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Introduction to Ever Decreasing Circles Wiki

This wiki is about Ever Decreasing Circles, a British situation comedy which ran on BBC1 for four series from 1984 to 1989. It was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, and it reunited them with Richard Briers, the star of their previous hit show, The Good Life.

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Series plot

Briers plays Martin Bryce, an obsessive, middle-aged man at the centre of his local suburban community in East Surrey..[1] This relatively unsympathetic character was the antithesis of Tom Good.[2] Briers said that it was his favourite sitcom role.

Martin is married to the motherly and patient Ann (Penelope Wilton) and has a settled, orderly lifestyle until he encounters their new next-door neighbour, ex-British Army officer and Cambridge Blue Paul Ryman (Peter Egan). Paul is everything Martin is not – adventurous, laissez-faire, flippant, witty, handsome and charming; in the words of Martin, a "couldn't care less, come on life ... amuse me, merchant". He attempts to join in with the activities of Martin and his friends, but his fresh thinking causes Martin to see him as a rival who might want to "take over" Martin's self-appointed role as organiser. Martin's obsession with order and stability also leads him to get upset at Paul's minor changes to routine, such as sitting at a different table in the local public house. Paul runs his own business, a hair salon, and later, a health studio.

An undercurrent running throughout the series was the unresolved sexual tension and flirting between Paul and Ann, but it never resolved into an affair. It is suggested that the marriage between the Bryces came about because Martin went to great lengths to help Ann through a difficult period in her earlier life and that she still feels indebted to him for this. Martin sometimes seems oblivious to the attraction between Ann and Paul but in one episode, he wrongly believes that they have run off together. Martin leaves home, leaving Ann a note wishing her happiness and stating that he will always love her. Martin's relationship with Paul is double-edged. Paul is always friendly to Martin, who veers between thinly disguised hatred and grudging admiration. Paul also solves a marital crisis in one episode when Martin is tricked by a work colleague into believing he'd had a drunken one-night stand while away on business and admitting to Ann his infidelity. Paul cons the colleague into an admission of the trick in front of Ann, restoring her faith in Martin.

Central to the show is Martin's jealousy of Paul. Paul is shown to be significantly better than Martin at many things, notably cricket, where Paul joins the local team and promptly smashes all the records that Martin proudly holds. The two later play in a snooker tournament, where Martin is delighted to find that Paul is useless (the tournament coincides with Howard's anger at being seen as "a loser", causing him to defeat Martin in the final). A parallel is drawn to a story of Martin's childhood, where his own "gang" was taken over by a new boy, implying that he is scared that Paul's arrival will cause him to lose his friends and status to the new arrival (this story is recounted by Martin in Series 1 and by Mrs Beardsmore in Series 2).

The other regular characters were Howard and Hilda Hughes (Stanley Lebor and Geraldine Newman), another married couple who generally add lighter humour to the plots. They are long-standing friends and neighbours of Martin's, who share some of his obsessiveness whilst having plenty of quirks of their own (such as always wearing "his and hers" matching outfits), but are also attracted by Paul's personality. Although Howard and Hilda are often seen as being rather timid, they have strong moral values and can be very forthright in chastising other characters (usually Martin or Paul) when they believe them to have done something wrong.

Sources

  1. s2, e8; stated by Martin Bryce
  2. BFI Screenonline: Richard Briers. Accessed 21 November 2012

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