There are times that BBC commissioning folks get it right and times they don’t. Mulberry is one of those “didn’t get it right” moments in British comedy history. After two wonderful seasons (13 episodes) with brilliant scripts by Bob Larbey and, then, writing partner, John Esmonde and a wonderful cast headed by Karl Howman in the lead role, the series was abruptly halted without much of an explanation from the BBC prior to the beginning of production on series 3.
We caught up with Karl yesterday for our British comedy writers program for PBS. Karl spoke at great length about Bob and John and what it meant to him, personally, to have a series such as Mulberry where the lead part was written specifically with him in mind from a casting standpoint from the beginning. Karl and Bob had become close friends over the years through their work association on mid-70’s series, Get Some In, followed by A Fine Romance, then Brush Strokes.
It was Mulberry, however, that attracted me to the talents of Karl as the apprentice Grim Reaper sent to get Miss Farnaby, played by the great Geraldine McEwan. The sentimental / comical side of Mulberry, armed with a true love of life and laughter, attempted to make Miss Farnaby’s last days on Earth, happy ones before taking her hand and walking across the bridge to the other side.
In the interview, Karl also spoke not only about the importance of the writing to the success of a British comedy, but about the process of how Bob Larbey and John Esmonde wrote and, specifically, Bob’s keen sense of observation when developing characters for his series.
Mulberry was their last series together writing as a duo. Bob later went on to solo write As Time Goes By, which starred Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. Speaking of, our next interview (and last of this trip), the fabulous Judi Dench.