I first stumbled upon Keeping Up Appearances sometime in the mid-2000s when channel surfing brought me to my local PBS station on a Saturday evening. And since then, it became the #1 show that defined my 2000s.
I don’t remember ever watching British television before then, but as soon as I met Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet”), I was hooked. I loved it. With I Love Lucy being my favorite television show of all-time, it was easy for me to get into Keeping Up Appearances. It was hilarious physical slapstick with bits of subtle comedy with Patricia Routledge effortless as the snobby, but strangely loveable, social climbing Hyacinth.
So when the BBC ordered the prequel Young Hyacinth, I was both excited and scared. I was excited because it would be awesome to get more of Hyacinth and her sisters and that glimpse into what their young lives might have been like. But I was also scared because sometimes, things like this could go horribly wrong and somehow tarnish the original. Actually, I thought we’d see a Sheridan spin-off first, following him around with Tarquin and seeing the geysers in Iceland.
But now that Young Hyacinth has aired on the BBC, I find myself still with mixed feelings about it.
Written by original creator Roy Clarke, Young Hyacinth takes us back to the 1950s when Hyacinth and sisters Violet, Daisy and Rose are still young women. They are raised by their father, or “Daddy” as he is affectionately called by Hyacinth, in “genteel poverty.”
Daddy’s second job is selling Wonder Brush cleaning supplies while Daisy takes care of his first job at home opening the lock of the canal in front of their home. Violet works as a secretary in town and Rose works on juggling her many male suitors.
Meanwhile, Hyacinth works as a maid for a wealthy couple from whom she picks up words and manners more becoming of people with money rather than the commoners. Hyacinth dreams of a better life for herself and her family and insists they are “upwardly mobile.”
I know Keeping Up Appearances isn’t the most beloved British sitcom of all time, but it’s definitely one of the most popular (and worldwide) and it certainly means a lot to me. So it’s hard not to think about the original series when watching Young Hyacinth.
First, on its own, Young Hyacinth plays very much like the modern single-camera, laugh track-less comedy series. Far from the broad traditional sitcom that the original was, this series instead goes for a much more dry approach. Instead of successive punch lines and sight gags, Young Hyacinth is more matter of fact and much heavier with the subtlety, almost to the point that it is more a drama rather than a comedy.
In a way, the calmer and less-excitable situations in this half-hour match the more humble overall setting, especially being set almost 60 years ago.
However, there just aren’t as many laugh out loud moments as the original series may have had. This series is almost quaint and whimsical rather than hilarious. It’s not necessarily less enjoyable, it’s just completely different and plays like a drama series with a few sort of witty lines instead of a sitcom, especially for anyone who has seen Keeping Up Appearances.
For some, maybe that’s a good thing. But for me, it only added to my uncertainty with Young Hyacinth.
The series is beautifully filmed though. It is visually appealing and feels like a nostalgic period film. But again, it doesn’t play as a comedy series at all.
As a fan…
Judging Young Hyacinth from a Keeping Up Appearances fan perspective, I saw only vague connections between the two.
One of the few stronger connections is Kerry Howard being very good as Young Hyacinth. She captures a lot of Patricia Routledge’s Hyacinth from voice to mannerisms. Certainly tough shoes to fill, but Howard did well. She is also able to establish the character as being the “early” and “incomplete” version of the Hyacinth we would come to know in the original series. We get a little tease of just where and how Hyacinth developed some of her more eventual characteristics.
The rest of the family however feels very different, with the exception of Rose being the same promiscuous Rose. Daisy, Violet and even Daddy shared little to no similarities to the Keeping Up Appearances characters.
For Violet and Daddy, they were only recurring characters on the original series. So that makes them most open to new interpretation. But they just both felt like completely different characters. It isn’t so much the lack of easter eggs. Hyacinth still felt like Hyacinth even without things like memorable quotes or something like that.
Daisy especially felt like a completely different character. Just not a single thing connecting the two except for the line “I’ve got a headache” referring to someone not Daisy’s eventual husband Onslow.
One glaring contradiction visible to any Keeping Up Appearances fan, however, is the fact that Hyacinth and her family not only lived next to a canal waterway, they worked the canal’s lock! That contradicts the memorable series 5 episode “Riparian Entertainments” where Hyacinth had no idea how a canal lock worked.
But that was just one of the things that made this series feel so disconnected as a prequel. Of course, it’s hard to pack a lot into a half hour. But Young Hyacinth lacked a big hook and was really hard to truly get into.
The one reason I wouldn’t mind the BBC commissioning more episodes is that it would truly be interesting to see how Roy Clarke expands this “world.” Seeing a creative take on how Hyacinth met Richard or Daisy meets Onslow or how Violet eventually got a Mercedes, swimming pool and room for a pony. That would be fun and amusing to see. None of which, however, we saw even hinted on this special/potential pilot. We want to see these origin stories, not see Hyacinth’s random ex-boyfriend or some rich bickering couple’s sexploits.
Kerry Howard was wonderful and the rest of the cast did fine with the material given. And as you can see in those screencaps above, beautifully filmed.
But on a basic, upfront level, Young Hyacinth was merely okay, sometimes charming, but had little connection to Keeping Up Appearances. It captured little, if any of the original series. And because of that, it was disappointing. Young Hyacinth worked as a nice little slice-of-life drama. But that’s a little odd considering it’s supposed to be a prequel to comedy series.