Kerry Howard (Witless, Him & Her) is taking on one of sitcom’s greatest characters, Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) in a one-off BBC One prequel to Keeping Up Appearances, Young Hyacinth.
The episode is part of the BBC’s Landmark Sitcom Season celebrating the heritage and legacy of BBC comedy over the past 60 years which began with Hancock's Half Hour. The season will be revisiting some of Britain’s iconic sitcoms alongside launching brand new comedy shows.
When rumours started circulating that the BBC were planning a prequel to Keeping Up Appearances as part of their Sitcom Season, I was worried. As was Patricia Routledge who played Hyacinth Bucket from 1990-1995 and has been quoted as saying:
"Why are they doing this sort of thing? They must be desperate. Look back at the seventies and eighties; Ronnie Barker, Leonard Rossiter in Rising Damp, those four masterly actors in The Good Life.
Nothing to do with me, let them get on with it, no sitcoms as good as that around today. Is it true they’re remaking Porridge too? Remind me to switch off, please."
Speaking at the recent press launch for the BBC's Sitcom Season, Roy Clarke, writer of Keeping Up Appearances dismissed Routledge's comments by saying “that’s pure Hyacinth" and Kerry herself added that she’d not had any contact with her. Which I personally think is a real shame.
Much like Patricia, I thought why revisit something that was so well loved and so of its time? But when I heard that Are You Being Served?, Porridge and Goodnight Sweetheart would also be returning, a prequel to Keeping Up Appearances didn't sound so bad.
After all, Young Hyacinth wasn’t going to be a remake, it was going to be a brand new story which provided a back story to a much-loved character, a back story we’ve never had before and it was to be penned by the same writer as the original series Roy Clarke (Last Of The Summer Wine, Open All Hours).
But who could take on such a character? Who would be able to follow in the footsteps of the wonderful Patricia Routledge, albeit at a much younger age? I had some names running around in my mind, but none of whom I felt could do it justice.
Then it was announced that Kerry Howard who I’ve been a big fan of for a long time would be playing Hyacinth, and then it made complete sense. Why hadn’t I thought of her before? She’ll be perfect.
Despite her less than positive comments about the prequel, Kerry Howard had nothing but nice things to say about Patricia Routledge:
“You can’t revisit this character without looking at Patricia as an actress and seeing what she does, because she embodies Hyacinth, she’s phenomenal. She was absolutely a springboard for me. I wanted to pay homage to what she did because she is an exquisite actress.
I had absolute faith in her to deliver a performance worthy of the prequel existing and now that I’ve seen the episode I’m pleased to say she delivers, and then some.
I defy Patricia Routledge to watch Young Hyacinth and not praise Kerry Howard's performance which I’d not be afraid of describing as her best to date and the one I really hop turns her into the household name she deserves to be.
Her performance is so wonderfully observed and the attention to detail is second to none. If you close your eyes the voice is identical the Hyacinth Bouquet we know and love, and if you open your eyes you’ll notice that the mannerisms are spot on too, especially the custom Hyacinth Bucket eye twitch. Kerry revealed at the screening that this all came very naturally to her:
“I grew up with that voice. I watched the show as a young girl so never in my imagination would I think that I would have this opportunity to play this character that I used to play as a young girl in the mirror. When I read the script, I could already hear Patricia in my brain, so it wasn’t hard. It’s from my childhood so it subconsciously came through.
She also revealed that after the audition for Young Hyacinth she went home on the tube and bumped into Clive Swift, who played Hyacinth’s long-suffering husband Richard in Keeping Up Appearances - “I thought walk away, walk away, no turn back, so I shook his hand and he looked really scared of me!"
Set in the 1950s, Richard is nowhere to be seen as Hyacinth is courting a young fellow called William and is working as a maid for ex-Squadron Leader Cooper-Smith, who she wishes her father could be more like. Alas he isn’t, he’s currently scraping by as a part-time brush salesman with a tricycle and a drink problem.
Fans of Keeping Up Appearances will know that “Daddy”, as he’s affectionally called by Hyacinth, was always known for being a bit of a drinker and a bit of a womaniser, and that’s something that he’s always been according to the prequel.
In the one-off episode, there’s a moment where Hyacinth, whilst on a date with William (not Richard - shock!) finds Daddy passed out drunk on a boat in the canal with two equally inebriated ladies wrapped in his arms.
The canal plays a big part in the opening episode, not surprising considering that Hyacinth, her sisters and her father all live in a crowded canal cottage. I can only imagine that's where she got the idea from for her infamous riverside picnic with riparian entertainments in Keeping Up Appearances.
Hyacinth’s desperate attempts to transform her sisters and her father into an altogether better class of family are not always appreciated.
The sisters have their own dreams and ambitions, Violet (Tamla Kari, The Musketeers) dreams of wealth, Daisy (Katherine Pearce, Our Girl) dreams of the great outdoors and Rose (Katie Redford) dreams of film stars and boys; whilst Hyacinth dreams of the day she’ll have matching china.
Young Hyacinth also stars Tony Gardner (Fresh Meat), Debra Stephenson (The Impressions Show), Tim Downie (Toast of London) and James Wrighton (I Live With Models).
There's already been a lot of talk around whether or not Young Hyacinth will become a full series or remain a half-hour one-off. Aas the BBC's controller of comedy commissioning, Shane Allen, said at a recent press event:
"The audience is the judge and jury. We're going to do a lot of these pieces. There's 21 individual pieces across four channels and then hopefully the audience will help us decide what lives on."
But Roy Clarke has form of course. In 2013 he brought back Open All Hours as Still Open All Hours as a one-off on Boxing Day and following huge ratings, it returned for two full series and there's a third on the way!
I really hope that they put the same faith in Young Hyacinth as his writing and Kerry Howard's performance certainly deserves it, and of course we all want to see the moment Hyacinth first met Richard.