Channel Hopping Comedy: French Fields Comes To DVD

By , Contributor

ITV/Acorn Media

Anton Rodgers and Julia McKenzie as William and Hester Fields in French Fields

Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Archie and Edith Bunker, Al and Peg Bundy — over the years American TV has been home to these along with a number of other memorable and popular married sitcom couples, and the U.K. is no exception.  In the mid-'80s, one of the most familiar TV twosomes on British small screens was William and Hester Fields in ITV’s Fresh Fields.

Played by Anton Rodgers and Julia McKenzie, the Fieldses were a middle class couple very much in love and living an uncomplicated suburban lifestyle. William was the breadwinner, while Hester took care of things at home. As happy as she was, Hester wanted more, though, and throughout the series she tried new hobbies or looked for other ways to enrich her life, typically with amusing results.

In the 1986 series finale, William accepted a position with a French company. Three years later, he and Hester returned to TV in French Fields, which followed the couple’s new life after relocating to Calais. While making such a move is not an uncommon one for many living in Britain, it is not without its challenges, chief of which involve learning a new language as well as new customs. In William and Hester’s case, such challenges were not without their comedic twists.

Having already released Fresh Fields on DVD, Acorn Media recently released Fresh Fields in a three-disc DVD set containing all 19 episodes of the series (including a 45-minute Christmas special), which ran  in the UK from 1989-1991 and aired here in the States on PBS (Public Television Stations).

A distinguished stage and screen actor, the late Anton Rogers (January 1933 - December 2007) made his London West End debut in 1947 in a production of Carmen at the age of 14. He spent much of his early acting career honing his skills on stage in The Crooked Mile, The Owl and the Pussycat, and Henry V. On the big screen he appeared in such feature films as The Day of the Jackal, The Fourth Protocol, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Besides Fresh Fields and French Fields, the actor also starred in another popular sitcom May to December, while his more dramatic TV credits include Upstairs, Downstairs, Disraeli, and Midsomer Murders.

The equally talented Julia McKenzie is also no stranger to theatre, having performed in the West End and on Broadway in such shows as Woman in Mind, Follies, and Side By Side by Sondheim as well as Guys and Dolls and Sweeney Todd, winning the Olivier Award for Actress of the Year in a Musical for both. Hotel du Lac, Shirley Valentine, and These Foolish Things are among McKenzie’s film credits, while on TV she starred in the sitcoms Maggie and Her and That Beryl Marston…!, In 2007 the actress was reunited with Anton Rodgers in another ITV comedy, You Can Choose Your Friends. That same year, she also co-starred with Michael Gambon and Judi Dench in the BBC costume drama Cranford. Currently, McKenzie can be seen playing Agatha Christie’s senior crime-buster Miss Marple, having taken over the role in 2008 from actress Geraldine McEwan.

In French Fields, William and Hester’s neighbors made their lives anything but dull and included their beautiful and sophisticated French real estate agent Chantal Moriac (Pamela Salem) and a “toffee-nosed” English couple, the Trendles (Robin Kermode and Liz Crowther). Adding a bit of local color was Madame Remoleux (Valerie Lush), an elderly and unintelligible maid who took care of Les Hirondelles, the estate where the Fields and their neighbors lived.

Oliver Pierre played local farmer and town mayor Monsieur Dax in the show’s first two years, with Philip McGough taking over the role in the third and final season. Dax turned to Hester for help to teach English to his daughter, Marie-Christine (Victoria Baker). Doctor Who fans will also fondly remember the late Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in the long-running sci-fi series, and appeared in the recurring role of the Marquis in French Fields.

So short of jumping into the Doctor's TARDIS and traveling back in time to watch these episodes when they first aired, why not order a copy of French Fields and bring some cross channel laughs to your DVD viewing.

Please note, all photos above copyright of ITV/Acorn Media.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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