B.C. DVD 
contains 9 episodes
The Morning After
The Christmas Drinks
The Dog
The Surprise
The Budgie
The Big Sleep
The Clock
The Ride
The Caravan
 

Volume 3
A.B.C. DVD 
contains 9 episodes
The Nursing Home (aka Maggie Takes a Holiday)
The Babysitter
The Sign
The Neighbours
The Car
The Baby
The Trip
The Family Feud
The Lamingtons

Volume 4
A.B.C. DVD 
contains 9 episodes
The Boyfriend
The Divorce
The Medals
The Friend
The Last Straw
The Deed
The Rest
The Sunday Roast
The Promise

Volume 5
A.B.C. DVD 
contains 6 episodes
The Milk
The Oysters
The Tickets
The Illness
The Fridge
The Ring Cycle

Book

Mother And Son
by Geoffrey Atherden
(A.B.C. Books, 1992)
Scripts for
The Home (aka Maggie Takes A Holiday)
The Oys­ters (aka Maggie Alone)
The Funeral
The Last Will
The Surprise

Audio

A.B.C. double-cassette
contains soundtracks of the five episodes featured in the book

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