A few weeks ago I picked up a couple of seasons of The Good Life, which were going for a song. The echo of this classic British comedy series has probably contributed to my romantic ideals of living off the land, as I suspect it has for many others of my generation. It makes me automatically smile on mention, although I only have vague memories of watching it as a child. What it had firmly etched on my memory was the impression of Tom and Barbara Good as the picture of a happy marriage. Loving, equal partners who may bicker occasionally but who loyally supported each other in whatever wacky endeavour they decided to enter into. Oh how I was wrong.
The Goods marriage does not hold up well to scrutiny, by contemporary standards. Barbara is submissive and is prone to fits of hysteria that border on Victorian. Tom is a bit of a condescending bully boy who must get his own way at all times, even when he is quite obviously deluded. And he is not particularly kind to his wife. At one point he barks at her “you stupid b*tch” and I swear I just about fell out of my chair. These were not the idols of my childhood.
Surprisingly, the progressive couple of this series are the neighbouring Leadbetters. Margot may be prone to slightly bitter diatribes on the misfortunes of the world’s long suffering wives, but she is very much her own person with her own interests and is still a supportive partner to her equally supportive husband Jerry. Jerry on the other hand knows when to acquiesce to his wifes control-freakish fancies concerning the running of the household as he recognises that she is the manager of her domain and Margot deserves the same respect that he receives at his place of work. He is sensitive to the feelings of others and often has quiet asides with Tom to point out what an arse he is being.
The Good Life may be a flashbulb of late seventies fashion and culture (wife swapping quips aplenty), but is still very timeless. The episode plot lines are impeccable, as is the effortless dialogue and, of course, the acting. The characters may have each had their faults, but they were all completely charming and loveable. That there are only about 6 episodes per season was a fact that had also slipped my notice. I had expected there would be dozens of episodes as I felt like I had an intimate knowledge of the Goods and the Leadbetters. Further testament to the quality of the writing. I will certainly be keeping watch to pick up the other two series on DVD.
As I was making myself tea this morning, I pondered what might have happened to the Goods and the Leadbetters. Margot spent much of the series’ snarling about the liberals. I think she would have taken to the 80s like a duck to water, preaching evangelically about Thatcher. I am also certain that she will have entered local politics, perhaps originally as someone’s campaign manager and then as a candidate in her own right. She would eventually become an MP and Jerry would then quite happily enter into a kind of retirement, playing rounds of golf in-between holding onto Margot’s coats at electioneering social functions. As for the Goods, I would like the think that their entrepreneurial, pioneering spirit would mean they would have laughed in the face of the oil crisis and food shortages of the 80s and they would have continued a happy, sustainable existence in Surbiton while writing books to become the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s of their age.