Happy Families (TV series)

Happy Families (TV series)

:"This article is about the 1985 comedy series written by Ben Elton. "Happy Families" is also a series of children's storybooks by Allan Ahlberg, which were also converted into a television programme."

"Happy Families" was a rural comedy drama written by Ben Elton which appeared on the BBC in 1985 and told the story of the dysfunctional Fuddle family.

It starred Jennifer Saunders as Granny Fuddle and Adrian Edmondson (Saunders' real-life husband) as her imbecilic grandson Guy. The plot centred around Guy's attempts to find his four sisters for a family reunion.

Visual style

The most innovative thing about the series was the "style" of film in which each sister's story was shot; for example, Cassie's story was shot on 16mm to make it appear to be a U.S. soap opera, Madelaine's story was shot in soft focus to make it appear to be a French film, Roxeanne was filmed as though appearing in a gritty BBC documentary, and Joyce's story was filmed like an Ealing comedy.



The first episode focuses on Edith Fuddle (Saunders), who is told by the tactless Doctor De Quincy (Stephen Fry), that she is dying. Although, in a bitter feud with her grandson (Edmondson), she enlists his help to go out into the world to find his 4 sisters, her granddaughters, and to bring them back to her.


The second eldest, Cassie, has become a huge star in Hollywood under the name Cassie Epris-Curtis. Pampered by everyone who surrounds her, Cassie has cut off all ties with her British heritage. Although, as Guy arrives, Cassie is revealed to be a stressed, spoiled actress who throws tantrums over tiny flaws, and after ruining a scene of the show where she has gained her fame, she is fired, and reluctantly takes up Guy's offer to return to her grandmother.


In the third episode, the life of Madeleine, the second youngest granddaughter is revealed. Now living in the house of a renowned poet, Dalcroix (Jim Broadbent). Naive, and now with a French accent, Madeleine is loyal to her adopted housefather, unaware that he is a peeping tom. Guy arrives to the town where Dalcroix resides, and finds that the town (made up of Nazis) hates Dalcroix, and all that he stands for. Their anger finally bubbles over, after a postcard featuring Madeleine in a suggestive pose finds Guy, and led by their local Priest (Rik Mayall) the town revolts and burns Dalcroix at the stake. Now, without purpose, Madeleine agrees with Guy's proposals to return to her childhood home.


Episode 4 sees the life of Joyce, the eldest, who is now a Catholic nun, after a miracle featuring the Madonna Mary, a tree and a conker. Joyce, who has been a novice for 19 years, is regularly punished by the sadistic Sister Prudence. Although she fancies herself as a jolly, upbeat joker, everyone who encounters Joyce finds her irritating and thick. However, Joyce proves to be a brilliant sleuth (unintentionally) and foils the Mother Superior's (Una Stubbs) plan to take over England, and reinstate the Catholic Monarchy, with the help of Guy, who fools Joyce into leaving the nunnery and return home, disguised as the angel Gabriel. Joyce announces her plans to vacate the convent to all the other nuns, much to their delight.


The penultimate episode focuses on the youngest sister, Roxanne, who at 20 years old, is now in HMP Long Mangley serving 50 Years for contributory negligence. Obsessed with the documentary "On the Mangle", which focuses on the inmates of Long Mangley, Guy hatches a plan to spring Roxanne by using a giant chocolate box, which, surprisingly, works, although all the prisoners are released for a "stroll". An emotional Guy and a bewildered Roxanne are finally able to go home.


The final episode reunites all of the family together back in Fuddlewich -- the 4 granddaughters return by various means of transport to their childhood home, and they all encounter one sister, although none of them recognise the other.

Joyce returns by train, and has a brief meeting with Madeleine, and they both leave the train station, neither recognising the other. Cassie has caught a cab from America, which is breaking down by the time it nears Fuddlewich. Roxanne, who has walked from her prison, is stopped by Cassie who notes that it is a coincidence that they both have double syllable Christian names (despite Roxanne stating that her name is Fuddle, the same to Cassie).

The four granddaughters return to the home of their grandparents, and are placed in the dining room, and starved until Edith is ready to see them. They are then brought into the billiard room, where they all conference, and Edith tells them why she has brought them back together. Edith reveals that she has not brought them back out of love (as Guy first thought), she hates them all deeply. She reveals that Harold (her husband, who died 9 months previously), was a pervert and "loved" as his granddaughters deeply. Not wanting to lose her husband, Edith called social services and reported the incident, which allowed Edith to get rid of the girls. She also reveals the fate of their mother, who died destitute in a ditch of a broken-heart, after being hit by a car (presumably driven by Edith).

Edith was left with her husband, and Guy, who was hated even as a child. She also tells the girls that on the same day that Guy began his search, she had been told that she was suffering from Corringtons Disease, which kills the victim in 9 months. She reveals this as the reason she has brought the girls back. She tells her granddaughters, that the only cure is to get one organ from four donors of the same bloodline and gender, and offers to give them all one quarter of her entire estate, in order to get her vital operation. All of them agree, however just as the operation is about to begin, Flossy the maid barges in to tell them that Cook has died after turning blue (a symptom of Corringtons). Doctor De Quincy comes to the conclusion that he must have mixed up the urine samples, and that Edith must be pregnant (at nearly 80 years of age). Edith suddenly goes into labor, and shortly afterwards gives birth to a baby boy. Still bitter and resentful, she dismisses the girls to return to their pathetic existence. Cassie, however challenges her, saying they still have the documents, and want their inheritance now. Edith reluctantly agrees, and also offers to give them her newborn as well. None of the girls want him, but offer their grandmother a 50 GBP a week allowance, for the sake of their newborn uncle. The episode ends with Edith left in an empty house, with Guy who is to be wed to Flossy.

Critical reception

The programme was a cult hit though not an enormous ratings winner and strayed away from bonafide sitcom by being shot entirely on location and without a live audience. Critics didn't know what to make of it on its first broadcast - was it a comedy or a comedy drama...?

It also made Elton the youngest lone BBC scriptwriter on a mainstream programme at the age of 26. He had shot to prominence three years earlier as the chief writer on "The Young Ones". Despite the fact that it was not a critical success, Elton still considers it to be one of the best things he has ever written.


* A budget was allocated for a second series, which was never commissioned. As a result, the money was used to produce the first series of "Red Dwarf".

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