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Martin is a committee man. He has numerous schemes and committees organised around the neighbourhood. He is so obsessive about every detail of everything he does he is driving his long suffering wife, Anne, slowly crazy. Then the new neighbour Paul arrives. He has a more worldly outlook than those who live under Martin's organisational spell. There is an immediate clash of personalities because Martin treats everything so seriously, but to Paul, life is for enjoying and not to be taken so seriously. Written by
Steve Crook <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After the first couple of episodes it grows on you.
Successful comedy writing partnership John Esmonde and Bob Larbey had already come up with the popular "The Good Life", and they teamed up with Richard Briers again for this series focusing on middle-class suburban eccentricity and strife.
Briers starred as Martin Bryce, a completely obsessive form filler, club joiner and committee organiser. His wife, Ann (Penelope Wilton) has somehow put-up with his irritating behaviour for some years - 14 in fact when it's revealed later in the series. According to Martin, and perhaps because of him, everything runs like clockwork in "The Close" - a leafy Home Counties estate where the houses have nice names. Martin's is called Brookes Mead.
Martin's life is changed however with the introduction of Paul Ryman (Peter Egan). Paul is an affable, charming and super confident chap who has a university degree (Martin hasn't) and runs a hairdressing business in town. Totally secure, he is not put off by Martin's horrendous attitude towards him and proceeds to help him out. It is this fact that frustrates Martin even more - because Paul can sort everything out just by calling one of his many "friends". The mere fact that Paul can make life seem so simple while Martin frets over every small detail makes their relationship a taut one. Still, Paul is such a nice guy he never shows a cold side to Martin. However, he enjoys flirting with Ann, and for a couple of episodes you wonder if they would get it on behind Martin's back, but surprisingly, Martin and Ann's marriage is very stable.
In the tradition of weird next-door neighbours are the dull Howard and Hilda Hughes (geddit), who are fully-paid up members of Martin's committees, flower-growing clubs and other silly schemes that you would only get in white middle-class English communities. They have a penchant for wearing matching Noel Edmonds type sweaters, with Howard always telling the same joke to his wife when he comes home to work in the evening. Stanley Lebor and Geraldine Newman are perfect in these roles.
This BBC sitcom proved to fairly popular with viewers, perhaps because the talented cast make their characters work so well. The first couple of episodes, straight off from where we see Martin using his infamous duplicator in his small upstairs office, are a little off-putting. It is down to the character of Martin, who is such an obsessive bore you can't stand much of him and have little sympathy for either. But he grows on you, and while he never truly gets on best mates terms with Paul, he accepts him as a neighbour as the series goes on. The viewers are in the same boat, as we accept all the misery is reaped on him by himself, and that we English share a kind of self-depreciating empathy with him.
The series ran for 4 seasons from 1984 to 1987, with an 80 minute closing episode in 1989. This had Martin and Ann moving away from The Close.
P.S. My favourite scene in this series is when Martin joins the exclusive Egremont Club. Martin and the man who introduces him to the club keep calling for the steward - but he is nowhere to be seen. In comes the smooth Paul who sits down and calls "steward" in the same manner, and the barman promptly appears.
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