Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances.
|Portrayed by||Patricia Routledge|
|Created by||Roy Clarke|
|First appearance||29 October 1990|
|Last appearance||25 December 1995|
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||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (February 2013)|
Hyacinth Bucket (which she pronounces "Bouquet"), is a middle–aged woman, married to Richard, who is a local government finance officer. She has a son, Sheridan, who is an unseen character and who only telephones when he needs money.
Born into a working-class family, she is the epitome of a snob. She perpetually, but hopelessly, tries to climb the social ladder and impress her neighbours and friends. Hyacinth does her best to give the impression that she is of high social standing, whilst it is obvious she is of working-class stock. Her continuous desperation not to let other people find out her true origins forms many of the plots and provides most of the show's humour.
Hyacinth looks down on others, and is particularly ashamed of her rather slovenly relatives – her younger sisters Daisy and Rose, and especially her brother-in-law, Onslow. Hyacinth's obsession with enhancing her social status is clearly intended to compensate for her own insecurities and the fact that she comes from a family she considers common. Contrasted to this is her pride concerning her other sister, Violet, who married well, lives in a posh home with "a pool, a sauna, and room for a pony".
Hyacinth is obsessively houseproud, always polishing and perfecting her home and warning visitors to remove their shoes and not to brush up against the walls. She pretends that items such as statues, cups, and sofas are particularly expensive, in order to show off to the neighbours, a pretence that causes problems with her nervous neighbour, Elizabeth, who is constantly fearful of breaking her collectible Royal Doulton china cups. She usually uses a beaker (in US terms, a mug) but, even so, always either spills her tea or damages Hyacinth's rug. In an attempt to make everyone who calls her think she employs servants, she answers the phone with "The Bouquet Residence, the lady of the house speaking!"
Hyacinth is nevertheless a good person deep down; she is a devoted wife to Richard, despite his constant exasperation with her, and she genuinely cares for her family, always rushing to the aid of her lower-class relatives when they are having problems, particularly her elderly father, who suffers from dementia and requires constant attention. As his eldest daughter, Hyacinth believes it is her duty to look out for her father, even though she will not have him living under her roof.
Nevertheless, Hyacinth's snobbery provides much of the show’s humour. In the second episode of the first series she insisted her husband wear a tie to deadhead the roses. In later episodes, she asks the milkman to find out which cow her milk comes from. She also writes to the Postmaster General to demand that the local sorting office attach first-class stamps to all her post. In addition, she is so afraid of being associated with the lower classes that she will do whatever it takes to avoid her poorer relatives in public, even if this means hiding behind fences or diving into bushes.
Hyacinth goes to great lengths to give the impression that she is of high social standing or a friend of people in upper-class circles. In a Series One episode, while visiting a stately home, Hyacinth goes to extraordinary lengths to convince other visitors that she is a friend of the noble family in residence. This desire to associate herself with the upper classes even prompts Hyacinth to buy a tiny, cramped apartment in a Tudor mansion in Series Four, allowing her to boast about being "the owner" of a country estate. In a Series Five episode, she tricks her husband Richard, into "requisitioning" an extremely expensive Rolls Royce at a local car showroom and driving it to an expensive country estate, so that she can show off what she calls "her" Rolls. Her attempt to impress people with the car fails when she and Richard are apprehended by the police and accused of stealing the vehicle.
Ironically, the one time Hyacinth is seen mixing with aristocracy, she makes a fool of herself in front of them. While attending an auction at the country estate of a local noble, Richard has to restrain Hyacinth from trying to buy all manner of astronomically expensive goods, which she wants only because they were owned by aristocrats. However, Hyacinth purchases several bottles of wine made by the noble family. When she chances upon the aristocrat in question and accepts an invitation to share a bottle of the wine, she becomes hopelessly drunk.
In another episode, Hyacinth and Richard are visiting a country estate, and Hyacinth resorts to desperate measures to hide from Daisy, Rose and Onslow, who are also visiting. After entering an area closed to the public, they encounter a scruffy individual who tells them that they are not allowed there. Hyacinth claims she is a close friend of the lord and lady who own the manor and scolds the "gardener" for his attitude. It transpires that the "gardener" is, in fact, the lord of the manor. When Richard drives them home, Hyacinth tells Richard that the lord has no right to dress like a gardener.
On another occasion, she and Richard are allowed use of one of Sheridan's friend's old boat (she assumed it was a yacht) for a nautical candlelight supper for Liz and Emmett, but it concludes disastrously with both Richard and Hyacinth falling into the river and ending up drenched with water. There is a similar occurrence when Hyacinth hosts a riverside picnic (what she calls a "waterside supper with riparian entertainment") for Liz, Emmett, the Vicar and his wife, and they go on the river in three rowing boats; however Hyacinth is drenched by water pouring out of a digger overhead. Soaked and disgruntled again, Hyacinth is further saddened when she sees all her family members, who are greeted warmly by all the other guests (who, ironically, appear to prefer them to Hyacinth) having a picnic on the bank with Hyacinth's wealthy sister Violet. Violet, her sister, is often referred to as her, "sister Violet, you know, the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony." This comment is often made upon answering a telephone call from said sister, when Elizabeth is hopelessly over for coffee. This comment is, by Liz, often lip synched along with Hyacinth, due to the fact that she makes a point of mentioning it every time she's on the telephone with Violet.
Hyacinth's unpopularity with other characters
Hyacinth frequently invites people to her 'candlelight suppers', however these are disliked by her guests, who go to huge lengths to avoid them. The suppers are held in Hyacinth's dining room, decorated in an elaborate and anachronistic Victorian style, which is dominated by a portrait of Winston Churchill glaring down at the diners. Hyacinth has been seen to spend all afternoon arranging her table for a supper, and often recruits her next-door neighbour, Liz, to inspect it. Liz has been trained to feign admiration at the elaborate table (an example of this is in the Series Two episode, "The Candlelight Supper").
Her constant snobbery, boasting about wealth and connections she doesn't have, whilst repeatedly talking about her son Sheridan, all make Hyacinth disliked by almost everyone around her, including brother-in-law Onslow. However, Hyacinth is oblivious to this despisal, and cannot understand why so many people fail to covet invitations to her parties. For example, while on the phone, if a person hangs up, she blames a fault on the line.
Hyacinth seems to have very few friends, and those she has who appear upper class are in some way corrupt. "The Major", who claims (somewhat unconvincingly) to have served as a high-ranking combat officer in the British Army, lusts for Hyacinth but rarely ever speaks to her in a normal fashion. Mrs. Councillor Nugent is a snappish, miserable, and highly disagreeable local councillor, and repeatedly subjects Hyacinth to lengthy political tirades, prompting Hyacinth to flatter Mrs. Councillor Nugent shamelessly, agreeing with whatever she says. Ironically, many people with whom Hyacinth would prefer to be seen, prefer instead to be around Hyacinth's family. Hyacinth's only real friend seems to be her next-door neighbour Liz, who is nonetheless terrified of her coffee mornings with Hyacinth: her nervousness in Hyacinth's house always results in her spilling coffee over Hyacinth's expensive rugs, or smashing one of her prized bone china cups ("Royal Doulton with hand-painted periwinkles"). Hyacinth also considers Liz's divorced brother Emmett to be a friend, whilst in truth Hyacinth drives Emmett to despair and the man lives in constant fear of being "sung at" by her.
"Keeping up with the Joneses"
Hyacinth always tries to outdo her neighbours, especially the Barker-Finches of 23 Blossom Avenue, who she thinks are her bitter social rivals, but don't actually care about her. In Series Three, Hyacinth cannot bear the fact her neighbours get a celebrity to attend their barbecue, and she sets out to do the same at her function. In the same series, Hyacinth becomes jealous of a neighbour holidaying in the Caribbean, and goes to extreme lengths to convince those around her she too is considering going on an expensive holiday.
One of the most obvious examples of Hyacinth's snobbery involves her last name. According to her husband Richard, Bucket is pronounced as is the water receptacle. However for Hyacinth, it is pronounced Bouquet, à la française. Roy Clarke said he got the inspiration for this character trait after meeting someone with the surname "Bottom" who insisted it was pronounced "Botome" and another called "Robotham" and styled in "Robotheme". Despite her insistence on the more elegant French pronunciation most people usually call her "Mrs Bucket" or more disparagingly "The Bucket Woman," behind her back. At one point she slammed the door on an alarm home salesman after he said "Mrs. Bucket," thus prompting Richard to "correct" him, closed the door and repeat the "greeting" to her, in which she returned to her cheery self after she was satisfied. The Vicar usually shouts the latter when noticing Hyacinth, then often attempts a speedy getaway before he is collared by the character. Hyacinth's neighbour Emmet is similarly amused by her pronunciation of "Bucket" as "Bouquet," although his most pressing problem with Hyacinth is that she is desperate to be in his amateur operatic society, and will "sing at him!" frequently. Hyacinth's character is supposedly based on a lady from Fishlake, Doncaster whose surname was Duckett as in the Yorkshire for 'duck'.
Surprisingly, Hyacinth never "corrects" Mrs. Councillor Nugent when she calls her "Bucket."
Hyacinth's three younger sisters amplify the floral theme suggested by the surname "Bouquet": their names are Daisy, Violet and Rose, whose names parallel their personalities. Violet, who is frequently mentioned but only appears as a recurring character in the final series, is married to the somewhat unstable Bruce. Bruce is able to provide her with a "large house, and a 'Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony'" through a comfortable income as a "turf accountant" (or, more correctly, a bookmaker). He, however, seems to have an unfortunate habit of cross-dressing, randomly appearing on the street in odd costumes and hiding in trees. Such oddities prevent Hyacinth from using the couple to her full advantage; she can't invite them round or visit them, yet still resorts to boasting about her sister's wealth, while keeping Bruce's quirks at bay. Violet eventually wants to leave Bruce, but Hyacinth refuses to lose the last high socialite of her family and pursues Violet down a street to keep her with him (this in the Series Five episode, "Skis"). Daisy, whose singular lack of pretension serves as a foil to Hyacinth's snobbery, communicates genuine compassion. Daisy is also admirably and adorably still infatuated with her husband Onslow, much to the dismay of Hyacinth and the disdain of poor sexless Onslow. Rose, the fading beauty, and unintentional inamorata, craves men's attention. Unfortunately for, "Our Rose," we find her at the receiving end of many a failed romance on the end of the telephone due to her unfortunate draw of the affections of married men, whom she all refers to as a Mr. "-." All save for "Mr. What's It", a Polish bloke whose name she couldn't pronounce, yet was intended to marry.
Hyacinth on the telephone
Hyacinth describes her telephone as a "pearl-white slim-line push-button digital telephone with automatic last-number redial". Her telephone manners vividly exemplify her pretensions. Hyacinth informs anyone within earshot of her ringing telephone that the caller is "bound to be someone important" (from Series Three onwards) and will answer the phone with "The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!"
A constant annoyance to Hyacinth is that her phone number gets confused with the local Chinese takeaway (called the Green Lotus in one episode), as it is only one digit removed, but Hyacinth makes clear to the wrong caller that it is "a whole other world", stating 'This is not a Chinese restaurant. This is a residential number and you are speaking to the lady of the house on a white slim telephone with last redial facility!'.
Hyacinth refuses to change her phone number, instead writing to British Telecom demanding that they change the takeaway's number, and makes her husband Richard telephone the Chinese ambassador, but to no avail.
A running gag is that when the caller is someone she considers important, she feels the need to walk backwards with the receiver in her hand, stretching out the extra-long wire, and tell Liz or anyone else in the living-room all about it ("It's my sister Violet! You know the one, the one who married a turf accountant, with a large house, swimming pool, and room for a pony!")
Hyacinth's telephone is just one of many household items to which she attaches immense social status, and she is rarely capable of describing her possessions without adding exaggerated detail. For example she cannot talk about her three-piece suite without mentioning that it is "an exact replica of one in Sandringham House".
Hyacinth's husband, Richard Bucket
Hyacinth's relationship with her husband Richard can be somewhat strained. Usually Richard acts as a hen-pecked husband, who has been turned into a subservient partner through his marriage to Hyacinth, and he generally indulges Hyacinth's whims. As a character in the series he is a foil to Hyacinth. These include opening and closing the car door for Hyacinth as a chauffeur would, and putting up with Hyacinth in the passenger seat, as she dictates directions and warns of hazards (which to Hyacinth include sheep grazing in fields). Richard is also forced to participate in Hyacinth's contrived schemes to impress people, or to hide from her poorer relations to avoid them in public.
Richard compares his marriage to serving time in the Army, where he would never have to make a single decision and would have his meals prepared for him. Only occasionally does Richard lose patience with his wife.(like when she was trying to evict a man making a phone call from a public callbox). Rarely is any affection affection displayed between the pair.
In Series 4, Episode 6 (entitled "Please Mind Your Head", it is revealed that Hyacinth and Richard do not have much of a sex life, as she believes it to be inappropriate at their age. She is also somewhat of a prude.
Hyacinth's son, Sheridan
Hyacinth receives frequent phone calls from her unseen son Sheridan, who is away at "a polytechnic of university standard" (studying Tapestry Design and Advanced Needlework) with his room-mate Tarquin. The phone calls very frequently end up with Sheridan asking for ridiculous sums of money – something that Richard, who asks Hyacinth "What does he want?", is constantly afraid of whenever he rings. Hyacinth, however, describes the phone calls as "thoughtful calls to his mummy" and frequently comments of the "mysterious ties that bind [them]". The content of these phone calls also imply that Sheridan is stereotypically homosexual, possibly with silk-pajama-wearing Tarquin as his boyfriend. Unlike Richard, however, who asks in Series Three why his son doesn't take any interest in girls, Hyacinth is oblivious to his "obviously apparent" sexuality. Hyacinth persists in wrapping Sheridan up in cotton wool and tries to meet his every financial demand, yet Richard often refuses to send the large sums his son requests, much to the disapproval of Hyacinth, although it is unclear whether or not the money is sent regardless.
It is clear that Hyacinth loves Sheridan, yet like everything else in her life, he is used as a tool to try to enhance her social standing, with Hyacinth often commenting on her son's "university" career using terms such as "academically gifted" and "obviously destined for high places." Hyacinth also enjoys showing her guests endless photographs of Sheridan in his infancy.
Hyacinth's senile father (one of the actors who portrays him is George Webb) is named and referred to as "Daddy" by Hyacinth. She appears to genuinely love her father - although not enough to have him live with her. He lives with Daisy, Onslow and Rose, and is another character introduced to embarrass Hyacinth (as pointed out in the BBC documentary on the show, part of the Comedy Connections series). Hyacinth's father frequently touches ladies' posteriors, and dresses up in costumes (in Series One, "Daddy" dresses up as Captain Midnight). He is also prone to flashbacks from the war, and frequently takes it upon himself to "guard" buildings with rifle and fixed bayonet, denying entry to legitimate occupants.
Hyacinth's neighbours, Elizabeth and Emmet
Elizabeth (played by Josephine Tewson) is one of a few people who would dare be in the same room with Hyacinth. She was always so nervous around Hyacinth's china when she would call her over for tea, never giving poor Elizabeth a choice in the matter. Hyacinth always offered Elizabeth a "beaker" over her "Royal Doulton with hand-painted periwinkles", because no matter how Elizabeth tried to keep herself composed in Hyacinth's kitchen, she would often spill and or break the cup. When left alone in the kitchen while Hyacinth raced to her phone, or to the front door for that someone who was bound to be important, Elizabeth was able to enjoy her tea or coffee without incident. But that was short lived, as Hyacinth would always burst back into the kitchen with details of the phone conversation, startling poor Elizabeth and causing her to spill her drink.
It is delicately implied, but never stated, with the shabbier but more authentic, inherited antiques belonging to Elizabeth and her divorced brother Emmet (David Griffin), that the siblings were once raised as landed gentry who have fallen upon harder times since the demise of their parents. Thus the middle class life which, for Hyacinth, represents a step up, is, for next-door neighbors Elizabeth and Emmet, a step down the social ladder. Nevertheless, Hyacinth treats them as her social inferiors, not recognizing a more privileged upbringing when it's staring her in the face. While hapless Elizabeth often seems mortified by Hyacinth's pretensions, the character of Emmet seems more disposed to offer a sly wink to the scenario, appearing to play along willingly with Hyacinth's fatuous conceits. Emmet, from the start, is psychotic about Hyacinth ,trying to avoid being seen by her when heading off to work (as she will likely "sing at him". Incidents like his ramming his head through a low ceiling in the last episode showing their country home, do not improve his attitude.
- Information gathered from Keeping Up Appearances DVDs published by Playback. Evidence in episodes can support all information stated above.
- "Comedy Connections - Keeping Up Appearances". Comedy Connections. 2004-07-26. BBC. BBC One.
- Season 3: "The Art Exhibition"
- Source from actual television show viewed on BBC America.
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