Ever Decreasing Circles

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Ever Decreasing Circles
Everdecreasing.jpg
Opening titles of Ever Decreasing Circles
FormatSitcom
Created byJohn Esmonde
Bob Larbey
StarringRichard Briers
Penelope Wilton
Peter Egan
Stanley Lebor
Geraldine Newman
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes27
Production
Producer(s)Sydney Lotterby
Harold Snoad
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Broadcast
Original channelBBC1
Original run29 January 1984 (1984-01-29) – 24 December 1989 (1989-12-24)
 
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Ever Decreasing Circles
Everdecreasing.jpg
Opening titles of Ever Decreasing Circles
FormatSitcom
Created byJohn Esmonde
Bob Larbey
StarringRichard Briers
Penelope Wilton
Peter Egan
Stanley Lebor
Geraldine Newman
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes27
Production
Producer(s)Sydney Lotterby
Harold Snoad
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Broadcast
Original channelBBC1
Original run29 January 1984 (1984-01-29) – 24 December 1989 (1989-12-24)

Ever Decreasing Circles is a British situation comedy which ran on BBC1 for four series from 1984 to 1989.

It was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, and reunited them with Richard Briers, the star of their previous hit show, The Good Life. It was much less brash than most situation comedies, and was more like a comedy-drama in places. This move into darker areas of comedy was continued with Briers's later series If You See God, Tell Him.

Contents

Characters and plot

Briers played Martin Bryce, an obsessive middle-aged man who is at the centre of his local suburban community.

He is married to 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". 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 pub. A running joke throughout the four series is Martin's insistence that the telephone receiver be placed a particular way on the cradle (this being an old-style telephone, where the receiver could go either way). Paul runs his own business, a hair salon, and later, a health studio.

An undercurrent through the series was the unresolved sexual tension and flirting between Paul and Ann, but nothing ever happened between them, despite many opportunities and given Paul's moral standards, which are shown on several occasions. Despite Martin's foibles, he clearly adores Ann, and although Ann is often infuriated by him, she obviously loves him, allowing the couple the ability to ride out even their most difficult disagreements.

It is suggested that the rather unlikely marriage between the Bryces came about because Martin went to great lengths to help Ann through a difficult period in her earlier life, and that she still feels indebted to him for this. Martin, in his quieter moments, is well aware of the danger of Ann running away with Paul. Indeed, in one episode, he wrongly believes that she has done so, and leaves home, leaving Ann a note admitting defeat, wishing her happiness, and stating that he will always love her. Martin's relationship with Paul is double-edged. Paul is always friendly to Martin, who veers between treating him with thinly disguised hatred, and grudging acknowledgement of Paul's virtues. Paul is also loyal to Martin as a gesture towards the more amicable and blameless Ann, solving a marital crisis in one episode when Martin is tricked by a work colleague into believing he'd had a drunken one-night stand while away on business, and admitting to Ann his infidelity. Paul's undercover work with the colleague prompted an admission of the trick in front of Ann, restoring her faith in Martin.

Central to the show is Martin's jealousy of Paul. Although he rarely admits it, Martin would clearly like to be more like him in many respects, particularly the ease with which he is able to make friends and get jobs done with a minimum of fuss. Paul is shown to be significantly better than Martin at many things, most notably cricket, where Paul joins the local team and promptly smashes all the records that Martin proudly holds. A notable event comes when the two have to play in a snooker tournament, where Martin is delighted to find that Paul is useless (the tragedy being that the tournament coincides with Howard's anger at being seen as "a loser", and demolishing Martin in the final). A parallel is drawn to a story of him as a child, where Martin's own "gang", was ruined by the arrival of a new boy in the school, implying that he is scared that Paul's arrival will see a similar process of losing his friends and his status to the new arrival (this story is recounted by Martin himself in Series 1 and Mrs Beardsmore in Series 2).

Although it in many ways retained the dynamics and atmosphere of earlier "sofa sitcoms" like Terry and June, the tone was, owing to the studies of Martin's obsessiveness and the unrequited romance between Ann and Paul, darker than most of what had gone before. Ann's frustration at being trapped in a dull routine and looking for ways out had resonances of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Unlike Perrin, however, Ann lived out her escape fantasies only in very minor ways, such as spontaneously taking a trip to Boulogne-sur-Mer, to Martin's horror ("Nothing French has happened to you, has it?" screams an appalled Martin over the phone).

Other regular characters included Howard and Hilda (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 while 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 do 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. Various storylines saw them siding with both Martin and Paul on different issues, though usually being forced at the end of the day to side with Martin out of sheer loyalty if nothing else.

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 on a high note with the couple bidding a fond 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.

Popularity

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 people.

Cast

CharacterActor
Martin BryceRichard Briers
Ann BrycePenelope Wilton
Paul RymanPeter Egan
Howard HughesStanley Lebor
Hilda HughesGeraldine Newman

Music

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[1]. The key is in the contrasting rhythms: a regular, tarantella-like rhythm plays in the background while over it, a more insistent, slightly frantic minor theme chatters away obsessively.

Episode list

Series One

Episode NumberEpisode TitleOriginal Airdate
1The New NeighbourTV BBC 29 Jan 1984
2Taking OverTV BBC 5 Feb 1984
3A Strange WomanTV BBC 12 Feb 1984
4Holiday PlansTV BBC 19 Feb 1984
5Vicars and TartsTV BBC 26 Feb 1984


Series Two

Episode NumberEpisode TitleOriginal Airdate
1The Tea PartyTV BBC 21 Oct 1984
2The Cricket MatchTV BBC 28 Oct 1984
3A Married ManTV BBC 4 Nov 1984
4HouseworkTV BBC 11 Nov 1984
5SnookerTV BBC 18 Dec 1984
6BoredomTV BBC 2 Dec 1984
7The PsychiatristTV BBC 9 Dec 1984
8Special Episode
The Party
23 Dec 1984


Series Three

Episode NumberEpisode TitleOriginal Airdate
1ManureTV BBC 31 Aug 1986
2One Night StandTV BBC 7 Sep 1986
3House to LetTV BBC 14 Sep 1986
4Local HeroTV BBC 21 Sep 1986
5The CampaignTV BBC 28 Sep 1986
6Cavaliers and RoundheadsTV BBC 5 Sep 1986

Series Four

Episode NumberEpisode TitleOriginal Airdate
1RelaxationTV BBC 25 Oct 1987
2Goodbye, Paul?TV BBC 1 Nov 1987
3Stuck in a LoftTV BBC 8 Nov 1987
4Neighbourhood WatchTV BBC 15 Nov 1987
5The FootpathTV BBC 22 Nov 1987
6Jumping to ConclusionsTV BBC 29 Nov 1987
7Half an OfficeTV BBC 6 Dec 1987
8Special Episode
New Horizons
24 December 1989

DVD release

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

Notes

References

  1. ^ Not the bass guitarist from The Small Faces, another musician called Ronnie Lane

External links