The Good Life is a British sitcom, produced by BBC television. It lasted from 4 April 1975 to 10 June 1978 on BBC One and was written by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde. Opening with the midlife crisis faced by Tom Good, a 40-year-old London plastics designer, it relates the joys and miseries he and his wife Barbara experience when they attempt to escape modern commercial living by "becoming totally self-sufficient" in their home in Surbiton. In 2004, it came 9th in Britain's Best Sitcom. In the United States, it aired on various PBS stations under the title Good Neighbors.
The Good Life was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey for Richard Briers, the only cast member with a previously established high-profile. Larbey and Esmonde were inspired by Larbey attaining his 40th birthday, which seemed to them a milestone in most people's lives. Their storyline has the Goods' decision to pursue self-sufficiency conflicting sharply with the habits of the Leadbetters, who live next door. The conflict between neighbours balanced with an increasingly close friendship creates comic tension as that friendship is tried to its limits.
Peter Bowles was originally cast to play the role of Jerry, but was unavailable. He later starred opposite Penelope Keith in To the Manor Born. Hannah Gordon was considered for the role of Barbara but ruled out, having recently played a similar role in the BBC sitcom My Wife Next Door. Esmonde and Larbey chose Felicity Kendal and Penelope Keith after seeing them on stage together in The Norman Conquests. The location filming was in the North London suburb of Northwood, although the series was set in Surbiton, southwest London. The producers searched extensively for a suitable pair of houses, eventually chancing on Kewferry Road, Northwood (Google street view , the Leadbetters' house to the left). The grounds of the Goods' house were returned to their original state after the filming of each series' inserts and all livestock removed at the end of each day's filming.
On his 40th birthday, Tom Good is no longer able to take his job seriously and gives up work as a draughtsman for a company that makes plastic toys for breakfast cereal packets. Their house is paid for so he and his wife Barbara adopt a sustainable, simple and self-sufficient lifestyle while staying in their home in The Avenue, Surbiton. They turn their front and back gardens into allotments, growing soft fruit and vegetables. They introduce chickens, pigs (Pinky and Perky), a goat (Geraldine) and a cockerel (Lenin). They generate their own electricity, using methane from animal waste, and attempt to make their own clothes. They sell or barter surplus crops for essentials they cannot make themselves. They cut their monetary requirements to the minimum with varying success.
Their actions horrify their kindly but conventional neighbours, Margo and Jerry Leadbetter. Margo and Jerry were intended to be minor characters, but their relationship with one another and the Goods became an essential element. Under the influence of the Goods' homemade wine, called "peapod burgundy" (the strength of which becomes a running joke), their intermingled attractions for one another become apparent. Both couples are childless.
Tom's career has been as a draughtsman, a job he thoroughly dislikes. He feels his life is meaningless, nothing more than work and consumption. Becoming self-sufficient is his idea, but Barbara, after expressing concerns, supports him. Tom is determined to succeed at self-sufficiency, and is mostly cheerful about his new lifestyle. Tom is obstinate and pigheaded, often to Barbara's detriment or irritation. On the few occasions that he is pessimistic, Barbara becomes the optimist.
Barbara is a normal, middle-class housewife when the series begins. While she sometimes wilts under Tom's determined and dominant nature, her sharp tongue puts her on an equal footing. She is the heart of the enterprise, while Tom's engineering brain designs and builds what they need. She yearns for luxuries but her own determination to succeed, with Tom's single-minded persuasion, keeps her going.
Jerry works for JJM, having joined on the same day as Tom. (As well, Jerry and Tom knew each other for at least two years before they went to work for JJM.) By his own account, Jerry has risen to senior management through cunning and self-promotion rather than talent — he tells Tom directly that he has only 10% of Tom's talent. As the series progresses, he moves within striking distance of the managing director's job. Jerry is convinced that the go-it-alone attempt would fail and on several occasions pleads with Tom to come back. However, he grows to appreciate the character it has taken for Tom to leave the system. He is henpecked at home but has the strength to make his case.
Margo cannot understand her neighbours' lifestyle, but their friendship is important to her. As a child, Margo Sturgess, she was bullied at school for having no sense of humour. A social climber, staunchly Conservative and unafraid to challenge anyone who gets on her nerves, Margo nevertheless reveals herself to have a heart of gold. She involves herself with organisations such as the Pony Club and the Music Society, always wishing to play the lead role. Margo is occasionally made aware of her faults by others, including her husband, and is not too proud to apologise.
Andrew, "Andy" or "Sir", is managing director of JJM. He feigns ignorance of Tom's existence ("Mr Ummm of the Fourth Floor"), but once Tom leaves, Andy becomes desperate to bring Tom back. His wife, Felicity, is more relaxed. She is one of the few characters to support Tom and Barbara and believes trying to be self-sufficient is 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." They have one son, unseen, called Martin. Andrew calls Tom and Barbara "Tim and Fatima", making out he did not remember their names. However, in the episode "Anniversary", he admits he has always known their names but pretends to forget — "an old executive ploy to put people at a disadvantage." Andrew appears alone after series 1 with no further references to Felicity.
Several characters are mentioned but unseen. Margo is at odds with Miss Dollie Mountshaft, dictatorial leading light of the Music Society. The overweight Mrs Dooms-Paterson is an equally dictatorial acquaintance and a fellow member of the Pony Club. Mr and Mrs. Pearson, the Leadbetters' gardener and housekeeper, are mentioned in several episodes.
The Good Life aired for four series and two specials from 4 April 1975 to 10 June 1978. The final one-off episode, "When I'm Sixty-Five", was a Royal Command Performance in front of The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and senior BBC management. The cast and crew were presented to The Queen and Prince Philip after the recording. The episode was originally broadcast in a 45-minute slot with footage either side of the 30-minute episode showing the Royal Party entering and exiting.
Two novelisations of The Good Life were written, both by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey. The first, simply entitled The Good Life was published in 1976 by Penguin Books, and this novelised the first series. The second book, titled More of The Good Life, was published in 1977 also by Penguin, and featured three episodes from series two and four episodes from series three.
In the United States The Good Life was retitled Good Neighbors, to avoid confusion with a short-lived American sitcom of the same name, and was shown by most PBS stations across the country starting in the early 1980s. By the late 1980s, it was rarely seen but returned to PBS stations after the release of select episodes on VHS by CBS/Fox Video in 1998.
The series also aired in Australia on ABCTV and in Canada on CBC under its original name. The series was also seen in South Africa, Rhodesia, New Zealand and many other Commonwealth countries as well as Belgium and the Netherlands.
After the success of The Good Life, the four cast members who were little known beforehand were given their own "vehicles" commissioned by the then Head of Comedy and producer of The Good Life, John Howard Davies. Penelope Keith starred alongside Peter Bowles in To the Manor Born, which broadcast a year after The Good Life ended. Paul Eddington joined Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds in Yes Minister and its sequel Yes Prime Minister. Felicity Kendal, who had become something of a sex symbol with her tomboy character, complete with wellington boots, went on to join Elspet Gray in Solo, and Jane Asher in The Mistress. Richard Briers later starred alongside Penelope Wilton and Peter Egan in the popular sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles. In 1992, Felicity Kendal and Paul Eddington reunited in the Channel Four adaptation of Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn.
In 2003, the BBC broadcast a mockumentary entitled Life Beyond the Box: Margo Leadbetter, describing Margo's life since the series had finished, although the original actors appear only in archive footage. In 2007, Briers and Kendal were reunited on ITV1 series That's What I Call Television in a mock-up of the Goods' kitchen.
The Good Life features in an episode of The Young Ones titled "Sick" where Vyvyan (played by Adrian Edmondson) rips apart the title page after the first ten seconds of the opening credits of this show while criticising it as being too "bloody nice" and the actors being "nothing but a couple of reactionary stereotypes confirming the myth that everyone in Britain is a lovable middle-class eccentric!"
The complete series of The Good Life is available in the US (Region 1) under the title Good Neighbors. Series 1 – 3 were released as a box set in 2005; Series 4 was released in 2006 and includes the Royal Command Performance.
The first UK (Region 2) DVD release omits two episodes (the first episode from series 1 and one from series 3). , All four complete series have been re-released in their entirety on 29 March, 24 May, 19 July and 20 September 2010, the complete boxset has also been re-released.
All four series have been released in their entirety in Australia (Region 4), albeit in NTSC format rather than the PAL format typical in Australia. The series 4 release (on two DVDs) also contains an interview with Richard Briers as well as the Royal Command Performance episode.