Ever Decreasing Circles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigationJump to search

Ever Decreasing Circles
Opening titles of Ever Decreasing Circles
GenreBritish sitcom
Created byJohn Esmonde
Bob Larbey
Based onHiccups (stage play)
Directed bySydney Lotterby (13 episodes) Harold Snoad (14 episodes)
StarringRichard Briers
Penelope Wilton
Peter Egan
Stanley Lebor
Geraldine Newman
Opening themePrelude No. 15 from Twenty-four Preludes, Op. 34
ComposerDmitri Shostakovich
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series4
No. of episodes27
Running time30 minutes
Original release
Release29 January 1984 (1984-01-29) –
24 December 1989 (1989-12-24)

Ever Decreasing Circles is a British 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, who had starred in their previous popular sitcom The Good Life.[1]

It was made toward the end of a run of British comedies focussing on the aspirational middle class, with The Guardian describing it as having "a quiet, unacknowledged and deep-running despair to it that in retrospect seems quite daring".[2]



Richard Briers plays Martin Bryce, an obsessive, middle-aged man at the centre of his local suburban community in Mole Valley, Surrey.[2][3] This relatively unsympathetic character was the antithesis of Tom Good.[4] Briers said that it was his favourite sitcom role.[5] The show's signature running gag (which appeared in almost every episode) was Martin walking past the telephone in his hallway and turning the receiver around.

Martin is married to the domesticated 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".[6] 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. Paul runs his own business, a hair salon, and later, a health studio. Martin, by contrast, has a humdrum white-collar job at Mole Valley Valves, a company named after an area of Surrey.

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 often 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.

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.[2] 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."[6] 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 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 envy 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.[2] 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 with an incident from Martin's childhood in which his own "gang" was taken over by a new boy.

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

After four series, Ever Decreasing Circles ended on Christmas Eve 1989 with an 80-minute finale entitled "Moving On" ("New Horizons", on the DVD release) 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.[6]



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.[7]

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".[7]

Critical response


The show was voted number 52 in the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll in 2003.[8] At its peak, it attracted television audiences of around 12 million.[3]

Reappraising the series, Andy Dawson in the Daily Mirror notes that "Ever Decreasing Circles strayed far from the well-worn path that other Britcoms trudged along in the 1970s and 1980s. 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."[9]

Ricky Gervais has cited the series as one of his key influences, and following Briers' death said he would waive the repeat fees on The Office if Ever Decreasing Circles was repeated on BBC One.[10] His TV series After Life features both Penelope Wilton and Peter Egan as Anne and Paul but unrelated to this show.

Filming locations


Although the show is set in Surrey, the external location scenes were filmed in Billingshurst, West Sussex.[3]


Character Actor
Martin Bryce Richard Briers
Ann Bryce Penelope Wilton
Paul Ryman Peter Egan
Howard Hughes Stanley Lebor
Hilda Hughes Geraldine Newman
Mrs Beardsmore Gabrielle Daye
Laurence Timothy Bateson
Mrs Ripper Ann Davies
Tommy Cooper Ronnie Stevens
Rex Tynan Peter Blake

Episode list


Series One

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 Two

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 Three

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 Four

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

1989 Christmas Special


Just over two years after the end of the fourth series, in 1989, the programme returned with a one-off 80-minute Christmas special. The show, titled "Moving On" was broadcast on Christmas Eve.

DVD release


The complete series of Ever Decreasing Circles was released on DVD in 2007.


  1. ^ "BBC - Comedy Guide - Ever Decreasing Circles". Archived from the original on 23 June 2004.
  2. ^ a b c d "The cricket match in Ever Decreasing Circles". The Guardian. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Pithers, Ellie (14 December 2012). "Penelope Wilton on working with Richard Briers". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  4. ^ Rinaldi, Graham. "Briers, Richard (1934-2013)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  5. ^ Heritage, Stuart (18 February 2013). "Richard Briers: a life in clips". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Rinaldi, Graham. "Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-87)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  7. ^ a b "One Or Two Hiccups". foreverdecreasingcircles.blogspot.com. 18 September 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  8. ^ "BRITAIN'S BEST SITCOM | TOP 11-100 SITCOMS". bbcattic.org. Archived from the original on 13 October 2014.
  9. ^ Dawson, Andy (18 February 2013). "The Good Life was the show that made Richard Briers famous, but Ever Decreasing Circles was his finest hour". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  10. ^ Eames, Tom (20 February 2013). "Ricky Gervais asks BBC to repeat Richard Briers sitcom, tribute planned". Digital Spy. Retrieved 12 October 2022.