The Darling Buds of May (TV series)
The Darling Buds of May is an English comedy drama television series, produced by Yorkshire Television for the ITV network, first broadcast between 7 April 1991 and 4 April 1993. It is an adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same name, and its sequels, by H. E. Bates.
|The Darling Buds of May|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||3|
|No. of episodes||20 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||50 minutes approx.|
|Production company(s)||Excelsior Productions|
|Original release||7 April 1991 –|
4 April 1993
Set in rural 1950s Kent, it follows the life of the Larkin family. It starred David Jason as "Pop" Larkin alongside Pam Ferris as "Ma" Larkin, with Catherine Zeta-Jones playing their eldest daughter Mariette, who marries tax inspector Cedric "Charley" Charlton, played by Philip Franks. A ratings success, it proved to be Zeta-Jones's breakout role.
Featuring a total of 20 episodes, it was broadcast as three series of six double-episode story lines in the spring of 1991, 1992 and 1993, plus two single-episode Christmas specials aired in 1991 and 1992.
The Larkin family lives on a farm in rural England, in the county of Kent. Sidney ("Pop") and his common law wife Florence ("Ma") have six children, eldest daughter Mariette, followed by their only son Montgomery, and other daughters Primrose, twins Zinnia and Petunia, and Victoria. Ma is a housewife while Pop supplements his farm income with various other not entirely legitimate enterprises. Tax collector Cedric ("Charley") visits to audit Pop, but falls in love with Mariette and quits his job to live the rural life. As Ma and Pop raise their other children, Charley attempts to provide for his now wife Mariette. Ma and Pop soon have a seventh child, Oscar, followed around a year later by Charley and Mariette's first baby, John Blenheim.
Pop and Ma's relationship is depicted as loving and affectionate throughout, although Pop is flirtatious and subject to numerous advances, most of which Ma is aware of and evidently unconcerned by. Proud of all his children, Pop's schemes evidently provide well for the family, enough to fund boarding school for the twins, naval boarding school for Monty, a swimming pool, a fairground, and a holiday to France, although he is just as motivated by doing good and helping others as making a profit. Ma occasionally becomes involved in Pop's schemes, or creates a scheme of her own. Possessing some very close friends, their lifestyle, in particular the fact they have never been married, nonetheless raises eyebrows in the stuffy environs of the local village.
Mariette and Charley's relationship is more torrid, in part due to his insecurity over her attractiveness, and his varying success in providing financially, with their newly acquired hop garden struggling. Mariette's business skills eventually come to bear as they purchase a local brewery. Primrose is depicted as a frustrated romantic, moving to France to live with a boy her own age and attempting to seduce both Charley and the village minister upon her return. Monty meanwhile contends with bullying, both at home and at naval boarding school. The increasingly mischievous twins gradually grow apart from their younger sibling Victoria, who delights in teasing and embarrassing all her siblings, especially Primrose.
All the episodes are seemingly set during 1958–59 despite the timespan of events across all three series making this a logical impossibility. The first serial is based on the first book, written and set in 1958, during which Florence finds out she is pregnant. In the second serial ("When the green woods laugh") Sidney is accused of committing indecent assault on 23 August 1958. The trial takes place on 7 July, the same day as Charley and Mariette's wedding; this would seem to be a continuity error because it cannot be July of the following year as Florence's baby had not yet been born. By the time of the third serial ("A breath of French air") Florence has already given birth to Oscar and the Larkins have a late-August holiday in Brittany, during which Charley and Mariette celebrate their first wedding anniversary. The fourth serial ("Christmas is coming") is set at Christmas and it is established Mariette is five months pregnant; she gives birth in the fifth serial ("Oh! to be in England!"), which would be some time in the spring of 1960 at the earliest according to the dating of the first series and the chronology of events up to that point. However, in the sixth serial ("Stranger at the gates") the twins celebrate their birthday, which a close-up of a wall calendar reveals to be 15 August 1959.
In the eighth serial ("Le Grand Weekend") the Larkins' weekend getaway coincides with Charles de Gaulle's state visit, which would date the events of the episode to April 1960 if it does indeed coincide with the real-life visit. Primrose's birthday was revealed to be in May in "Stranger at the gates" and she celebrates it in the ninth serial "The happiest days of your life", dating the events either to May 1960 (using the retconned second series date) or 1961 (going by the date given in the first series). By the eleventh serial ("Climb the greasy pole"), when the children are older and the babies have grown to toddlerhood, another close-up of a calendar reveals the month to be October 1959. At the end of the final episode, Sidney is elected to the Rural District Council on 5 November 1959 (Guy Fawkes Night).
Main cast members
Of the four main cast members, Jason and Ferris appeared in all twenty episodes, while Zeta-Jones and Franks appeared in eighteen, their only absences being in the third series' double episode "Cast Not Your Pearls Before Swine" (3.3 & 3.4).
Recurring cast – Larkin family
The actors playing the other Larkin children and grandchild were as below (listed in descending character age). All the children except those yet to be born appeared in the first episode. After appearing in the first six episodes, the actor playing Primrose was replaced, the second appearing from the seventh episode (the first Christmas special) onwards. The actors playing the roles of Oscar and John Blenheim first appear in episodes 1.5 and 2.1, respectively. Although a male character, John Blenheim was played by Daisy-May Bates, granddaughter of the author of the books.
- Julie Stichbury, as Primrose Larkin (1991) (6 episodes)
- Abigail Rokison, as Primrose Larkin (1991–1993) (12 episodes)
- Ian Tucker, as Montgomery 'Monty' Larkin, their eldest son (13 episodes)
- Christina Giles, as Petunia Larkin, twin sister to Zinnia (18 episodes)
- Katherine Giles, as Zinnia Larkin, twin sister to Petunia (18 episodes)
- Stephanie Ralph, as Victoria Larkin, the youngest Larkin daughter (19 episodes)
- Ross Marriott, as Oscar Larkin, their youngest child (16 episodes)
- Daisy-May Bates, as John Marlborough Churchill Blenheim Charlton, the only son of Charlie and Mariette (11 episodes)
Recurring cast – others
Various other actors appeared in more than one storyline, i.e. in more than one double episode.
- Rachel Bell as Edith Pilchester, a local spinster (16 episodes)
- Moray Watson as the Brigadier, a local retired army officer (11 episodes)
- Kika Mirylees as Angela Snow, a local woman (7 episodes)
- Martyn Read as Sergeant Wilson, a local police officer (6 episodes)
- Tyler Butterworth as Reverend John Candy, the local vicar (4 episodes)
- Michael Jayston as Ernest Bristow, the brewery owner (4 episodes)
- Carol MacReady as Mrs. Daws, a local shopkeeper (4 episodes)
- Sheila Burrell as Mrs. Kinthley, owner of the hop-garden bought by Charlie (4 episodes)
- Steven Brand as Tom Sargent, love interest of Mariette (4 episodes)
- Anna Massey as Mademoiselle Antoinette Dupont, a French hotelier (3 episodes)
- Michael Culver as Sir George Bluff-Gore, a local landowner (3 episodes)
- Richenda Carey as Lady Bluff-Gore, wife of Sir George (3 episodes)
- John Carlin as Reverend Spink (3 episodes)
|1.1 & 1.2||"The Darling Buds of May"||7 and 14 April 1991|
|Cedric Charlton, the tax inspector, arrives on Home Farm to help the Larkins fill in their tax form. He is distracted by their beautiful daughter, Mariette. The Larkins distract him further by attempting to teach him crib and getting him drunk. He wakes with a hangover, and is unfit to return home. Eventually, he forgets life in the office. He accompanies the family on their annual strawberry-picking trip, where he attracts Pauline Jackson, the local flirt. Mariette and Pauline fight for him but Mariette wins and the episode ends with Mr Charlton (called Charley by the family), proposing to Mariette, and Pop Larkin giving them his blessing.|
|1.3 & 1.4||"When the green woods laugh"||21 and 28 April 1991|
|The day of Charley and Mariette's wedding is looming. Pop sells a country mansion to an aristocratic couple. When Pop rejects the advances of Corrine Perrigo (Celia Imrie), she gets her revenge by persuading the woman to charge him with assault, when all he attempted was stop her from falling. The Brigadier is best man for the wedding. Eventually, Pop is found innocent and the wedding goes ahead.|
|1.5 & 1.6||"A breath of French air"||5 and 12 May 1991|
|The Larkins go on holiday to Brittany. The weather is appalling, the food revolting, the receptionist unfriendly. The weather improves, and a mechanic sees the crest on the doors of Mr Larkin's car and thinks him a lord. As a result, he is treated better, even by the receptionist, Molet. The hotel patronne, Mademoiselle Dupont, gives Pop and Ma her room. Primrose falls in love with a local boy named Marc - Antoine Gammelin and wants to stay in France. Tension springs up between Charley and Mariette when she attracts local young men and wants to spend time with them on the beach. She refuses to go on a miniature railway with Charlie. Incensed, Charlie says he will go on his own. The train is late and he wanders into a bar, where he meets a tomboy and her pals. They get him drunk; he misses his train and has to be escorted home by Pop. But he sobers up at the sight of Mariette playing in the sea with her new friends. Charley drags her away, and tells her she will come on the train with him next day whether she likes it or not. Mariette surrenders and enjoys it. The Larkins get together with the tomboy, Max (short for Maxime), and Angela Snow (who, by a coincidence, is also visiting Brittany) and her sister Iris, who with the hotel staff organise a wedding anniversary celebration for Charley and Mariette.|
|1.7||"Christmas is coming!"||22 December 1991|
|As Christmas approaches, Charley and Mariette go to view a house to rent, unaware that Tommy Mason, an escaped convict is hiding there. Pop later discovers him in the Larkins' hen-house where Victoria is taking food to him. He explains that, since his imprisonment, his wife has severed all ties with him but he is anxious to see his children. Pop usually dresses as Father Christmas to give local children toys but Charley suggests Tommy play the part so he can see his children, which he does, as well as making up with his wife and then returning to prison. Mrs Mason and her children join the throng already invited to spend Christmas Day with the Larkins.|
|2.1 & 2.2||"Oh! to be in England!"||26 January and 2 February 1992|
|Mam'selle Dupont comes to stay with the Larkins, and discovers the truth – Mr. Larkin is not a lord. She is disappointed but comes to terms with it, and enjoys her stay. Pop saves an old woman from being cheated, and buys a fair from his friend, Fruity Pears, who is unable to run it after being attacked by thugs. Primrose's relationship with the French boy has fizzled out; back in the UK she falls for Mr Candy, the young vicar in charge of christening the young Larkins ... and a newly arrived Charlton.|
|2.3 & 2.4||"Stranger at the gates"||9 and 16 February 1992|
|A young man named Pieter who says he is Danish arrives on the farm, and starts doing odd jobs for the people in the village. Everyone, including Mariette, thinks he's the bee's knees, much to the resentment of Charley. Meanwhile, Montgomery is being bullied by local boys, and Primrose is attempting to win Mr. Candy's heart. She mistakes his sister for a girlfriend, and angrily leaves him. Charley discovers that Pieter is German and has been hiding his identity because of the anti-German sentiment in post-World War II Britain. The villagers turn against him on this discovery, but Pieter is restored to favour again after he rescues John Watson, one of the bullies from a quarry ledge. The Larkins arrange for Pieter to marry his girlfriend, an English lady named Eileen.|
|2.5 & 2.6||"A season of heavenly gifts"||23 February and 1 March 1992|
|Pop Larkin unwittingly becomes involved in smuggling when he receives gifts from a grateful pilot he helped after a crash-landing. Meanwhile, an evil Polish man named Mr. Cope attempts to prevent Charley and Mariette from buying Mrs Kinthley's hopgarden. The pilot invites the family to a party at his club, which they greatly enjoy. Montgomery Larkin is unhappy at Naval College, where he is training to be a sailor in the merchant navy. The family go to his Open Day; the Brigadier goes along and helps them solve the problem by showing Pop how to humiliate the bullying instructor, Strickland.|
|2.7||"Le Grand Weekend"||26 December 1992|
|Pop and Ma's proposed week-end in Paris is disrupted by a storm, and they spend the time in a country house.|
|3.1 & 3.2||"The happiest days of your life"||28 February and 7 March 1993|
|The twins go to boarding school, while Charley starts doing the books as a part-time job for the brewery to which he wishes to sell his hops. Charley and Mariette decide to buy the brewery. The whole family repairs the twins' boarding school, which was otherwise going to be forced to close by the bank for not keeping up with the repairs.|
|3.3 & 3.4||"Cast not your pearls before swine"||14 and 21 March 1993|
|Pop builds a swimming-pool, and buys two hundred pigs from George Harran, a confidence trickster who is also cheating Edith, who has fallen in love with him. Meanwhile, Primrose has a new love interest—a member of the swimming pool building crew, from Liverpool. Pop prepares a trick against George to put all to rights without hurting Edith. Primrose runs away to Liverpool in pursuit of her love after Victoria teases her, causing Pop to realise the scam, but returns home when she realises he is not the man for her.|
|3.5 & 3.6||"Climb the greasy pole"||28 March and 4 April 1993|
|Pop runs for rural councillor while Charley and Mariette struggle at the brewery and have problems in their relationship. Gypsies get involved in Pop's campaign for rural councillor. Charley and Mariette have to work on their marriage as Mariette is attracted to Tom Sargent, after which they at last finalise the deal to buy Bristow's brewery.|
Conception and development
Having been sold to MGM films in 1959, it wasn't until 1989 that Richard Bates, son of the author of the original books H. E. Bates, was able to purchase the rights to the novels. At the same time, Yorkshire Television were looking for a new project for David Jason, having starred for them in A Bit of a Do. Richard Bates went on to Executive Produce the show, alongside Vernon Lawrence of Yorkshire Television.
Bates had originally considered Bob Hoskins as ideal for the role of Pop, but Lawrence was of the view his increasing fame as a film actor would create problems. Jason was cast first, followed by Ferris and Franks. Finding an actor to fit with the novel's description of Mariette as a black-haired and olive-skinned beauty proved difficult, with over 300 rejected until Zeta-Jones was cast. With filming due to start, she had been spotted appearing in 42nd Street at the Drury Lane Theatre.
Each one-hour episode took two weeks to film, followed by two months in post production.
Much of the series was filmed in and around the village of Pluckley in Kent; Executive Producer Richard Bates lived just a few miles away.
The location for "Home Farm", the Larkin residence, was Buss Farm a few miles south of Pluckley, owned by the Holmes family. All four main buildings of the Grade II listed farm were utilised: the farmhouse itself, a square oast house (depicted in the title sequence), a Tudor barn and cart lodge. After being put up for sale by the family in 2012, it was purchased in 2013 by a businessman. It was renamed "Darling Buds Farm", and several buildings were converted into guest accommodation themed around the show.
Other locations in Pluckley village itself were used extensively; the Black Horse pub in The Street was renamed the Hare and Hounds and used as the Larkins' local. Church Gate Cottage and Fig Tree Cottage in The Street served as Edith Pilchester's and The Brigadier's homes respectively. Pluckley primary school, also in The Street, served as the village hall. The butcher's shop also featured, and the Post Office (dressed as the grocer's). Church scenes were filmed at St Nicholas Church in the village.
The cricket scenes were filmed at Little Chart Cricket Club, a village north east of Pluckley.
Further afield, in and around Tenterden, Kent, Halden Place in Halden Lane, Cranbrook, served as Mrs Kinthley's hop garden, Wentwood Cottage in Swain Road served as Charley and Mariette's cottage, and the Kent & East Sussex Railway was the location of Charley's arrival in Kent, and the station used by Ma, Charley and Mariette shopping for her wedding dress. Other scenes shot in Kent included the exteriors of "Bristow's Brewery", filmed at Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham, and scenes of the Larkin's beach holiday, filmed in Folkestone, including a backdrop of the Leas Lift. Mlle. Dupont is met by the Larkin's at Folkestone Harbour after her channel crossing.
Little filming was done inside the farmhouse, the interiors having been shot in a studio at Yorkshire Television. Scenes shot in the former Wennington School near Wetherby in Yorkshire which stood in for Bluff Hall were included. Other filming locations in Yorkshire include the Hotel Metropole in Leeds which stood in for the 'Marble Arch Hotel'.
The series' music producer Pip Burley wrote the title theme, "Perfick!". He had submitted the piece anonymously, having deemed the submissions received from a shortlist of composers missed the point of the essential romanticism of the show. Although it also featured lyrics, drawn from the words used in the novels, the theme music for the series did not feature them. The song with lyrics was later sung by David Jason for the radio adaptation of the last book in the Larkin series, A Little of What You Fancy.
After the series ended, Ferris wished to film more episodes. Having performed it for radio in 1996, she theorised in 2008 that the reason the fifth book was never adapted for television was because the storyline featured Pop recovering from a heart attack, something the producers likely thought the audience would not want to see.
In 2016, having filmed a cinema adaptation of another classic TV series, Dad's Army, Zeta-Jones responded positively to suggestions that The Darling Buds of May might also be similarly remade, stating "I'd be playing Ma Larkin, but I'm up for it".
Locally produced food and drink intentionally played a core role in the series. Due to not being ripe at the right time, the strawberries used in the series were imported from Holland. One of the most iconic scenes features Pop and Ma eating a meal together whilst having a bath. With several scenes featuring eating, the fact Ferris was a vegetarian had to be worked around by the production staff. Both Ferris and Jason gained weight due to the amount of food they had to consume, often doing multiple takes for several scenes at one time, to make the scenes look realistic.
Another theme of the series was the Larkin family's habit of giving their children unusual or themed first and middle names. Mariette was created by combining 'Marie' and 'Antoinette'. Montgomery was named after wartime officer Field Marshall Montgomery. Victoria was named for being born during the plum season (Victoria plum). While Monty and Victoria have no middle names, the other children have several: Primrose Violet Anemone Iris Magnolia Narcissa, twins Petunia June Florence Nightingale and Zinnia June Florence Nightingale, and Oscar Columbus Septimus Dupont, the last one being in tribute to the French hotelier Madamoiselle Dupont, who features in the series. Mariette's wedding ceremony in series one reveals her middle name to be Jane. Mariette and Charlie continue the family penchant for elaborate naming by christening their son John Marlborough Churchill Blenheim.
|United Kingdom||Cinema Club||The Best of The Darling Buds of May||PG||15 July 2002|
|Cinema Club||The Darling Buds of May: The Perfect Collection||PG||10 November 2003||all 20 episodes|
|ITV Studios||The Darling Buds of May: The Complete Series - Special Edition||PG||7 February 2005||all 20 episodes & exclusive interviews|
|ITV Studios||The Darling Buds of May: The Complete Series||PG||1 September 2008||contains all 20 episodes & exclusive commentary|
|ITV Studios||The Darling Buds of May: The Complete 20th Anniversary Collection||PG||8 August 2011||all 20 episodes|
|Australia||Shock Records||The Darling Buds of May: Series One||PG||3 March 2007||Special 2-Disc Edition - contains all 6 episodes & bonus episode "Christmas is Coming"|
|Shock Records||The Darling Buds of May: Series Two||G||5 May 2007||Special 2-Disc Edition - contains all 6 episodes & bonus episode "La Grande Weekend"|
|Shock Records||The Darling Buds of May: The Complete Collection||PG||29 March 2008||all 20 episodes|
|Reel DVD||The Darling Buds of May: The Complete Collection||PG||6 February 2013||all 20 episodes (contains same packaging as UK 2011 release)|
Note: The 2008 and 2011 DVD sets from ITV Studios list that there are 11 episodes; this is due to the fact that all episodes in series 1–3 (not including the specials) contain two parts making them count as a whole.
The series was a ratings success, its "feel-good" factor during economic recession often noted as the reason. Whilst Yorkshire TV classified it as a drama, audiences and critics have generally considered it to be a comedy/drama.
The first episode broke a British broadcasting record, becoming the first instance of a new series topping the national ratings, beating the soap opera Coronation Street (also an ITV production) on the night. This came as a shock to producers, although they had been hopeful of good ratings due to dull weather and the belief that people would be looking for something to lift their spirits following the end of the Gulf War.
Jason attributed the series' popularity to the public wanting a more wholesome, inclusive and inoffensive viewing option at a time when violence on television was increasing. This was one of the main reasons he decided to take the role.
- 1992 Ivor Novello Award – Best Theme from a TV/Radio Production
Source novels and other adaptations
The series is based on the works of H. E. Bates, who died in 1974. Having moved from the industrialised English Midlands to a granary in Little Chart in Kent in 1930 in search of new inspirations for his work, he was initially frustrated in his efforts to create a novel based on the Kent way of life. His inspiration for the Larkin stories eventually came in 1955 while on a trip to Sittingbourne. Pausing at Faversham, he observed the joyful camaraderie of a large boisterous family as they emerged from a shop and departed in a large blue truck. Combining this with observations of another family on a nearby small-holding, he set about writing about how these families might live. Originally a short story, he expanded it into a novel, followed by a further four books, the titles of the first four of which were used as episode titles for the TV series:
- The Darling Buds of May (1958)
- A Breath of French Air (1959)
- When the Green Woods Laugh (1960)
- Oh! To be in England! (1963)
- A Little of What You Fancy? (1970)
The fifth novel, A Little of What You Fancy?, was never adapted for television, but it was adapted into a six-part series by Eric Pringle for BBC Radio, with Jason and Ferris reprising their roles, first airing in February 1996.
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