Lord Ralph Mayhew is an impoverished aristocrat in his early 30s who lives in his family mansion on an expansive country estate. He has never married or had children - because he is secretly in love with his Irish estate worker Ted. He is painfully shy and reserved (occasionally hinted to have been mentally ill in the past), which is the basis of most of the humour in the sketches. Other characters, when seen, seem aware of Ralph's sexuality and uncomfortable in his presence, particularly Ted's fellow working class friends. Ralph was inspired by a documentary on film directorJohn Boorman where he struggled to converse with his Irish gamekeeper.
Ted had worked for Lord Mayhew's late mother and father before Ralph inherited the estate. Ralph's parents were cold and uncaring, so it can be assumed that his affection for Ted was due to his idolising him as a father figure. Ted is wiser than he seems and occasionally profound: Ralph sees through Ted's social status and takes his opinion very seriously. It is obvious, though he hides it well, that Ted has a great deal of affection for Ralph. He never joins in making fun of him with his mates and on one occasion defends him when a friend makes a joke that refers to Ralph's feelings for him. Ted seems to want to protect Ralph's innocence, not letting his friends shoot Ralph's deer because he "likes to see them wandering about". Ted's wife Esther (often referred to as Mrs. Ted) died at the end of the third series. Ted's relationship with her seemed more familiar and comfortable than passionate, though he took it very badly when she died. Ted tried to maintain his sober and collected attitude towards life and death when he and Ralph returned to the estate after his wife's funeral, but in a rare moment of raw emotion collapsed with grief in Ralph's arms.
The sketches often follow a loose outline: Ted is working on the estate, Ralph approaches him nervously and tries to strike up a conversation, culminating in asking Ted to spend time with him ("Are you interested in French cinema, at all, Ted?") and Ted gently turns him down. Ralph is tremendously nervous around Ted, the two of them never looking each other in the eye. Ralph often rambles on when approaching him, in monologues of unconnected topics. As the show progresses the two appear to develop a closer relationship, occasionally going fishing together and sharing more personal conversations.
Ralph eventually wooed Ted through an impassioned performance of "Hunka-Hunka Burning Love", performed in front of Ted and his mates while he was drunk at the pub.
Creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews have said that "They're both Gay. Ralph is GAY gay. As Gay as a window. But Ted's more repressed Gay..."
Ted and Ralph were the first characters to have their own spin off show outside the sketches. This came in the form of a made-for-television film in December 1998, in which Ted tries to save Ralph from an arranged marriage which he deeply does not want. It is the first time, it appears, that we start to see Ted realising that he may be in love with Ralph. He is deeply hurt and jealous when Ralph starts to spend less time with him and obsessively observes Ralph's relationship with his new love, Wendy. However, despite Ralph's rejection, he still passionately defends him towards the end of the film, saying to Wendy (who just wanted to get her hands on Ralph's estate), "You've beguiled a kind, gentle, innocent, albeit slightly foolish man. You've taken away his hopes, his dreams, his past. Not to mention the lower field." Wendy redeems herself at the end of the film by leaving before signing the documents that would turn the estate over to her and her brother. It would appear that she has also realised how Ted and Ralph feel about each other, saying to Ted, "This house belongs to him. And to you." and "I didn't know it would be like this. I didn't know he was-", presumably she was about to finish the sentence with some reference to Ralph's sexuality. She also says, while gripping Ted's hands and looking meaningfully into his eyes, "He doesn't know what he wants Ted, but it isn't me." Paul Whitehouse also gives Rowley Birkin a cameo in this story. As this is a prequel, Ted's now-deceased wife also appears on screen for the first and only time, played by Kathy Burke.