Thursday, July 29, 2010

These are Mulberry Days! The Mulberry Marathon

Spoiler Alert:
I normally don’t give spoiler warnings but I think this series is so unique that if you know nothing about Mulberry, I would hate to be the one that ruins it. Read further at your own risk of being spoilt!
Series 1 TX: 24/2/92 – 30/3/92
Series 2 TX: 8/4/93 – 20/5/93

This week I took the time to not watch one or two episodes of a show but the whole darn thing! Of course, as usual, it was random. What did I come up with? Well Mulberry! Mulberry is a little underrated gem of a comedy series which isn’t quite what it seems. The premise is very simple. An elderly lady named Miss Rose Farnaby lives in a manor and is very difficult to get along with especially her staff. She goes through personal assistants all the time. The latest assistant leaves and before the vacant post can be advertised, Mulberry shows up to take the job. Mulberry is a burst of energy. Full of life and someone who wants to bring the life out of everyone around him. He seems to want to make Miss Farnaby come out of her shell and start living life again. Did I mention that Mulberry is the son of Death?
Yes, I did mention that this is a comedy series and that is why I think this series is so unique. Mulberry is indeed the son of Death itself. Who knew that Death had a son but here he is. Mulberry was brought into contact with Miss Farnaby because he is learning the family business. His first person he needs to escort from our world to the next is Miss Farnaby. So the question remains as to why he is more interested in showing her the value of life than performing the job he was sent to do? There are two Series for Mulberry. The first series revolves around Mulberry taking an immediate like to Miss Farnaby and bring her out of her shell. Both characters have a mystery about them. Obviously with Mulberry, how he shows up at the manor looking for a job that hasn’t even been advertised yet is a mystery. Two characters I haven’t mention yet were Bert and Alice. They were evacuated to the manor during World War II from London. They eventually marry each other. As Bert is putting together the Help Wanted card which will announce a vacancy in the manor, Mulberry shows up even before anyone knew the job was available. As we get to see Mulberry, he really doesn’t divulge any information about himself. He won’t tell anyone if Mulberry is a first name or last name, just that his name is Mulberry. Although Miss Farnaby isn’t as mysterious as Mulberry, we don’t know much about her either right away. The layers of her background starts become more known as the stories develop. It is not known right away that she is a shut in and spinster. The series starts out as if she is someone who can be very difficult yet proper but soon we realize that everyone in the village knows she is a recluse. We even get more information about Bert and Alice as the series progresses. They were brought up from London during World War II and basically grew up with Miss Farnaby and her sisters. They all played together as children. Even to the point that Alice was Winnie the Pooh and Bert was Tigger whenthey would all play together. It seems like the 3 sisters from the manor all have never quite grown out of their childhood as this is a theme throughout the series. They are all attached to their childhood possessions. In some ways, Miss Farnaby is holding onto a memory of how life was when she was a child growing up in the manor and hasn’t let go even though she is now an old lady. The happy childhood has overshadowed her adult life. It is only through Mulberry that she is able to live a life beyond the manor.
Series One finds Mulberry helping Miss Farnaby change old habits. Episode Two there is a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire that no one in the manor wants to take part in. Mulberry is able to help Miss Farnaby see things differently and change the habit. Mulberry is able to get Miss Farnaby out of the house more by entering her into the village quiz in Episode Three and try to get her to go to Paris in Episode Four. Through out the first four episodes, a stranger in all black is trailing Mulberry and shows up in places telling Mulberry to do the job he has to do. It is almost immediately implied that Mulberry needs to dispose of Miss Farnaby. Perhaps his is a criminal? It isn’t until Episode 5 that we realize that the man in black is Death and Mulberry is his son brought in to bring Miss Farnaby into the realm beyond the Earth. Death tells Mulberry it has to happen now. Mulberry thinks if he is not around Miss Farnaby, nothing can happen to her. He is wrong as Death can easily move Mulberry back to the manor if he chooses. Mulberry talks his father, Death, into giving Miss Farnaby another 3 months to live. Mulberry returns to the manor and of course the first thing he does is talk Miss Farnaby into take a bike ride with him on a tandem bike!
Series Two literally picks up where Series One left off. The only difference is that Alice regenerated into a different actor. As Mulberry thinks he has 3 months to spend with Miss Farnaby, Death informs him that although Miss Farnaby does 3 months, Mulberry is not allowed to spend it with her. He needs to move onto other things. Mulberry is very distraught about this and as thinks he needs to leave he gets an intervention. His mother, Springtime, tells Mulberry that she spoken to his father and calmed him down, as all good mothers do. Mulberry is allowed to stay the 3 months with Miss Farnaby. This made me quite happy as I was unsure how we would handle six more episodes of Mulberry’s father nagging him about ending Miss Farnaby’s life!
Series 2 is very similar to Series 1 in many ways with the added bonus of the storyline focusing on the relationship between Miss Farnaby and Mulberry opposed to wondering what the real reason of Mulberry being around. Of course what Mulberry really is does makes Bert, Alice and Miss Farnaby a little suspicious. In an episode where Mulberry and Miss Farnaby fly a kite in honour of her late cousin Arthur, Mulberry gets a little too enthusiastic and falls of a cliff while flying the kite and dies. Though ironically, considering his line of work, he does come back to life to the astonishment of everyone else. In another episode, even his father comes to the manor as someone Miss Farnaby met at the library. Of course Mulberry thinks his father changed his mind about the 3 month extension but in fact his father wanted to experience what Mulberry thought was so great about living as a human. Death was unimpressed. Mulberry gets a taste of real human emotion as Miss Farnaby’s niece comes to visit and he finds himself with someone who really cares for him. It’s a touching episode as he starts to care for Jocelyn but knows he can do nothing about it. Miss Farnaby more and more exhibits a break with tradition and habit as she is the one who thinks Jocelyn and Mulberry would make a great couple. Her devotion to both of them is touching and sweet. Even Bert and Alice get a great episode where Alice almost leaves Bert for someone who works for the trains. Although at first Mulberry tries to stop it, his father is able to tell him that Alice’s would-be-suitor will die that night even before she can meet him. It is academic anyway as Alice changes her mind before Bert ever knows anything had or was going to happen.
The cast of Mulberry is quite good. Karl Howman plays Mulberry with energy and a glint of mischief in his eye. I found it quite interesting that his way of speaking lines reminded me quite a lot of James Bolam who became famous for The Likely Lads and who I really enjoyed in Only When I Laugh. Geraldine McEwan plays Miss Farnaby. She plays the role of an old person with a young personality just dying to get out. Even when reprimanding Mulberry, she has a hint of a smile underneath her scolding persona. I think Miss Farnaby sometime enjoyed the reputation of being strict but she was also very timid and really quite shy. On the Region 1 DVD release, there is a segment of Howman and McEwan from Pebble Mill on it. I was quite amazed how soft spoken McEwan was. She is known for a lot of wonderful productions but one that I think I am going to need to seek out is the series Mapp & Lucia. It also has some of my other favourite actors including Prunella Scales, Nigel Hawthorne and Denis Lill who I think makes any production better. Have any of you seen it? Would you recommend it?
Rounding off the cast is Tony Selby as Bert. Tony is always reliable in anything I have ever watched him in especially as Sabalom Glitz in Doctor Who. Alice was played by two different actors, Lil Roughley in Series 1 and Mary Healey in Series 2. I do prefer Roughley’s performance only because I got used to her. Roughley and Selby really played well off each other when arguing. They argued as children as if they had really grown up together and never knew how to argue as adults. It’s quite touching and plays into the theme that no one has grown up in this series.
John Bennett plays Mulberry’s father Death. He plays the character very well and a big part of that is how the idea of Death is portrayed in the series. Before we know what is really going on in Episode Five, this guy talking to Mulberry appears sinister and in return makes Mulberry look sinister. Once we know the real story, the idea of a Grim-Reaper is handled without emotion. Death explains that it is a job that they need to do. There is no emotion involved with it. It’s only Mulberry who sees it differently.
The final episode focuses on Miss Farnaby’s two sisters, Adele and Elizabeth, coming to visit the manor. We met Adele in an earlier episode from Series 1. She treats Miss Farnaby like she is incompetent and unable to handle any sort of social situation. Adele’s husband’s company is not doing well and Adele wants Miss Farnaby to sell the manor so they can split up the money amongst each other. Miss Farnaby has a difficult decision to make weighing in on all factors until Elizabeth suggest having a séance for fun. Elizabeth has apparently been practicing doing séances. It all goes well until Elizabeth gets a feeling from the séance that Mulberry is a malevolent presence which will do harm to Miss Farnaby. At this stage, Miss Farnaby gets angry and thinks this is all a plan by Adele to get her to sell the manor. Who thought Elizabeth would have been right? That was the final episode of the series. Although Mulberry was reasonably popular and had ratings to warrant a third series, it was cancelled. The BBC had new people in different departments who didn’t want to renew the series and it was finished. I personally think it would have to end with Series 3. I am not sure how they would prolong it without a similar plot device as seen in the first episode of Series 2 with a 3 month lease of life. I have read online that the series ended before reaching its “logical” conclusion. It makes me wonder if the series would have ended with Miss Farnaby passing away especially as the whole point of the series was showing how to live life to the fullest. Perhaps the biggest lesson of all, faced with Death (even when you don’t know it) you need to live life to the fullest. I personally think the series would not have ended that way but possibly allowing Mulberry to be a human being and live on Earth with his friends from the manor.
Have you seen Mulberry? Please post in the comments section how you think or would have liked to seen Mulberry end. I would be curious to know your opinion!

Next week: From the quaint English country to boldly going where no man has gone before. We leave the UK and for that matter Earth and watch the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. I am really looking forward to it as I will be watching it from the Blu Ray set for the first time.

Have a great week!


Anonymous said...

I am also an avid BBC production fan...hey! I'm British! Living in the degenerating world that we do, I admire the quality and eclectic sense of comedy and drama that has provided so much reliable entertainment over the years. Being highly selective and wanting to avoid the common denominators of sex and violence is another reason I turn to what Britain makes available in fine drama. I admit sadly, Britain is also capable of producing the other, I blame Benny Hill for putting the thin end of the sex wedge under an open door!!

How refreshing and fun to watch Mulberry and Miss Farnaby develop a relationship that is warm, caring and personal. Their interview highlighted their own special appreciation of such a friendship between an older woman and a young man.

As for Mapp and Lucia...YES! I highly recommend it. I own the VHS version of both series. Beautifully produced! If you like British eccentricity then this series is definitely that. Both MacEwan and Scales are a great match and the supporting cast all fall in line with the highly caricatured representation of 1930's society.

Greg said...

Thank you so much for posting! That's it, I need to locate Mapp & Lucia now. Things have been so busy, I actually forgot about it. I definately love series like Mulberry and All Creatures Great & Small because I actually feel better for the experience. This holds true even if I have seen the episodes multiple times.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your summary--alas, I fell asleep and missed the final episode so I was lost when Waiting For God was on in its place the following week. Apparently I missed the first episode of Series Two also--I didn't see Spring change Death's mind. Too bad there's not Series Three to look forward to--it's a very warm and entertaining show. I particularly like McEwan.

Anonymous said...

This is a GREAT show - I LOVE it! I watched it back then and I have the DVD set now and have just recently enjoyed watching the whole series with my parents (although my mom remembers watching it with me back then). Karl Howman is a great guy and if you write him a fan letter - guess what?!! - he'll write you back from his Blackberry! What a cool dude! I wish the show could have gone on longer but it was great while it lasted wasn't it?! Such nostalgia - sigh!!! If you like Karl Howman, Brush Strokes was a very good show too!

Greg said...

Hi Angela,

Thanks for the nice words about my blog! I plan on resurrecting it soon so I hope you check back. I've heard Karl is a great guy too!
For the person who suggested that I pick up Mapp & Lucia, if you are still around, you did not steer me wrong! It is simply fantastic! Thank you!

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Nice review of a wonderful and very interesting and even historically significant series.

Mapp and Lucia is available in DVD form from the wonderful Acorn in the US, though sadly they don't do a collected series, and from Network in the UK, who does do a complete series set. It is more than worth checking out. So is the McEwen Miss Marple.

Greg said...

Hi Ronald,

Thank you for the kind words. I ended up getting Mapp & Lucia and as it happens I did a two part article on Series 1:

Everyone who suggested this to me were absolutely right. It has become one of my favourite series. Please check back from time to time.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Found this on youtube. Thought it might be of interest to you and our readers.

Greg said...

Thank you for the link. How emotional and wonderful to hear from Bob Larbey himself how Mulberry would have ended. It would have been beautiful and poignant.

Thank you again for passing along the link. I have not seen it before.


Dave G said...

That little interview piece was wonderful. Makes me wish even more that there had been a third series of Mulberry. Even a final special would be enough for closure.

Greg said...

It is a wonderful video clip, isn't it? I think what makes it so worth-while is that Bob starts to get emotional when talking about what happens with Ms. Farnaby. I bet it would have been amazing and would have been one of the all-time great series finales. It is a real shame that some people within the BBC robbed us of that.


Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Loved the series the first time round and am now watching it again. I hadn't realized the creators, John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, also did The Good Life, which I'd not seen the first time I'd seen this. I'd recommend that series, too. And you mention James Bolam who I'd never seen in anything and who is in New Tricks, which I just discovered, despite it running since 2003. I'd highly recommend that, too. (I'm assuming you're not in the UK and going "DUH!")

Greg said...

Hi Monica!

Thanks for the note, I really appreciate it. I have not seen New Tricks but maybe I should give it a go. I am glad you like it and thank you for the recommendation.

I just re-read my Mulberry article and I re-watched the youtube link that someone had posted above from Bob Larby. I really wish we could have gotten a conclusion to Mulberry. I think it's time that I re-watch this series again.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Makes me wonder why the Beeb didn't consider a remake of Mulberry. It was certainly unique, beautifully portrayed and definitely had entertainment value.

Anonymous said...


Glad to hear you liked Mullberry so much. I've only just come across it and think it's brilliant too. Such a pity the BBC has become so short sighted.

If you like James Bolam could I recommend the Beidebeck Affair?

There are three series, The one above, The Beidebecke Tapes, and the Beidebecke Connection. All written by Alan Plater.

You can find them here with the first episode of the Beidebecke Affair on youtube. Just follow each episode from the links on the site.

There was an original pilot episode with Alun Armstrong playing the male lead which may be on youtube.

Hope you like them.

Anonymous said...

So great to see this series being repeated on PBS. Always thought it unique, sensitive, tender and funny all at the same time. Really wish they were able to produce a season 3 as so curious to have known the intended ending. Geraldine McEwan, was as always, superb.

Charles of the Gnome Office said...

My Good Lady Wife bought Series 1 of Mulberry on DVD. Started watching it this Sunday afternoon as we had a little bite to eat. Episode one had me laughing on a constant basis. We watched all the episodes in one sitting and have just sent off to Ebay for Series 2. Marvelous gentle humour.

tina benez said...

I'm watching Mulberry right now for the first time on DVD borrowed from the main branch of the NYC public library ... and I Luv it!! :D How original, heartfelt and believable it is to a romantic noir lover like me! ;) Quite sublime really for a comedy. And What was the BBC thinking in not commissioning a third series?! Bullocks to that! And of course I'm Totes in luv w Karl Howman now...sigh... Oh well, maybe when my time comes, Mulberry will come for me... :)

Anonymous said...

The series "Mulberry" was and still is one of my favorite British shows. I too wish the series had been continued - but how? Although Mulberry worked wonders in bringing Miss Farnaby out of her shell, with all of us death is inevitable. It gladdened my heart when Mulberry's mother "Spring" bought him some time.....
Meanwhile, I have my DVD set of the complete series, and it is still on PBS sometimes on Saturday nights. Such thoughtful and entertaining shows are heads and shoulders above the modern murder and mayhem which is much of what is on TV now.

Anonymous said...

'Mulberry' is certainly one of the nicest BBC comedy's, and rather than just pull the plug on a series three, they should have at least made a 45 minute to hour one off final episode, typical BBC we're in charge and forget what viewers want, but everyone comments are right, I watch and re-watch Mulberry and Mapp and Lucia on DVD again and again - glad I 'got' them