Nearest and Dearest
|Nearest and Dearest|
Nearest and Dearest First Series (DVD)
|Created by||Vince Powell
|No. of series||7|
|No. of episodes||46|
|Running time||30 mins. (inc. commercials)|
|Original release||15 August 1968 – 7 February 1973|
|Related shows||Not On Your Nellie|
Nearest and Dearest is a British television sitcom that ran from 1968 to 1973. A total of 46 episodes were made, 18 in monochrome (black & white) and 28 in colour. The series, produced by Granada Television for the ITV network, starred Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewel as squabbling middle-aged siblings Nellie and Eli Pledge who ran a family pickle business in Colne, Lancashire, in the North West of England.
Series premise and history
The first episode set up the premise: in his will, Joshua Pledge bequeathed a large sum of money to his middle-aged son and daughter... but only if they stay together for five years at his small pickle business, Pledge's Purer Pickles. However, hard-working spinster Nellie and her ne'er do well womanising brother Eli, rarely saw eye to eye. Nellie was played by veteran comedian Hylda Baker, who was born and bred in Farnworth, eleven miles north of Manchester. Eli was played by Jimmy Jewel, a Yorkshire-born contemporary of Baker's, who had made his name as one half of the music hall (vaudeville) act Jewel and Warriss.
Also featured was the Pledges' second-cousin, Lily Tattersall, who was married to constantly-mute octaganerian Walter. Walter was unable to control his bladder, which led to one of the programme's oft-used catchphrases, "Has he been?". Lily was played by Madge Hindle, Walter by Edward Malin. Another regular character was the Pledges' toothless, cloth-capped old foreman, Stan Hardman (Joe Gladwin).
Much of the comedy was derived from Nellie's constant malapropisms. When asked by Lily if she knew the facts of life, Nellie replied with immense dignity, "Of course I do! I'm well over the age of content!" In another episode, Nellie has a suitor named Vernon Smallpiece, whom she addresses as 'Vermin Bigpiece'. When Eli insists on playing the high-powered executive once he is in charge of the pickle business, Nellie asks him who he thinks he is "...sat sitting there like a big business typhoon!" In each episode, Nellie and Eli would hurl insults at each other to spectacular effect, as they fought over the family business or domestic matters, with Nellie's constant nagging and Eli's constant drinking and womanising fuelling their arguments. It was widely alleged that the insults continued offscreen as well, as Baker and Jewel apparently detested each other in real life. In later episodes, Baker struggled to remember her lines and relied on cue cards and prompting from co-star Madge Hindle. Baker would suffer greatly with dementia during her final years.
The third series, transmitted in October and November 1969, was the first to be recorded in colour, but as ITV started broadcasting in colour from 15 November 1969, most viewers would have seen these in black-and-white on their first run. An industrial dispute at ITV in 1970, known as the Colour Strike, led to seven of the eight programmes from the fifth series being made in black-and-white.
Spin-offs and remake
In 1973, the series was adapted for the American market. Renamed Thicker Than Water, it starred Julie Harris and Richard Long as squabbling siblings Nellie and Ernie Paine, however, the US version was not successful and was cancelled after only 13 episodes.
After Nearest and Dearest
After the series ended in 1973, Baker went on to star in the sitcom Not On Your Nellie (made for ITV by London Weekend Television) in which Lancashire-born Nellie Pickersgill (the same character as Nellie Pledge in all but name) travels to London to run her ailing father's pub, the Brown Cow. In a 1973 interview with Baker and Jewel (available on the seventh-series DVD of Nearest & Dearest), Baker stated that the forthcoming Not on Your Nellie series was actually a spinoff from Nearest and Dearest and would follow Nellie's exploits in London after Eli practically deserts her. This would appear to follow on from the final episode of Nearest and Dearest in which Stan informed Nellie and Eli that there was an explosion at the pickling shed, implying that Pledge's Purer Pickles was now defunct. However, possibly due to an issue over legal rights regarding the Nellie Pledge character, Not on Your Nellie was ultimately made as an "original" new series rather than a spinoff, despite the obvious similarities between the two.
Meanwhile, Jewel went on to appear in the sitcom Spring and Autumn (1973–76), about a friendship between a lonely boy and an elderly man, created by Nearest and Dearest creators Vince Powell and Harry Driver. Jewel continued to work in television for many years, and in 1991 he appeared in an episode of the BBC hospital drama series Casualty in which he was able to use one of his famous catchphrases, referring to a nurse as "a knock-kneed, knackered old nose bag" – a term he had regularly bestowed upon Nellie.
Harry Driver, who created and wrote many episodes of the series with Vince Powell, died on 25 November 1973 at only 42,  just nine months after the series ended, marking the abrupt end of a successful 13-year writing partnership with Powell. Edward Malin, who played Walter, was the first of the cast to die, on 1 March 1977, four years after the show ended. Hylda Baker spent her final years penniless and battling dementia, and died in a retirement home on 1 May 1986 of bronchial pneumonia, aged 81. Joe Gladwin, who played Stan, went on to other television roles, including Wally Batty in the long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, a role he played until his death on 11 March 1987. Jewel continued to work in a variety of roles in both theatre and television until his death on 3 December 1995, the day before his 86th birthday. Co-creator Vince Powell died on 13 July 2009, aged 80.
Madge Hindle, the sole surviving member of the cast, went on to become a series regular in Coronation Street from 1976 to 1980, playing Renee Roberts, the wife of grocer Alf Roberts. Since then Hindle has worked in a variety of roles in television and stage.
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- Nearest and Dearest
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