The Darling Buds of May

The Darling Buds of May
The Darling Buds of May
Series titles
Format Comedy drama
Starring David Jason
Pam Ferris
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Philip Franks
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of series 3
Producer(s) Yorkshire Television
(ITV Productions)
Running time approx. 50 minutes
Original channel ITV
Picture format 4:3
Original run 1991 – 1993

The Darling Buds of May is a British comedy drama which was first broadcast between 1991 and 1993 produced by Yorkshire Television for the ITV Network. It is set in an idyllic rural 1950s Kent, among a large, boisterous family. The three series were based on the novels by H. E. Bates. Originally categorised by Yorkshire TV as a drama, some regard it as a comedy. The earlier episodes are perhaps more comical, and the episode "A Season of Heavenly Gifts", is certainly more dramatic than the others.


Plot introduction

The key characters in the show based on the first novel of the series, are Sidney Charles "Pop" Larkin (David Jason), "Ma" Larkin (Pam Ferris), who are unmarried, their eldest daughter Mariette (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and tax-collector Cedric Charlton (Philip Franks), who is re-christened "Charley" by the Larkins. Charley arrives at the beginning of the first episode to get Pop Larkin to fill in his tax forms. He is distracted from this when he falls in love with Mariette Larkin at first sight, and the Larkins distract him even further by attempting to teach him to play crib, and getting him drunk. In spite of his terrible hangover the next day, he becomes captivated by the idyllic country life led by the Larkins, and ends up as a member of the family.


H. E. Bates wrote five books involving the Larkin family, the titles of the first four of which were used as episode titles for the TV series:

  • The Darling Buds of May (1958)
  • A Breath of French Air (1959)
  • When the Green Woods Laugh (1960)
  • Oh! To Be in England (1963)
  • A Little of What You Fancy (1970)

The first novel in the series was originally adapted to the screen in 1959 as The Mating Game, starring Debbie Reynolds and Tony Randall in the roles of Mariette and Charley.

The programme was filmed in the village of Pluckley, Kent and nearby locations. Scenes filmed in the former Wennington School Yorkshire were also integrated into the programme. The farm used in the series is a private residence and not normally open to the public but can be visited once a year on the occasion of the Darling Buds Classic Car Show [1], an annual charitable event held in the farm grounds with the permission of the owner. No filming was done inside the farmhouse, the interiors having been shot in a studio, but devotees of the series are free on that day to see all the external locations used around the farm in the programme.


The show was an instant success for the network with the show's feel-good factor during a period of economic recession often noted as the reason. The show launched the acting career of Zeta-Jones.

"The darling buds of May" is a quotation from Shakespeare's sonnet 18: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May | And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

The complete three series, plus special episodes, have been released on DVD and remain widely available.


"Pop" Larkin is the eccentric and loving father of the family. He has no regular or set employment but has several projects and a succession of jobs that provide a source of income for the family. He frequently invents new things, as well. His money-making schemes are often a side plot in each episode. Despite Pop's irregular income, the family does not lack money. They are able to afford holidays abroad, a swimming pool and boarding school for the twins. He is very proud of his large family and is quite involved in his children's lives. While Pop clearly adores Ma, he is also close to other women, although he never goes beyond flirting and kissing them. Ma is aware of this and doesn't appear to mind.

"Ma" Larkin is the mother of the large Larkin family. She occasionally becomes involved in Pop's schemes, or creates a scheme of her own. However, she is usually seen doing housewifely tasks, such as cooking vast quantities of food, tending the garden or caring for the children.

Mariette Larkin is the eldest child of the Larkin family. Her name was created by adding 'Marie' and 'Antoinette' together. In the first episode she is shown to be the family beauty and slightly wild. However she quickly marries Charley and settles down with him for the rest of the series. She appears to have her father's business sense and manages the brewery with Charley in later episodes. It is stated during her wedding that her middle name is Jane.

Montgomery Larkin (played by Ian Tucker) is the eldest son of the Larkin family. He only appears for part of the series before joining the navy and attending college .

Primrose Larkin is the second daughter of the Larkin family. Primrose is often seen reading romantic poetry and dreams of falling in love. She desperately attempts to seduce both Charley and the village minister but both attempts fail. She has several other romances throughout the series, one of which leads to her staying in France after a family vacation, in order to remain with her love. Her full name is Primrose Violet Anemone Iris Magnolia Narcissa Larkin.

Zinnia and Petunia Larkin are the Larkin twins. The girls are identical and often use this to pull pranks. In early episodes, the twins are often seen with Victoria. As they age, they begin to see Victoria as an annoyance and avoid playing with her. The twins' mischief eventually leads to their expulsion from the village school. They begin to attend a boarding school, which they both love. They share the middle names: June Florence Nightingale.

Victoria Larkin is the youngest Larkin daughter. She is often seen trying to play with the twins but frequently feels left out. She enjoys teasing and embarrassing her siblings, especially Primrose.

Oscar Larkin is the youngest Larkin child. He is seen growing from an infant to a toddler throughout the series.His full name is Oscar Columbus Septimus Dupont Larkin.

Cedric "Charley" Charlton is Mariette's husband. He is originally a stiff tax collector but after falling in love with Mariette and the Larkins' lifestyle, he gives up his job. He still holds on to some of his city ideas, though, and never fully develops the Larkin sense of business. He and Mariette eventually own a brewery together.

John Blenheim Charlton is Mariette and Charley's son. He was born approximately one year after Oscar and both are often seen playing together and being cared for together. He also has the middle names Churchill Marlborough. His character is played by Daisy-May Bates, the grand-daughter of the author of the books on which the series is based.

Timeline of TV series

The first episode is based on the first book, which was written and set in 1958. However, by the last episode of the 3rd series, when the children are visibly older, and the babies have been conceived, born, and grown to toddlerhood, a close-up of a calendar reveals that we are still in 1959. The end of the final episode takes place on 5th November, 1959 (Guy Fawkes Night).


Series 1

  1. "The Darling Buds of May" (7 & 14 April 1991): Cedric Charlton, the tax inspector, arrives on Home Farm to help the Larkins fill in their tax form. He is distracted by the sight of their beautiful daughter, Mariette. The Larkins distract him further by attempting to teach him crib and getting him drunk. He wakes up with a terrible hangover, and is unfit to return home. Eventually, he forgets all about life in the office. He accompanies the family on their annual strawberry-picking trip, where he attracts the attentions of Pauline Jackson, the local flirt. Mariette and Pauline fight for his affections, but Mariette wins, and the episode ends with Mr. Charlton (who is called Charley by the entire family), proposing to Mariette, and Pop Larkin giving them his blessing.
  2. "When The Green Woods Laugh" (21 & 28 April 1991): The day of Charley and Mariette's wedding is looming. Pop Larkin sells a country mansion to an aristocratic couple. When Pop rejects the advances of Corrine Perrigo, she gets her revenge by persuading the woman to file a charge against him for assault, when all he was attempting to do was stop her from falling over. The Brigadier is drafted in to be best man for the wedding. He and Angela Snow (a flirtatious young woman who has previously made advances on Pop) get cosy on the sofa, but the Brigadier feels queasy and Angela disappears. Eventually, Pop is found innocent and the wedding goes ahead.
  3. "A Breath of French Air" (5 & 12 May 1991): The Larkins go on holiday to Britanny. Things get off to a bad start: the weather is appalling, the food is revolting, and the receptionist unfriendly. The weather improves, and a local mechanic sees the crest on the doors of Mr. Larkin's car and thinks he is a lord. As a result, he is treated better, even by the receptionist, Molet. In fact, the hotel patrone, Mademoiselle Dupont, lets him and Ma have her room! Primrose Larkin, the second eldest daughter, falls in love with a local boy named Marc Antoine, and decides she wants to stay in France with him. Tension springs up between Charley and Mariette when she attracts the attention of the local young men, and wants to spend time with them on the beach. She refuses to go on a miniature railway with Charlie. Incensed, Charlie says he will go on his own. The train is late and he wanders into a bar, where he meets a local tomboy and her pals. They get him blind-drunk; he misses his train and has to be escorted home by Pop. But he sobers up pretty quickly at the sight of Mariette playing in the sea with her new friends. Charley drags her away, and tells her that she will come on the train with him the next day, whether she likes it or not. Mariette surrenders, and as it turns out, enjoys it. The Larkins get together with the tomboy, Max (short for Maxime), and Angela Snow (who, by an extraordinary coincidence, is also visiting Britanny) and her sister Iris, who together with the hotel staff organise a First Wedding Anniversary celebration for Charley and Mariette.
  4. "Christmas Is Coming" (22 December 1991): Mariette is pregnant, and look at a place close by, and bump into the escaped convict. The Larkins help an escaped convict (Ian Bartholomew) to see his family, on the condition that he goes back to prison quietly afterwards. He serves as the village's Father Christmas for the party at the Village Hall.

Series 2

  1. "Oh! To Be In England" (26 January & 2 February 1992): Mademoiselle Dupont comes to stay with the Larkins, and discovers the truth - Mr. Larkin is not a lord. She is disappointed at first, but soon comes to terms with it, and enjoys her stay after all. Pop saves an old woman from being cheated, and buys a fair from his friend, Fruity Pears, who is unable to run it after being attacked by thugs. Primrose's relationship with the French boy has fizzled out; back in England she falls for Mr. Candy, the young vicar in charge of christening the young Larkins... and a newly-arrived Charlton.
  2. "Stranger At The Gates" (9 & 16 February 1992): A young man named Pieter who says he is Danish arrives on the farm, and starts doing odd jobs for the people in the village. Everyone, including Mariette, thinks he's the bee's knees, much to the resentment of Charley. Meanwhile, Montgomery is being bullied by local boys, and Primrose is attempting to win Mr. Candy's heart. She mistakes his sister for a girlfriend, and angrily leaves him. Charley discovers that Pieter is German and has been hiding his identity because of the anti-German sentiment in post-World War II England. The villagers turn against him on this discovery, but Pieter is restored to favour again after he rescues one of the village children from a quarry ledge. The Larkins arrange for Pieter to marry his sweetheart, an English girl named Eileen.
  3. "A Season of Heavenly Gifts" (23 February & 1 March 1992): Pop Larkin unwittingly becomes involved in smuggling when he receives gifts from a grateful pilot he helped after a crash-landing. Meanwhile, an evil Polish man named Mr. Cope attempts to prevent Charley and Mariette from buying Mrs. Kinthley's hopgarden. The pilot invites the family to a party at his club, which they greatly enjoy. Montgomery Larkin is unhappy at Naval College, where he is training to be a sailor. The family go to his Open Day; the Brigadier goes along and helps them solve the problem by showing Pop how to humiliate the bullying instructor, Strickland.
  4. "Le Grand Weekend" (26 December 1992): Pop and Ma's proposed week-end in Paris is disrupted by a storm, and they spend the time in an English country house.

Series 3

  1. "The Happiest Days of Your Life" (28 February & 7 March 1993): The twins go to boarding school, while Charley starts doing the books as a part time job for the brewery to which he wishes to sell his hops. Charley and Mariette decide to buy the brewery. The whole family repairs the twins' boarding school, which was otherwise going to be forced to close by the bank for not keeping up with the repairs.
  2. "Cast Not Your Pearls Before Swine" (14 & 21 March 1993): Pop builds a swimming-pool, and buys two hundred pigs from a confidence trickster who is also cheating Edith, who has fallen in love with him. Meanwhile Primrose has a new love interest - a member of the swimming pool building crew, from Liverpool. Pop prepares a trick against George Harran to put all to rights without hurting Edith. Primrose runs away to Liverpool.
  3. "Climb The Greasy Pole" (28 March & 4 April 1993): Pop runs for rural councillor while Charley and Mariette struggle at the brewery and have problems in their relationship. Gypsies get involved in Pop's campaign for rural councillor. Charley and Mariette have to work on their marriage, and finalise the deal to buy Bristow's brewery.

External links

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