David Thompson
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July 04, 2015

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sH2

None of the'self-sufficiency' would work if Tom and Barbara had kids.

Alex11

"Nothing better illustrates how little progress we have really made in nearly 40 years towards a more sustainable society."

So we have lived in an unsustainable society for nearly half a century?
Can't help feeling there's a logical flaw in that argument somewhere.

Drake D

It is amazing how many leftist fantasies involve mooching off those who earn their way while attacking them for such pursuits. It's as if they haven't quite grasped how things work yet.

David

the opposite of Thatcherism… a sustainable and non-greedy alternative

It’s also worth noting that Tom and Barbara rarely decline an invitation to the pub, care of Margo and Jerry, or a bottle of champagne, care of Margo and Jerry. Or an invitation to dinner with ample booze. But we never see the Goods buying a round of drinks.

Argh

I'll need a shower for my trouble, but I will attempt to see the isshoo from a leftist perspective.

The Goods have their hearts in the right place, and that overrides all other considerations. They may not always succeed (in cold, hard, reality-based terms) but they try.

That they don't succeed is not because what they are attempting is wrong, or that they themselves are flawed in some way, but because the system they are attempting it within is wrong/flawed.

The Leadbetters think the Goods are foolish, but they are viewing things from the position of dupes/slaves of The System, and their views are therefore false.

If only we could all be like the Goods, we could bring The System down and all would be well! They are an example to follow - free your minds! If we all gave up our jobs and spent our time growing vegetables, happiness and wellbeing would ensue! (And there would be no downsides whatsoever!)

Yep. Feel kinda icky now.

pst314

"The Good Life"

Thank you, David. Very funny. I had never heard of it, but after watching a free online video I will borrow it from my library.

Tell Sackett

Tom and Barbara were likeable, broad-minded, and had a sense of humour, so I'm struggling to see how they were "in-line with the green movement".

Jonathan

Evidently Richard Briers, who played Tom and was a bit of a rightie, despised the character.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-438220/The-Good-Life-Tom-selfish-parasite-says-Briers.html

David

Evidently Richard Briers… despised the character.

Heh. I hadn’t seen that.

David

From the Spectator article linked above, on how Margo’s character also spoke to a constituency:

The Good Life was supposed to be about suburban self-sufficiency, but the series soon became a mirror for the fears and aspirations of the age. When the first episode went out, in April 1975, Margaret Thatcher had just become Tory leader, and as Penelope Keith’s Margo emerged as a comic counterweight to Richard Briers’ Tom, her character began to sound uncannily like Mrs T. “I am not a citizen, I am a resident,” she declared. “I am the silent majority.” […] A house-proud Boudicea who wasn’t scared to speak her mind or knock her neighbours’ heads together, Margo was both heroic and ridiculous - Mrs T writ small… She voiced a growing frustration with ineptitude and apathy, which would eventually sweep her parliamentary doppelganger into Downing Street.

Many of the best gags come from Margo’s chiding of tardy workmen or her rumblings about trades unions. It’s interesting that a character originally intended as incidental should become so important to the show’s success.

wtp

That they don't succeed is not because what they are attempting is wrong, or that they themselves are flawed in some way, but because the system they are attempting it within is wrong/flawed....others...

Did not know about Richard Briers' conservatism, but given that the Goods are the cuter couple, called the "Goods", and such, would it not be likely that the writers and producers had some slant toward left and are trying to make Tom and Barbara the heroes, but the writers just don't get it themselves because they are so immersed in leftism? Or really just trying to make the Leadbetters, and the show as a whole, believable by making them somewhat sympathetic? Watching in syndication here in the US I took the name "Leadbetters" to imply that they were meant to be seen as the dead weight, weighing down society, while simultaneously thinking highly of themselves. I greatly enjoyed that show but kind of saw it as a slightly different angle on the US show "All in the Family", which was written/produced by Norman Lehr and others quite a bit to the left. I felt that some of the best episodes of "All in the Family" were where the writers tried hard to humanize Archie in an attempt to make the show more believable on the whole and to get those conservative types like my parents to watch without scaring them off with a constant harangue of leftism. But the humanizing makes Archie look better from today's perspective than the intent at the time. While it may have worked then, I think it backfires in retrospect. I specifically think often of this episode here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jncz_um7OOs

I haven't watched it in a couple of years, but it would be fun to document all the terrible things the malthusian Meathead said were going to come to pass in the early lifetime of a child born in the 70's which never happened.

Maybe I'm off on the Good Neighbors (as it was called over here) but would be curious to know if anyone had a perspective on those writers/producers.

witwoud

"It’s interesting that a character originally intended as incidental should become so important to the show’s success."

The same sort of thing happened in Parks and Recreation, when the libertarian Ron Swanson became the show's 'break-out' character.

In both shows, I suspect the writers' sympathies were broadly with the idealistic leftie characters; yet it was the conservative 'counterweight' characters who really chimed with the viewers. What that means, who knows.

mike fowle

When Richard Briers died the BBC showed an episode of The Good Life, and it seemed to me that Tom is actually quite a preachy character and a bit of a pain, which hadn't struck me first time round. Presumably the BBC thought that this was his finest hour, but for me Ever Decreasing Circles was streets ahead.

David

There is of course Margo Leadbetter fan art.

And from the Sunday Times fashion pages…


Thornavis.

wtp

I don't think you can read much into the Leadbetters name it's unlikely to have any deeper meaning. It just sounds faintly absurd and is in the old English tradition of using odd sounding names for comical effect, although actually it's not an uncommon name in parts of England.

I don't think the writers had any intentional slant towards the left either. It's worth remembering that at the time self sufficiency, organic gardening and so forth were usually seen by the left as either irrelevant or reactionary . It was only later that the ascendant New Left took it over. It's certainly social commentary though, again in an old English tradition of wrapping contemporary concerns in a cloak of mockery and farce.

Rich Rostrom

Alex11 @ July 04, 2015 - 12:42:

So we have lived in an unsustainable society for nearly half a century? Can't help feeling there's a logical flaw in that argument somewhere.

Not really. Fifty years is a relatively short period. There have been several cultures which flourished for up to several hundred years before collapsing due to resource exhaustion. It happened more than once to the Mayans.

There are people who manage to live for five or ten years on borrowed money, but they go bankrupt eventually.

There are governments who manage that for much longer, but eventually they run out of other peoples' money.

Hal

I don't think you can read much into the Leadbetters name it's unlikely to have any deeper meaning. It just sounds faintly absurd and is in the old English tradition of using odd sounding names for comical effect, although actually it's not an uncommon name in parts of England.

My name is Ramsbottom, so I'm called Sir.

Hal

Hmmm. Going in a somewhat parallel direction . . . Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world

And yes, quite so, Lynch's Flying! Worms! In! Space! was and is absolute garbage, and a very recurring reaction I read is that Brian Herbert's attenpts also haven't been worth the dead trees they've been printed on . . .

---And so for those also flinching at what Jackson also inflicted, yes, I rather predict that in a bit of time, both Herbert and Tolkien will finally, successfully, reach the screens . . .

mojo

the old English tradition of using odd sounding names for comical effect

Sometimes hyphenated for extra bushwahiness. Fotheringham-Pryce, for instance. Perhaps pronounced altogether differently (ie: "Fanshaw"), just to be more confusing.

Although that tends to be an Australian tell these days.

Nate Whilk

In the episode "Home Sweet Home", a pig farmer says the Goods are just "playing at it" and should really buy a farm. The Goods don't go for it, but even money says this is the desired endgame the sustainability socialists have in store for us.

Chester Draws

Not really. Fifty years is a relatively short period. There have been several cultures which flourished for up to several hundred years before collapsing due to resource exhaustion. It happened more than once to the Mayans.

Every civilisation collapses, so every one is unsustainable at heart? Really?

We really have no idea how the Mayan civilisation collapsed. After half a millenium it is possible that environmental influences played a part. If their basic system had been "unsustainable" then it would have shown up well before then.

Meanwhile as modern people live in increasing productivity from the land, we are chided that it is unsustainable. By people whose idea of an alternative -- non-industrial agriculture -- led to frequent famine!

JuliaM

I always felt Jerry would be much, much easier to live with than Tom, who irritated me immensely...

David

I always felt Jerry would be much, much easier to live with than Tom, who irritated me immensely...

Yes, Jerry is low maintenance. Tom, not so much. I suppose the obvious question is, which couple would you rather have moving in next door?

Hal

Not really. Fifty years is a relatively short period. There have been several cultures which flourished. . . . .

Every civilisation collapses, so every one is unsustainable at heart? Really?

Not really. The Mongols achieved the largest empire on the planet, and from there merely fragmented.

David

It’s curious how the commenters quoted above, the ones who claim The Good Life affirms a “non-greedy alternative” to bourgeois living, don’t grasp how Margo’s character resonated with many viewers. Not least her irritation with incompetence, low standards and unshiftable bureaucracy. See, for instance, her battle of wills in the (as was) council rates office. Unhappy about the disrepair of a nearby drain for which the council is responsible, and faced with a council bureaucrat who asks just who does she think she is, Margo explains, quite forcibly, that she is both a taxpayer and “the silent majority.” The uppity clerk is soon outgunned by Margo’s imperiousness and, suitably cowed, promises to see that the overdue repairs are done first thing the very next day.

In the demoralised Britain of the mid-70s - where just getting a phone line from the state’s monopoly provider could take well over a year - I’d imagine quite a few taxpayers would have loved to have won such everyday battles.

Lancastrian Oik

If I remember correctly, the Goods kept pigs, presumably for slaughter although the mechanism whereby that was achieved was glossed over. I'm betting that our Leftie friends have forgotten that bit.

Watching it as a teenage schoolboy I was struck by the sheer affluence of both the Leadbetters and the Goods compared to my friends and family's lives in what was becoming post-industrial Lancashire. Even though they'd dug up the back garden, the Goods' house was much bigger than even those of my wealthiest friends. Furthermore, the scriptwriters tried to make it look like a bit of a wheeze when Tom and Barbara decided to live by candlelight, when as one who lived through the various "three day week" eras and the power cuts I can confirm that it really isn't much fun at all. There were quite a few subsistence hill farmers around our village and the way they lived in the early 70s was no picnic either, our Guardianista commentators fantasies notwithstanding.

David

the Goods’ house was much bigger than even those of my wealthiest friends.

Yes, their experiment in supposedly rejecting bourgeois values only seems possible after an awful lot of use has been made of those same bourgeois values. And even then, only when other people who still embrace those values are available next door.

Can’t help thinking that’s a tad symbolic.

TDK

"I don't think the writers had any intentional slant towards the left either. It's worth remembering that at the time self sufficiency, organic gardening and so forth were usually seen by the left as either irrelevant or reactionary . It was only later that the ascendant New Left took it over."

I don't agree. Concurrent with this program was The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin. The third series explored a similar self sufficient community outside the rat race. I think the sense of ennui was fairly common amongst the intelligentsia. I wouldn't dispute that the Greens had not reached full credibility but that was as much a feature of age as politics. Earth Day was in 1970, Silent Spring and Wooden Ships were accepted by the 20-30 year olds in that group. It took another decade for the new left to supplant the old left but it was there.

David

More Margo art…

Titled, inevitably, The OOh-AAh Bird.

TDK

I see several people have already spoken of Tom's bossiness. I've spent a fruitless 20 minutes search for an article i once read discussing this trait. I think it was an interview with Felicity Kendal. She talks about how Tom was an awful bully and her character put up with him because she loved him. He was selfish and she always ended up doing what he wanted. Hardly progressive.

Argh

Entirely progressive, I'd have thought.

Jeff Wood

Was I alone in developing a weakness for both Felicity Kendall and Penelope Keith?

The chaps were well done too. Tom could drive one to the edge, but someone with theatrical connections told me that Richard Briers was sending him up something rotten; plausible when one learned his general views.

Tom wasn't a complete prig. I recall him openly fancying Margo in her jodhpurs and riding boots.

David

Was I alone in developing a weakness for both Felicity Kendall and Penelope Keith?

It’s all coming out now.

Thornavis

TDK

Yes I remember all that but my point was that this was something that arose outside of the normal leftist opposition to capitalism and was viewed with considerable distrust, hostility even by the traditional left who still believed in heavy industry and working class activism. There was a writer in the Guardian at the time, whose name escapes me I'm afraid - Terry something ? - who I recall as being particularly unimpressed by the whole thing. He wasn't, as I recall, particularly left wing but more Fabian/traditional Labour. Part of the reason for this distrust I think was the right wing romantic, sometimes even Fascist origins of the Green movement generally, something that has been largely air brushed out of history by the modern Greens and their allies.

All of which I think rather suggests, to me anyway, that the scriptwriters of a basically standard BBC sit-com were not pushing a leftist or even particularly green agenda but rather using a contemporary social phenomena as a platform for a new comedy. Hence all the leftist claims that the Goods represent modern Green thinking is just their usual thing of rewriting history to suit themselves, plus the general ignorance on the conventional left these days about anything that happened more than five minutes ago.

Thornavis

Tom wasn't a complete prig. I recall him openly fancying Margo in her jodhpurs and riding boots

There's a difference with modern times. Now that would never be thought funny or acceptable unless it was encased in some boilerplate piece of right on anti sexism. In fact it's difficult to imagine the kind of Guardian types who might tell us how progressive the programme was tolerating at all if it was made now. Felicity Kendall as eye candy, strong female Margo as a figure of fun ? Instant anathema.

sackcloth and ashes

'It’s interesting that a character originally intended as incidental should become so important to the show’s success'.

Something similar happened with 'Live on Mars' and DCI Gene Hunt.

wtp

Felicity Kendall...ahh...I remember an episode which she made some reference to Cockney rhyming slang, which I then made every effort to understand. Which was a rather difficult quest for a 14 year old mathematically minded American boy in the days long before the internet.

I must admit I once or twice had impure thoughts regarding Penelope Keith, which I attribute to pent up frustration with the impure thoughts and time and distance separating me from Felicity Kendall.

How's that for it all coming out? TMI?

james

Was I alone in developing a weakness for both Felicity Kendall and Penelope Keith?

What?

You mean that there are those who didn't?

ACTOldFart

David, are you passing on various commenters' feelings regarding Mss Kendall and Keith to the ladies in question?

fnord

which couple would you rather have moving in next door?

--------------

Whichever one contained Felicity Kendal.

Yessssss.

Steve H.

They're nothing but a couple of reactionary stereotypes confirming the myth that everyone in Britain is a lovable, middle-class eccentric -- or so I'm told.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bomygz1Ygkk

Nikw211

Socialists Watch TV, Hallucinate Wildly

Oh, dear me.


Does this make Tsipras Tom and Varoufakis Barbara?

David

Oh, dear me.

And safe from the consequences, Mr Mason is loving every minute of it. I’d imagine it makes him feel young again.

David

Incidentally, it’s worth remembering that in the final episode everything is going wrong for the Goods, with one disaster after another, the future looking bleak and the couple close to despair. In the last few minutes of the episode, a brief upbeat distraction – Jerry’s promotion – is abruptly cut short when the two couples discover that Tom and Barbara’s home has been burgled and vandalised. Despite some words of defiance, their chosen lifestyle now seems even more hopelessly unrealistic. As the credits roll, the Leadbetters’ star is rising, the Goods, not so much. If the show was “clearly proposing a sustainable and non-greedy alternative” to bourgeois values, as claimed above, it’s an odd note on which to end.

rjmadden

Despite some words of defiance, their chosen lifestyle now seems even more hopelessly unrealistic.

30 years later was Tom still carrying sacks of potatoes around (aged 70)?

David

30 years later was Tom still carrying sacks of potatoes around (aged 70)?

Now I’m trying to imagine Tom & Barbara: The Twilight Years.

Dr Cromarty

Remember had the socialist/green revolution come to pass not only would Margo & Jerry be up against the wall. Tom & the fragrant Barbara would get a bullet to the head -they both wore glasses at some point in the series

Bluntnose

Did not know about Richard Briers' conservatism, but given that the Goods are the cuter couple, called the "Goods", and such, would it not be likely that the writers and producers had some slant toward left

Ah yes, but Margot and Jerry have better in their name.

Argh

Margo vs Barbara (in terms of hawtness) is as much a no-brainer as Betty vs Wilma. It's no coincidence that Jerry and Barney are such pushovers with their wives.

Jonathan

It's no coincidence that Jerry and Barney are such pushovers with their wives.

Don't know about Barney but I never thought Jerry was a pushover. He's an easygoing type but Margo gets her own way only when Jerry lets her.

David

I’ve discovered that there exists The Good Life fan fiction. I’m not saying it’s good, mind, just that it exists.

Jonathan

I’m not saying it’s good, mind, just that it exists.

Oh, I dunno. I thought Zombies in Surbiton looked promising.

David Gillies

When I was very small, in the early 70's, we did grow a lot of our own food, and we even had a rotavator. But it wasn't out of any back-to-nature, self-sufficiency pipe dream. It was because we were skint. My father worked during the week and then toiled in the garden on the weekend. Now that food in the UK is essentially free, no-one really needs to do that any more. In other times and other places, this would be considered progress.

Spiny Norman

I suppose the obvious question is, which couple would you rather have moving in next door?

Since I have some jovial, hapless parasites as neighbors, I know what my answer would be.

f

Great post and discussion. Bookmarked.

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