About: Keeping Up Appearances

British sitcoms have given us some fine snobs and pompous oafs over the years. But even the likes of Captain Mainwaring and Basil Fawlty can hardly hold a candle to Hyacinth Bouquet, with her fine china and legendary candlelit suppers. But who dreamt the gorgon up? And what did Patricia Routledge make of the fame the sitcom brought her?

Keeping Up Appearances

The Yorkshire Hermit

Keeping Up Appearances was just another stroke of genius from the unfairly talented Roy Clarke. Most people would be happy just to create one enduring sitcom, but Roy by that time had already created both Open All Hours and Last of the Summer Wine.

This one man comedy machine wrote his first story at 11, but spent many years as a teacher, salesman, taxi driver and even policeman before taking up writing full time. Despite his successes he doesn't give interviews very often and lives quietly in a small village - causing some journalists to call him the "Yorkshire Hermit".

The fixer

Roy Clarke may have been the brains behind Keeping Up Appearances, but the all-important job of casting the series was left to producer Harold Snoad.

Luckily, Harold proved a dab hand at gathering some of the best character actors around, from the Shakespearean actor Clive Swift (who played Hyacinth's husband) to veteran star Josephine Tewson, who had previously been in everything from The Two Ronnies to Z Cars (and was married to the comedy legend Leonard Rossiter for a time).

Tewson, who played Hyacinth's petrified neighbour Elizabeth, said it was Harold Snoad's charm that got her on board. "He just talks you into it, even though the pay's not that great!" she later laughed.

The original Hyacinth

Of course, casting Hyacinth was the most crucial casting question of all. Who could perfectly bring this smiling gorgon to life? Harold Snoad was in no doubt that the right woman was Patricia Routledge. Not just because she was an acclaimed theatrical star who'd once won an Olivier award (and even turned up in Corrie in the 60s!), but because she'd played a kind of proto-Hyacinth some years before.

That was in 1985, when she featured on a Victoria Wood sketch show as a pompous, gossipy, exceptionally middle-class lady named Kitty. Watched today, the Kitty monologues seem almost like a dry-run for Keeping Up Appearances, and Routledge was delighted to accept the lead in the sitcom.

The real Bouquet residence

When making the series, the cast and crew filmed each episode in the BBC's London studios at a rate of an episode a week. The outdoor sequences would be filmed separately around Coventry in a couple of weeks.

The house that was used as the Bouquet residence is actually just outside Coventry in a village called Binley Woods - and there really is a takeaway called Chinese Tonight just round the corner (hardcore fans will know that Hyacinth was often annoyed by people phoning her up, thinking she was Chinese Tonight).


Filming the series wasn't generally a risky endeavour - except for that time when a car caught fire with Onslow and Daisy in it!

The scene had involved Geoffrey Hughes (Onslow) driving a car back and forth along a country road. After his, the car was parked and filled with equipment to shoot a bit of dialogue. Then, just as they were about to begin the scene, a rather worrying burning smell was noticed.

The actors bailed out just in time, because in the next few moments the whole car was in flames! Luckily it was put out pretty quickly - although the cause was never identified.

The perks of being a beast

"When I agreed to do the pilot script, I thought there was a future, a potential there, but I never think about whether something will be a success until it happens."

And Keeping Up Appearances was certainly the biggest success for Patricia Routledge, who was as surprised as anyone to find that playing a maddening snob had suddenly made her incredibly popular with strangers. (One side-effect is that taxi drivers keep insisting on giving her free rides!)

"I can't understand why a monster like Hyacinth should go to people's hearts, but she has," Patricia says. "Perhaps it's because there is someone like Hyacinth in every family." If that's true, there are literally millions of Hyacinths all over Britain - not a pretty thought!