When it comes to classic British sitcoms, The Good Life [or Good Neighbors in the US] is up there with the likes of Dad’s Army, Only Fools and Horses, and Fawlty Towers.
With all four series available to watch on BritBox in the UK and US, we've decided to take a look at the much-loved comedy about Tom and Barbara Good who decide to become self-sufficient in 1970s suburbia.
The series follows the couple as they face all the challenges that come with growing their own food, keeping livestock and living on little or no money.
As they dig up their garden to plant their crop and create enclosures for their animals, including Geraldine the goat and pigs Pinky and Perky, it's to the complete bafflement of their snooty neighbours Margo and Jerry Leadbetter.
The Goods find they can more or less do without a regular income, mod cons, and other luxuries, and generally don't care about looking scruffy or being covered in dirt. The Leadbetters, on the other hand, enjoy the finer things in life. They like having money, a car, a nice house and a garden and can't understand why anyone would want to give them up or how they could live without them.
Written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, who later created Brush Strokes and Ever Decreasing Circles, the series aired on BBC1 from 1975 to 1978.
Here’s our run-down of who’s who in The Good Life, some of the show's must-watch moments, and Margo's best lines…
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The Good Life cast — Richard Briers as Tom Good
Before The Good Life, Richard was already well known after starring alongside Prunella Scales in the successful 1960s sitcom Marriage Lines, which ran for five series from 1960 to 1966. The role of Tom was specifically created for Richard by the show’s writers, John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, while his co-stars were relatively unknown.
Richard once confessed that he didn’t like Tom much: "I thought he was selfish and obsessed," he said. "Poor Barbara never got any dresses and presents. It was always about him, his ideas, his plans."
Although he disliked the character, Richard initially modelled Tom on himself…
"With Tom, who I actually thought was quite conceited, there wasn’t really a great deal to latch on to — unlike Jerry, and especially Margo, who was a marvellous character," he once explained. "So until we started making the show, and the characters began to mature, I based him on myself.'
Immediately after the series ended, Larbey and Esmonde created a new show for Richard. The Other One was a seven-part sitcom that co-starred Michael Gambon and aired on BBC1 in the autumn of 1977. A second series followed in 1979.
Richard, who passed away in 2013, was also known for his role as Martin Bryce in the sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89) and Hector Macdonald in the drama series Monarch of the Glen (2000-05), which were both on BBC1. He was also known for his voice work on the animated children’s series Roobarb (1974) and its 2005 revival Roobarb and Custard Too.
Felicity Kendal as Barbara Good
Felicity was starring in The Norman Conquests, Alan Ayckbourn’s sell-out play in London’s West End, when Richard Briers paid a visit to her dressing room and told her about a new comedy he was doing for the BBC. "It might not be hugely successful — it’s an oddball kind of subject," he said. "But I think the writing is excellent and it would be fun to do. I wondered if you might like to read a few episodes for the part of my wife?"
Hannah Gordon had previously been considered for the role of Barbara but was eventually rejected because she had played a similar character in another BBC sitcom, My Wife Next Door.
At the height of the show’s success, it seemed that many of the men in Britain didn’t mind what Barbara looked like either as Felicity became something of a sex symbol.
Felicity was born in Warwickshire and spent a few years of her young life in Birmingham before her family moved to India when she seven years old. Her father, Geoffrey, was an English actor-manager who led his own repertory company on tours of India, mostly performing plays by Shakespeare. She came back to England in the 1960s where she mainly took on theatre roles as well minor appearances in TV shows such as Man In A Suitcase and Jason King.
Like her co-stars, Felicity was given her own comedy following the success of The Good Life. In Solo (1981-82), written by Carla Lane, she played Gemma Palmer, who’s forced to embrace single life after her live-in boyfriend has an affair. She went on to star in The Mistress (1985-87), another comedy written by Carla Lane, playing florist Maxine who has an affair with a married man. It was disliked by some viewers, who were unhappy to see the actress best known as the wholesome Barbara Good playing a woman who was sleeping with someone else's husband.
She also starred in the C4 drama The Camomile Lawn, which saw her reunited with Paul Eddington, the short-lived comedy Honey For Tea (1994), and ITV crime drama Rosemary & Thyme (2003-2006).
Penelope Keith as Margo Leadbetter
Penelope’s TV career began in the 1960s with appearances in shows such as The Army Game, Dixon of Dock Green and The Avengers. Like Felicity, she was also starring in the West End play The Norman Conquests when she won the role of snooty Margo. Richard Briers also appeared in the play and they would film The Good Life during the day and perform on stage in the evening.
In the first episode, Margo is heard, but not seen. As Jerry leans out of their bedroom window to see what’s going on in The Goods’ garden, she can only be heard nagging him in the background. As the series progressed, the role of Margo Leadbetter increased, and it’s hard to imagine The Good LIfe without her.
The character was popular with viewers and she has become something of a British comedy icon, along with the likes of Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers and Mrs Slocombe in Are You Being Served? The role led Penelope to win a BAFTA for Best Light Entertainment Performance in 1977.
After The Good Life, Penelope was also given her own series, like her co-stars. In To the Manor Born, she played Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, who has to sell the estate that’s been in her family for 400 years to pay off her late husband’s debts. As she moves to a much smaller house, self-made millionaire Richard DeVere (Peter Bowles) takes residence in her former home, Grantleigh Manor. There were three series of the comedy between 1979 and 1981, and it returned for a Christmas special in 2007.
Penelope went on to star in many other sitcoms over the years, including Executive Stress, No Job for a Lady, Law and Disorder and Next of Kin. Her more recent TV appearances have been as presenter of factual programmes for C4, including Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages and Village of the Year.
Paul Eddington as Jerry Leadbetter
Paul was in his late 40s when The Good Life made him a household name, but he had been an actor for all of his adult life, having appeared in small roles in TV shows such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and The Avengers.
Richard Briers already knew Paul after they met while working in studios at the BBC and they were also both on the council of the actors’ union, Equity.
Paul's performance as Jerry is one of the finest comedy performances in British sitcom history, especially when Margo goes out and he's seen enjoying the things she usually forbids him to do, such as smoke a cigar, have an Indian takeaway, read a dirty book and listen to an Engelbert Humperdinck record! However, he was not the first choice for the role. Peter Bowles, who would later co-star with Penelope Keith in To the Manor Born, was approached to play the role first, but he had to turn it down because of other commitments.
Like his three co-stars, Paul was given his own comedy vehicle, playing the lead character in the BBC2 comedy Yes Minister, which ran for three series from 1980 to 1984. The political satire followed the ministerial career of Jim Hacker, and also starred Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds. It led to the sequel series Yes Prime Minister (1986-1988), following Jim’s unexpected elevation to PM.
As well as being reunited with Felicity Kendal in the The Camomile Lawn (1992) on C4, Paul also starred with Richard Briers in the West End play Home in 1994.
When he was 28, Paul was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, known as mycosis fungoides, which would eventually cause his death. Paul and his family kept his condition private for almost 40 years but it only became public knowledge in 1994, when Eddington responded to press speculation about his darkening skin and hair loss. He died the following year.
Other characters in The Good Life
Andrew/Sir — played by Reginald Marsh
Andrew is the managing director of JJM, the plastics company where Jerry works and from which Tom resigns in the first episode. Unlike Jerry, who has been elevated to an executive position on the sixth floor, Tom doesn’t seem to have made much of a mark at the company because Andrew claims not to know who he is. But after Tom resigns, Andy tries to bring him back.
Whenever Andrew encounters Tom and Barbara in later episodes, he calls them Tim and Fatima. But in the last episode of the fourth series, he admits he has always known their names and pretends to forget, which he says is "an old executive ploy to put people at a disadvantage".
Reginald went on to play similar roles in other sitcoms. In ITV’s George & Mildred, Reginald played Mildred’s brother-in-law Humphrey Pumphrey (1976-79), and in BBC1’s Terry and June, he appeared as Terry’s boss Sir Dennis Hodge.
In the early 1980s, he was a regular in ITV’s motel soap Crossroads.
Felicity — played by Moyra Fraser
Andrew’s wife, Felicity, is more relaxed than her husband. She is one of the few characters to support the Goods and finds their attempt at self-sufficiency exciting. She says, "I wanted to do something exciting when I was young, and then I met Andrew and that was the end of that."
In her later years, Moyra had a recurring role in the long-running sitcom, As Time Goes By, which was written by one of The Good Life's co-writers, Bob Larbey.
In the BBC1 comedy, which starred Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer as reunited former lovers Jean and Lionel, she played Jean's annoying sister-in-law, Penny Johnson, who would occasionally visit with her dull husband Stephen (Paul Chapman).
Mrs Weaver — played by Charmian May
Margo is delighted when the plummy Mrs Weaver moves into the house next to the Goods, especially after Guy (the university student who stays with Tom and Barbara in The Guru of Surbiton, Season 2, episode 2) had planned to buy the property and turn it into a commune.
When Mrs Weaver first encounters the self-sufficient couple, she’s unimpressed to see them coming home on the back of "an awful lorry".
Later, when an angry Barbara is on the attack and throws an egg at Tom, it’s Mrs Weaver who ends up getting splatted!
The last time she appears is when she encourages Tom to turn his talent for pot throwing into a money-making business in Going to Pot (Series 2, Episode 7).
In the fourth series, it turns out that Mrs Weaver has left the avenue and is mentioned several times as Tom tries to blag a huge tank of oil that is sitting unused in the empty property. Unfortunately, the tank has sprung a leak and the oil has seeped into the Goods’ garden, ruining their crop and making their soil unusable.
The incident is among a catalogue of disasters that befall the Goods towards the end of the series, all of which leaves viewers wondering if they will give up on their self-sufficiency dream.
Although she only appeared a few times in The Good Life, Charmian had a leading role in the ITV comedy You’re Only Young Twice, playing retirement home manager Miss Milton alongside veteran comedy actresses Peggy Mount and Pat Coombs.
Unseen characters in The Good Life
Miss Dolly Mountshaft
The dictatorial "leading light" of the Music Society. Margo is often at odds with her. They disagree about the costumes and where Margo should stand in their recital of Handl’s Messiah. In the episode, I Talk To The Trees (Series 3, Episode 4) we see other members of the society as an "extraordinary meeting" is called to vote in a new president. Unfortunately, Miss Mountshaft has no say in the matter because she’s on holiday in Corfu!
Margo’s equally dictatorial acquaintance and fellow member of the Pony Club is mentioned a few times. We can only imagine what she might look like as Margo and co comment on her ample size and her struggles to mount a horse!
Mr and Mrs Pearson
The Leadbetters’ gardener and cleaner are mentioned but never seen, although it’s revealed later in the series that Mrs Pearson has been coming in five times a week to clean the Leadbetters’ home!
On one occasion, Margo orders Jerry to go to the bingo hall on Lewisham high street, find Mrs Pearson, and pay her double to clean their house at a moment’s notice.
The couple’s most memorable mention is in A Tug of the Forelock (Series 3, episode 3) when they go on four-week holiday to visit their daughter in Canada, leaving Margo and Jerry to do their own housework and gardening. Margo thinks it’s an audacity and gets stressed out by all the work she has to do so she gets in some new staff - Tom and Barbara!
Guest stars in The Good Life
In the episode Our Speaker Today (Series 4, Episode 3), Angela appears as Lady Truscott, who asks Barbara to give talks about self-sufficiency at various organisations and institutions. When she arrives at the Goods’ place, she ends up shifting timber, rounding up chickens and tearing her skirt in the process. Margo is horrified by what Tom and Barbara have got the aristocrat to do. She assumed Lady Truscott would prefer to be entertained next door with tea and a hamper from Fortnum & Mason, but the aristocrat is more down to earth than she expected. Angela was later reunited with Penelope Keith in the sitcom To the Manor Born. She played Majorie Frobisher, the best friend of Penelope’s leading character Audrey Forbes-Hamilton.
A young Robert makes a very brief appearance in the episode Our Speaker Today (Series 4, episode 3). When Barbara is coerced by Margo into giving a talk about self-sufficiency to the Townswomen’s Guild, she’s asked by Lady Truscott to give more talks at other organisations.
When Barbara’s absences causes problems for Tom on their smallholding, she agrees to do one last talk at a remand centre. Barbara apparently has all the inmates enthralled so after the talk Tom corners one of the young men, played by Robert, to ask him what he found most interesting about it. It turns out that Barbara has been standing in a shaft of sunlight which meant the boys could see through her dress!
Best known for playing Olive’s beleaguered husband Arthur in ITV sitcom On the Buses, Michael makes a hilarious appearance in the episode Whose Fleas Are These? (Series 3, episode 6).
He plays a Mr PV Bulstrode from the local council’s infestation department, who visits the Goods when they think they have an infestation of fleas among their livestock and worry that they have given them to Margo and Jerry.
When Tom answers the door, Bulstrode pretends to be an encyclopedia salesman. He says: "There are some very interesting entries under the letter F, sir. Such as formaldehyde… and fleas." When Tom realises who he is and lets him in the house, Bulstrode explains. "A little subterfuge I like to adopt, sir. Saves all that nasty stigmata [sic] with the neighbours."
After Bustrode’s visit, however, they realise that the fleas haven’t come from their animals, but have originated from Mrs Dooms-Patterson’s dog, who Margo has recently visited!
The actor best known for starring as wheeler dealer Arthur Daley in Minder, appears in the special episode When I’m 65, which was written after The Good Life finished and came about because the Queen, who had just celebrated her Silver Jubiliee, had asked to attend the recording of a TV show and was reportedly a fan of the sitcom. When Jerry mentions his pension pot, Tom decides he should make provision for the future and pays a visit to his bank manager, played by George. But with no money in the bank, Tom doesn’t get far with his pension plans and is given short shrift by said bank manager!
Jonathan co-created and co-wrote political comedy Yes Minister and its successor, Yes Prime Minister, which Paul Eddington went on to star in after The Good Life finished. He appears briefly in the episode Pig's Lib (Series 1, episode 4) as the Goods’ window cleaner. He gets the wrong end of the stick when a newly self-sufficient Barbara tells him that she will no longer be able to pay him with cash and offers to pay him "in some other way" saying it’s "the oldest form of business in the world". When he realises that she wants to pay him with eggs, fruit and vegetables, the window cleaner is mortified to have got the wrong end of the stick and offers to do their windows for free!
Margo Leadbetter's best lines in The Good Life
In the episode, The Weaker Sex? (Series 1, episode 3), Margo arrives at the Goods with a dress she no longer wants and tries to give it to Barbara…
"I got it home, put it on, and said to myself, 'Margo, that simply looks cheap and nasty.' So I wondered if you’d like it."
Later, Tom uses the dress to create a scarecrow, but Margo’s not impressed when she sees it…
"Tom, either you take down my dress or I shall call the police. And I’m aware that didn’t come out right but you know what I mean."
In the episode Pig's Lib (Series 1, episode 4), Margo objects to the Goods keeping pigs. When piglets Pinky and Perky make their way into the Leadbetters' garden, the Goods are forced to get rid of the porcine pair. Later, Margo says…
"You could get some nice doves instead."
In the episode, The Thing in the Cellar (Series 1, episode 5), Margo’s not impressed when a distracted Jerry ignores her suggestion of some afternoon lovemaking…
"Well, that’s the last time I play the tart for you, Jerry!"
When Margo discovers Tom is secretly doing some work for his old company in the episode The Pagan Rite (Series 1, episode 6)…
"I was dusting Jerry’s study when I happened to break into his desk. I was dusting fairly vigorously and the lock just flew open!"
In the episode Mutiny (Series 2, episode 5), Jerry gets the sack and finds that being unemployed is social suicide. Forced to look for a new job, Jerry puts the feelers out by phoning a few of his friends, but they don't want to know and it seems the Leadbetters are being cut off from their social circle. After Jerry puts the phone down on one friend, Margo crosses them off her address book and says:
"So much for James and Maggie Preston. At least we won’t have to hear any of those interminable stories about her womb."
In the same episode, Jerry tells Margo that they will have to start tightening their belts unless he gets a new job…
"I’ve been thinking about having to economise, Jerry. In fact, I’ve already made a start. You know Mrs Pearson comes in five days a week? I’ve told her that from now it will only be three."
In the episode The Happy Event (Series 3, episode 2) , Tom tries to save a poorly newborn piglet so asks Margo to fetch some blankets and brandy to nurse it to health. She goes to rush next door, but returns a second or two later…
"Tom? Remy Martin or Hine VSOP?"
In the episode A Tug of the Forelock (Series 3, episode 3), the Leadbetters aren’t impressed when their "staff", Mr and Mrs Pearson, go on a month-long holiday to Canada, which means Margo has been left to do the housework while Jerry has to see to the garden.
Jerry: "I’ve just cut my finger cutting your blasted hedge!"
Margo: "Don’t swear Jerry. And don’t bleed in the sink, I’ve just cleaned it."
In the episode Away from it All (Series 4, episode 1), the Goods get the chance to have a well-earned break when Jerry says they can stay at their friends’ Mayfair flat, but Barbara worries about who’s going to feed the animals…
Margo: "Just leave them enough for three days."
Barbara: "Margo you can’t put a load of food down in front of our animals. They’d just scoff the lot. They’re not overly interested in planning it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days."
Margo: "Stupid beasts!"
In the episode Anniversary (Series 4, episode 7), Jerry tells Margo that he’s considering resigning from JJM, which means money will be tight…
"Jerry, if it meant retaining our self respect, I would be willing to start all over again, even if it meant moving to Epsom."
In the Christmas special Silly, But It's Fun, Tom makes some Christmas crackers which include hats made from newspaper, but Margo isn’t impressed when she gets hers…
"This is the Daily Mirror."
How to watch every series of The Good Life in the UK!
All episodes of The Good Life are on streaming service BritBox. Enjoy the nostalgia! BritBox is offering a free 7 day trial currently. It’s then £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year. You can access BritBox on the web, iPhones, iPads, Android phones, and tablets. Plus on Smart TVs and TV streaming devices.
How to watch BritBox in the US
BritBox is available for $6.99 per month/ $69.99 annually — after an introductory free trial period— on Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV 4th Gen, Samsung, LG and all iOS and Android devices, AirPlay, Chromecast, and online at www.britbox.com. BritBox is also available on Amazon Channels for Prime members and on Apple TV Channels.
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