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The show's protagonist is the social-climbing snob Hyacinth Bucket (who insists that her surname is pronounced 'Bouquet'). Hyacinth's primary aims in life are to impress people, particularly those of the upper classes, and to give the impression that she is of high social standing, despite her fairly average status. Those around her despise her snobbery, but she is a genuinely kind-hearted and loving person. Hyacinth tries to avoid her poorer relatives to maintain her vaunted social status, but she loves her family dearly and will rush to their aid in times of need.
Hyacinth is the eldest of four sisters: in birth order, herself, Daisy, Violet and Rose.
Hyacinth's long-suffering husband who is at her beck and call. Richard is a calm, tolerant and relaxed character who cares little for enhancing or preserving social status, and he seems content with his middle class standing. He obeys his domineering wife's orders (presumably because that is easier than listening to her complain and rant). These orders usually involve contrived plots to impress neighbours or aristocrats, or a far-fetched plan to avoid Hyacinth's down-market family. A few times, Richard has stood up to Hyacinth in public because of her unreasonable behaviour, driving her into shock, but he is usually meek and mild.
Roy Clarke, writer of the show, described Richard as a foil to show Hyacinth's character to worst advantage.
Hyacinth's friendly, tolerant next-door neighbour. Hyacinth calls her Elizabeth, but everyone else calls her Liz. Hyacinth often invites her round for coffee. Aware of Hyacinth's house-proud ways, Elizabeth is terrified of spilling, dropping or breaking anything in her neighbour's home, but ironically, Hyacinth's flighty mannerisms and nagging make Liz especially clumsy in her presence, and she indeed ends up spilling, dropping or breaking something. Unlike most, Liz sympathises with Hyacinth, aware of how she is despised by everyone, including Liz's brother Emmet, and may thus be Hyacinth's only real friend. This friendship is tested by Hyacinth's unthinking put-downs of Elizabeth's dexterity, clothes, car, daughter's intelligence, etc. She also likes Richard quite dearly, has deep sympathy for him and the two seem discreetly fond of each other. Liz has a husband who is frequently away due to his job (he is variously mentioned as being in the Far East or in Saudi Arabia) and a daughter, Gail, at university, who is dating a boy named Harold (liked well enough by Liz but despised by Hyacinth). Mr Warden and Gail are rarely mentioned after the first series.
Emmet is Elizabeth's brother, who lives with her, beginning in series two, after losing his home in a messy divorce. Emmet is a classically trained musician, and Hyacinth frequently sings at him, and drops broad hints that he should include her in his work. Hence Emmet is terrified of leaving the house and develops both a fear of and a dislike for Hyacinth, to the point where he burst into tears when Liz told him they had been invited to tea at Hyacinth's "country estate". However as the series progresses, Emmet develops a desire for revenge against Hyacinth, notably goading her into riding a horse when he knew she couldn't ride one.
A happy, lively character, Daisy lives with her slobbish husband Onslow, her man-eating sister Rose and their senile father. Daisy, Onslow and Rose are the lower-class relatives Hyacinth is ashamed of. Daisy is constantly trying to get her husband to show passion towards her. However, she often fails to rouse any signs of affection from him and, as a result, buries herself in romantic novels. Despite their poor sex life, Daisy and Onslow have a daughter called Stephanie, who appeared only in the final episode of series one, along with her own daughter Kylie and two common-law husbands.
Daisy, like her husband, enjoys life in the slow lane; she spends most of her time sitting on the sofa eating, reading or watching television. Like Rose and Violet, Daisy turns to Hyacinth for help when faced with a problem, whether it is a love dilemma pertaining to her husband Onslow, or an urgent case of the "missing father" syndrome.
A beer-guzzling, unemployed and apathetic slob despised by Hyacinth, Onslow threatens his sister-in-law's social prestige with his scruffy clothes and common ways. Onslow is proudly "bone idle and out of condition", and eats, drinks, and sleeps until noon. He'll watch television all day every day, and rarely moves from his armchair. Nevertheless, Onslow's intellectual reading, and viewing Open University programmes, have made him knowledgeable. His sex drive has slackened off considerably since his youth, and Daisy's romantic efforts to arouse him are in vain.
Onslow is a gentle character, despite his appearances suggesting otherwise, and is Roy Clarke's favourite character in the show, as stated in the Comedy Connections series.
Hyacinth's youngest, man-eating sister, with an eye for married men and a taste for short skirts and provocative outfits, Rose is another family member of whom Hyacinth is ashamed and who threatens her social prestige. Rose is promiscuous, but also a gentle soul who is a bit mixed up, as Richard says. She has been married before, as in one episode she says to Daisy, "Sometimes I wonder about getting married again, but it puts such a dampener on your love life..." Hyacinth is particularly ashamed of Rose, but does care deeply for her. In the episode "Charity Shop", she stands and listens patiently as Rose confides to her about her dysfunctional love life. Hyacinth cheers her up and then kisses her on the cheek before sending her home. She was played by Shirley Stelfox in series 1 and the late Mary Millar from series 2 on. Stelfox's Rose possessed more of a dry-witted persona with a penchant for short skirts, while Millar's Rose was more over-the-top in both personality and wardrobe.
Seldom seen but referred to constantly, Sonia Barker-Finch lives in the same street as Hyacinth, just opposite her own home in Number 23. Above all her other acquaintances, Hyacinth is convinced that Mrs. Barker-Finch is her greatest social rival; however, Mrs. Barker-Finch does not seek to outdo Hyacinth in any way at all. Hyacinth hypocritically believes Mrs. Barker-Finch to be a snob ("She was a Barker, he was a Finch, now suddenly they're hyphenated") and is determined to get one up on her at every opportunity. She also believes Mrs. Barker-Finch is inferior to her, exampled when Hyacinth hears that Mrs. Barker-Finch has been burgled for the third time, she opines that only a "low-class burglar" would rob Number 23. Hyacinth becomes unreasonably jealous whenever Mrs. Barker-Finch has some form of social success, such as having a local celebrity dine at her barbecue, or goes on a luxurious holiday, and becomes adamant that she will do better than her. When Hyacinth ordered her new three-piece suite "an exact replica of the one at Sandringham House", she went to extraordinary lengths to ensure Mrs. Barker-Finch saw it being delivered, such as repeatedly phoning her so that she would have to come to the window and see the delivery van pull up. (An ill-timed phone call from Sheridan to ask for money, fouled the plan up.)
Michael is the vicar of Hyacinth's parish, and, like most, is terrified of Hyacinth, doing his best to avoid her, often unsuccessfully. Moreover, he often forgets that Hyacinth prefers her last name to be pronounced "bouquet" and addresses her as "Mrs. Bucket". When discussing Hyacinth with his wife, they frequently refer to her as "the Bucket woman". He is called "that dishy vicar" by Rose, who often pursues him, much to the anger of his jealous wife. The vicar being caught in compromising positions (which in context are somewhat reasonable) with Rose or other women is a recurring gag in the series, as well as breaking whatever he is holding when his wife mentions her, or in one episode, while on an exercise pedal bicycle, pedalling faster, as if to escape.
Michael's wife, played by Marion Barron, her name is never revealed on the show or in the credits; she is merely listed as "The Vicar's Wife". Michael usually refers to her as "dear." She is a timid yet fiery woman with a soft Scottish accent, often finding her husband in compromising positions with Rose or other young females and assuming the worst. These situations are usually prefaced in an earlier scene where she expresses jealousy over the attention that Michael's female parishioners give him. The vicar's wife dislikes Hyacinth, but as the series goes, on, she grows to see more humour in some of Hyacinth's behaviour than other characters do.
Violet is Hyacinth's almost-invisible, wealthy sister whom she always brags about having a "Mercedes, sauna [and] room for a pony" (though it is never clarified as to whether Violet actually has a pony or merely room for one). Violet leads a troubled marriage with cross-dressing husband Bruce, and repeatedly phones Hyacinth to complain about Bruce's mad behaviour. Hyacinth does her best to keep the oddities of the latter away from her neighbours and friends. She is the third-eldest of the four sisters, and her marriage with Bruce appears to be childless. A sign outside their house reads "The Paddocks", but it is not revealed if Paddock is their last name or merely the name of their property.
While Violet is obviously far more affluent than Hyacinth, she is not the snob Hyacinth is. She is far more accepting of Daisy, Onslow and Rose than Hyacinth, in that she is not embarrassed by them (when told by Hyacinth to find a friend "in the same income bracket" to drive her, Violet calls Onslow and invites her sisters to gate-crash Hyacinth's "waterside supper with riparian entertainments"). Although continually bragging about Violet to her friends, Hyacinth is unable to use Violet and Bruce to her full advantage, being unable to invite them around or introduce them to friends and neighbours due to their volatile marriage or Bruce's costumes. In the episode "A Barbecue at Violet's", when Hyacinth and Richard arrive at Violet's home, they clearly arrive in the middle of a vicious domestic row, in which Violet and Bruce are arguing loudly and hurling objects at each other. Violet eventually wants to divorce Bruce, but Hyacinth frog marches her distraught sister to the vicar in an attempt to change her mind, determined not to lose her one genuine connection to a higher class. Richard is shown to not be fond of Violet, remarking how she is "always moaning".
Violet and Bruce are unseen characters for most of the first four series, apart from the occasional glimpse of Bruce in an outlandish costume. In the fifth series, Violet becomes a recurring character, revealed as somewhat resembling Rose in appearance.
Daddy is the apparently senile widowed father of Hyacinth, Daisy, Rose, and Violet. He lives with Onslow, Daisy, and Rose. Hyacinth repeatedly makes bizarre excuses as to why he can't live with her (one being that he brings Sheridan out in a rash), but she does love him dearly. Daddy seems unable to keep himself out of trouble. Either chasing women or reliving his childhood or war experiences, he often goes missing and requires the rescue efforts of his daughters and sons-in-law. His screen appearances are somewhat rare, and his spoken lines even more so. His actual given name and surname are unknown.
An unseen character, Sheridan is Hyacinth and Richard's spoiled son. He is away at college (a poly which Hyacinth insists is "university standard" (the first three series were written prior to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992) and is known to audiences primarily through Hyacinth's phone conversations with him. The major running gag surrounding Sheridan involves him ringing home whenever he needs money, Hyacinth without fail assuming at first that he is "just ringing his mummy". Most of the time, he needs money for ludicrous things that his "friend" Tarquin has or has suggested, up to and including a walking holiday in Iceland. Although Sheridan usually convinces Hyacinth of his need for the money (much to Richard's exasperation) Hyacinth is very occasionally able to say no. Sheridan and Richard clearly do not get on; Sheridan prefers not to talk to Richard, and sometimes pretends to be someone else whenever he rings and Richard answers the phone. The other running gag is that Richard suspects Sheridan is gay (something implied through his love of needlework and desire for pure silk pajamas, but also because he lives with his male friend, Tarquin) and regularly tries to raise the issue with Hyacinth, only for her to remain totally oblivious. A glimpse at the back of Sheridan's head can be seen in the episode "Let There Be Light", and during the opening credits, a photograph of a boy can be seen on Hyacinth's desk; this is the closest that he has ever been seen in the show.
The Major only appears in the first two series, and hopelessly lusts after Hyacinth even though he is married to a never-seen wife. He is brash and forceful, and deeply disliked by Richard. Despite this irritating Hyacinth, his upper-class status means she refuses to sever contact with the man. At one point she admits "it's a good thing he's a Major... if he were a Sergeant, he wouldn't get a foot past the door!" At one point he likens Hyacinth to a Governor's wife he once knew, which she quite enjoyed.
Mrs Nugent (played by Charmian May) is high up the social ladder but low down the charismatic scale, being a dull, bad-tempered and ill-mannered woman. She also seems to be the only person who can get away with referring to Hyacinth as "Mrs Bucket" without incurring her wrath. In "The Toy Store", when Mrs Nugent yells "Mrs Bucket", Hyacinth can be seen mouthing out "It's Bouquet", meaning she still wants to correct her, but stifles it. Hyacinth tolerates her, not only because of her status, but also because she wants a place on her committee. The committee itself is never identified, nor it is clear if Mrs Nugent or her husband is the Councillor, and Hyacinth admits she doesn't know what it does, she just wants a seat on it.
Played by Leo Dolan in the first series and by David Janson from 1992 on. He is slightly impertinent, yet overwhelmed by Hyacinth Bucket, of whom he lives in fear, but tries to confront her when she pounces on him, when he delivers (occasionally throws) mail to her letterbox.
The dog (name not given, but referred to as a female dog by Onslow) is often found in the abandoned car seen in the front yard of Onslow's home. Generally placid, the dog, significantly, barks aggressively at only two characters: Hyacinth and Mrs Councillor Nugent, the two most disagreeable characters on the show. In what is arguably the series' most memorable running gag, the dog makes Hyacinth fall into the nearby hedge by barking at her from the car whenever she walks down the path to the house. Onslow clearly cares for the dog, as in the sixth episode of season 5, when one of Daddy's fiancées stays in the old car and the dog isn't there, Onslow goes to look for her. In the same episode, Hyacinth, emboldened by home-made wine bought at an auction, barks at the dog (thinking she's in the car), but is yelled back at by the above-mentioned fiancée of Daddy.