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The Good Life - Series 1
BBC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 196 mins . G . NTSC

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When The Good Life came to the end of its run at the close of the 1970s, it seemed it had been part of our lives forever.

In fact, the British, as always, had known how to quit while ahead. There had been only 28 episodes plus two Specials, but this beautifully-crafted comedy series had created a warm, totally believable universe we felt we shared -- and its four leading actors would always stay indelibly associated with the show.

Those four actors featured firstly cuddly Richard Briers, who played Tom Good, the suburbanite who quits the rat-race to become a self-suffient home-farmer, and delectable little Felicity Kendal as his wife Barbara.

But just as important were their neighbours, Jerry and Margo Leadbetter, played with relish by Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith. Though the focus was on Tom and Barbara Good, the show would not have succeeded without their neighbours, who alternate between loving their neighbours and hating the almost-hippie drop-out lifestyle they've adopted.

Though Paul Eddington went on to become one of Britain's most prominent Cabinet Ministers and a memorable Prime Minister, and though Penelope Keith went on to refine her snobbish airs as if to the Manor Born, these are the roles which first burst them to prominence.

In the 1980s British television comedy changed. Along came Comic Strip, with its irreverent and anarchic demolition of British institutions, and along came the total antithesis of The Good Life in the punk comic-horrors of the brilliant The Young Ones.

These comedies are more than worlds apart -- they leap universes. Yet I defy anyone brought up on the wilder excesses of British comedy not to still be able to swim softly into the middle-class comfort-zone of The Good Life.

Yes, pert Felicity Kendall helps a lot, but for me, the slowly developing character of Margo Leadbetter, played by Penelope Keith, is the key atraction of the show.

She begins as definitely the fourth member of the cast, with limited lines and exposure. But watch how the production team lets her role expand as they realise what a great character they have on their hands -- haughty, snobbish Margo Leadbetter is truly one of the great television comedy creations, and in Series One of The Good Life we're given the privilege of witnessing her birth.

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The mono sound is clear and free of any degradation. However, the transfer image is very soft, which might in part be due to the image being presented to us in NTSC instead of PAL.

But even with that format-switch, we're getting a better deal than our Region Two compatriots in Britain. Their Good Life Season One package, although presented in PAL, is missing a complete episode -- the seventh episode, Backs to the Wall, has inexplicably slipped through the cracks.

I'm glad to have the extra episode, which is one of the best on the disc. And I imagine that even though the series is presented in the NTSC format, the picture quality isn't greatly worse than when we first saw this series on free-to-air television almost 30 years ago .... that is, if you were alive then!


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  •   And I quote...
    "Middle-class twaddle or British comedy at its best? Well, both really......"
    - Anthony Clarke
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