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Ever Decreasing Circles is a British television sitcom which ran on BBC1 between 1984 and 1989, consisting of four series and one feature-length special. It was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, and it reunited them with Richard Briers, the star of their previous hit show, The Good Life.

Ever Decreasing Circles
Ever-Decreasing Circles (title card).jpg
Opening titles of Ever Decreasing Circles
Created byJohn Esmonde
Bob Larbey
StarringRichard Briers
Penelope Wilton
Peter Egan
Stanley Lebor
Geraldine Newman
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes27
Production
Producer(s)Sydney Lotterby
Harold Snoad
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Release
Original networkBBC1
Original release29 January 1984 (1984-01-29) –
24 December 1989 (1989-12-24)

It was much less brash than most situation comedies, and the Guardian described it as having "a quiet, unacknowledged and deep-running despair to it that in retrospect seems quite daring".[1]

Contents

Characters and plotEdit

Briers plays Martin Bryce, an obsessive, middle-aged man at the centre of his local suburban community in East Surrey.[2][1][3] This relatively unsympathetic character was the antithesis of Tom Good.[4] Briers said that it was his favourite sitcom role.

Martin is married to the motherly and patient Ann (Penelope Wilton) and has a settled, orderly lifestyle until he encounters their new next-door neighbour, ex-British Army officer and Cambridge Blue Paul Ryman (Peter Egan). Paul is everything Martin is not – adventurous, laissez-faire, flippant, witty, handsome and charming; in the words of Martin, a "couldn't care less, come on life ... amuse me, merchant".[5] He attempts to join in with the activities of Martin and his friends, but his fresh thinking causes Martin to see him as a rival who might want to "take over" Martin's self-appointed role as organiser. Martin's obsession with order and stability also leads him to get upset at Paul's minor changes to routine, such as sitting at a different table in the local public house. Paul runs his own business, a hair salon, and later, a health studio.

An undercurrent running throughout the series is the unresolved sexual tension and flirting between Paul and Ann. Martin sometimes seems oblivious to the attraction between Ann and Paul but in one episode, he wrongly believes that they have run off together.[1] Martin leaves home, leaving Ann a note wishing her happiness and stating that he will always love her. Graham Rinaldi notes that "Briers' performance is poignant and genuinely moving as he wrestles with the character's inner turmoil."[5] Martin's relationship with Paul is double-edged. Paul is always friendly to Martin, who veers between thinly disguised hatred and grudging admiration. Paul also solves a marital crisis in one episode when Martin is tricked by a work colleague into believing he had had a drunken one-night stand while away on business and admitting to Ann his infidelity. Paul cons the colleague into an admission of the trick in front of Ann, restoring her faith in Martin.

Central to the show is Martin's jealousy of Paul. Paul is shown to be significantly better than Martin at many things, notably cricket, where Paul joins the local team and promptly smashes all the records that Martin proudly holds.[1] The two later play in a snooker tournament, where Martin is delighted to find that Paul is useless (the tournament coincides with Howard's anger at being seen as "a loser", causing him to defeat Martin in the final). A parallel is drawn to a story of Martin's childhood, where his own "gang" was taken over by a new boy, implying that he is scared that Paul's arrival will cause him to lose his friends and status to the new arrival (this story is recounted by Martin in Series 1 and by Mrs Beardsmore in Series 2).

The other regular characters were Howard and Hilda Hughes (Stanley Lebor and Geraldine Newman), another married couple who generally add lighter humour to the plots. They are long-standing friends and neighbours of Martin's, who share some of his obsessiveness whilst having plenty of quirks of their own (such as always wearing "his and hers" matching outfits), but are also attracted by Paul's personality. Although Howard and Hilda are often seen as being rather timid, they have strong moral values and can be very forthright in chastising other characters (usually Martin or Paul) when they believe them to have done something wrong.

The show also featured guest appearances by Peter Blake, Ronnie Stevens, Victoria Burgoyne and Ray Winstone.

After four series, Ever Decreasing Circles ended on Christmas Eve 1989 with an 80-minute finale entitled "Moving On" (sometimes referred to by the name "New Horizons", as the DVD release titles it) in which Martin's employer, Mole Valley Valves, merges with another company (Lee Valley Valves) and moves to Oswestry. Ann discovers she is pregnant, and, despite Martin initially resenting the unborn child for forcing him to move away from The Close, the story ends with the couple bidding farewell to their neighbours. The final scene sees Martin standing in his empty hallway, going over to the telephone (the only thing left from the Bryces' ownership), and turning the receiver around, suggesting that Martin's obsessiveness will live on.[5]

CreationEdit

The series originated in John Esmonde and Bob Larbey's 1984 stage play Hiccups, which featured versions of the characters as they would later appear in the television series. Martin was played by Sam Kelly.[6]

The series title supposedly originated in a meeting to brainstorm possible titles, when after other titles had been rejected somebody commented that "we're going round in ever decreasing circles".[6]

PopularityEdit

The show was voted number 52 in the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll in 2003. At its peak, it attracted television audiences of around 12 million.[3]

Reappraising the series, Andy Dawson notes that "Ever Decreasing Circles strayed far from the well-worn path that other Britcoms trudged along in the 70s and 80s. There was a very real darkness at the heart of it, with Martin existing in what was almost certainly a state of permanent mental anguish."[7]

The actor and writer Ricky Gervais cited the series as one of his key influences, and following Briers' death said he would waive the repeat fees on The Office if they repeated Ever Decreasing Circles on BBC One.[8]

Filming locationsEdit

Although the show is set in east Surrey, the external location scenes were filmed in Billingshurst, West Sussex.[3] This included the 'Close' featured in the show, along with the pub and Paul Ryman's salon. The cricket ground used for one of the show's best loved episodes, 'The Cricket Match', was filmed in Wisborough Green, West Sussex. Two series later, when Martin says 'goodbye' to his beloved cricket club in the final episode, 'Moving On' (renamed 'New Horizons' for the official BBC video release), the cricket ground at West Chiltington was used instead. The village of Warnham features in several episodes with 'The Tea Party' featuring the church and Old people's home and other episodes featuring the Sussex Oak pub.

CastEdit

Character Actor
Martin Bryce Richard Briers
Ann Bryce Penelope Wilton
Paul Ryman Peter Egan
Howard Hughes Stanley Lebor
Hilda Hughes Geraldine Newman

MusicEdit

The title music was not written specifically for the series, but was instead a witty piano piece, Shostakovich's Prelude No. 15 from his Twenty-four Preludes, Op. 34, played by Ronnie Lane.[9] It is a brisk staccato dance in 3/4 time in D flat major featuring running passages (some of them chromatic in nature) against a characteristic waltz-like background, which alternate between left and right hands. The final eight bars, marked pp, comprise long sustained chords and bring the piece to a quiet and subdued ending.

Episode listEdit

Series OneEdit

Number Title Original airdate
1 The New Neighbour 29 January 1984
2 Taking Over 5 February 1984
3 A Strange Woman 12 February 1984
4 Holiday Plans 19 February 1984
5 Vicars and Tarts 26 February 1984

Series TwoEdit

Number Title Original airdate
1 The Tea Party 21 October 1984
2 The Cricket Match 28 October 1984
3 A Married Man 4 November 1984
4 Housework 11 November 1984
5 Snooker 18 November 1984
6 Boredom 2 December 1984
7 The Psychiatrist 9 December 1984
8 Special episode
The Party
23 December 1984

Series ThreeEdit

Number Title Original airdate
1 Manure 31 August 1986
2 One Night Stand 7 September 1986
3 House to Let 14 September 1986
4 Local Hero 21 September 1986
5 The Campaign 28 September 1986
6 Cavaliers and Roundheads 5 October 1986

Series FourEdit

Number Title Original airdate
1 Relaxation 25 October 1987
2 Goodbye, Paul? 1 November 1987
3 Stuck in a Loft 8 November 1987
4 Neighbourhood Watch 15 November 1987
5 The Footpath 22 November 1987
6 Jumping to Conclusions 29 November 1987
7 Half an Office 6 December 1987
8 Special episode
New Horizons
24 December 1989

DVD releaseEdit

The complete series of Ever Decreasing Circles is available on Region 2 DVD from Cinema Club.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d "The cricket match in Ever Decreasing Circles", The Guardian, 19 March 2012. Accessed 18 February 2013
  2. ^ s2, e8; stated by Martin Bryce
  3. ^ a b c Ellie Pithers (14 December 2012). "Penelope Wilton on working with Richard Briers". Daily Telegraph.
  4. ^ BFI Screenonline: Richard Briers. Accessed 21 November 2012
  5. ^ a b c Graham Rinaldi. "Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-87)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  6. ^ a b "One Or Two Hiccups". Ever Decreasing Circles. 18 September 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  7. ^ Andy Dawson (18 February 2013). "The Good Life was the show that made Richard Briers famous, but Ever Decreasing Circles was his finest hour". Daily Mirror.
  8. ^ "Ricky Gervais asks BBC to repeat Richard Briers sitcom, tribute planned". Digital Spy. 20 February 2013.
  9. ^ Not the bass guitarist from The Small Faces, another musician called Ronnie Lane

External linksEdit