THE GROVE FAMILY (1954)
Devised by BBC producer John Warrington and written by father and son team Roland and Michael Pertwee, 'The Grove Family' was Britain's first soap opera for adults (two years after the children's equivalent, 'The Appleyards').
The series featured the seven members of a lower middle-class family living in a neat double-fronted house, with father's builder's yard attached, in a quiet road in the London suburb of Hendon. Apart from mum and dad Grove there was 90 year-old grandmother, two elder children of 20 and 18 years old, and two youngsters of 13 and 8. Each episode, lasting between 15 and 20 minutes would seem pretty tame by today's soap opera standards, concentrating on petty squabbles and everyday domestic incidents with a built in 'public service' element such as the virtues of buying a television licence or making one's house burglar proof. The producers reportedly auditioned 270 people before choosing the final cast of seven and thirteen episodes were already written before it came to the screen for the first time on a Friday night in 1954, with the family celebrating the fact that father had just paid off the mortgage on the house after 20 years.
In a 1954 interview for TV Mirror, Michael Pertwee explained how the series came about: "We decided from the first to make a separate self-contained incident each week, so that anyone could switch on at any episode and understand what it was all about. Once having decided on the type of series it was necessary to settle on the type of environment. We did a lot of head scratching about a name for a family. The original Bob Grove started off as Bob Welcome who was a commissionaire at a film studio. It was my father who suggested making him a builder. Being in business for himself the man would be subject to all the fluctuations of fortune caused by economic conditions. He would have many more problems being in the open market. Finally we adopted the name Grove after the BBC studios at Lime Grove." With the basic outline of the series in place the Pertwee's then set about developing each family members character. "We decided that if the family was to have some semblance of reality, not every member should have wings sprouting from their shoulders. Thus, the elder son Jack is bit of a smart alick. The elder daughter Pat has a number of boyfriends whom she does not treat very well and grandma is best described as 'crotchety'."
The youngest member of The Grove Family, actor Christopher Beeny, would become well known as a downstairs servant in the Bellamy household in Upstairs Downstairs and elder son Jack was played by Peter Bryant who would go on to become a successful director and producer particularly remembered for his work on Doctor Who, the very same show that Michael Pertwee's brother, Jon, would star in. After three years of writing continuously for the series the two Pertwee's asked the BBC for a holiday and they were granted it...The Grove Family was taken off the air never to return.
Unfortunately very little footage is known to exist today although a spin-off movie, It's A Great Day was made in 1955 and in 1991 as part of the BBC's Lime Grove celebrations a number of modern day soap stars were gathered to recreate parts of the original script. The Royale Family's Sue Johnston played mum whilst Eastenders Leslie Grantham played dad. Anna Wing appeared as Gran and Nick Berry was Jack. The Grove Family, more naïve than dramatic, enjoyed enormous popularity in its time and was arguably the genesis for the soap opera formula that would eventually come to dominate British television.
Review: Laurence Marcus. December 17th 2001