Nearest and Dearest

1968 | United Kingdom

Shortly before taking his false teeth out and placing them in a glass of water on the bedside cabinet for one last time before shuffling of this mortal coil, Joshua Pledge called together his middle-aged son and daughter and revealed that he was bequeathing them an equal share in the inheritance of his north country based pickle factory empire, and his total liquid assets of £9 17s 6d. With no other prospects on the horizon, Nellie and Ellie Pledge set about trying to keep afloat the decrepit Pledge's Pickles business hampered by the facts that they were suffering from severe lack of funds, had no business acumen whatsoever and inherited a workforce that was about ten years beyond retirement age (The youngest of whom was the myopic Stan, played by actor Joe Gladwin). As if that wasn't enough there was also the small fact that Nellie and Eli hated each other.

Hylda Baker starred as Joshua's spinster daughter, Nellie, bringing to the role a set of mannerisms that she had developed down the years as a successful music hall star. The 4ft 10-inch actress peppered her part with double entendres and malapropisms as she traded insults (reportedly off screen as well as on), with Jimmy Jewel as womanising drunk Eli. He would refer to her as a "knock-kneed knackered old nose bag", whilst she referred to him as a "big girls blouse." However, and apart from cliched catchphrases, there were plenty of gems to be found as scripts by the likes of experienced sitcom writers such as Vince Powell, Harry Driver, and Jonathan Lynn, had a habit of sparkling in a way that kept Nearest and Dearest consistently good.
Nellie: You remind me of that beautiful song from 'The Sound of Music.'
Eli: Which one. My Favourite Things?
Nellie: No...Idleswine!

Veteran comic Jimmy Jewel, who was born in Sheffield on 4th December 1912, had left school at 14 to work as a comic feed for his father (although his first stage appearance was at the age of 10 in Huddersfield). In order to supplement their income both father (also Jimmy Jewel) and son worked as scenery and prop builders. Jewel junior came to London when he was sixteen and worked as a solo act until 1934 when he teamed up with his cousin, Ben Warriss. A successful radio and TV career followed for the new partnership (their first TV appearance was in 1948) but Jewel broke it up in 1967 in order to go solo once more. The following year he landed the role of Eli Pledge. Although Eli always seemed to have the pleasure of female company, Nellie's only socialising was with her cousin Lily (Madge Hindle) and Lily's husband Walter, an elderly man of questionable bladder control, a predicament which always prompted Nellie to pose the question, "has he been?" The question was nearly always put to Lily because during the seven seasons that Nearest and Dearest ran, from 1968 to 1973, actor Eddie Malin as Walter, never uttered a single word. 

Such was the popularity of Nearest and Dearest that in 1970 it spent the summer at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, as a stage show - and two years later it transferred to the large screen. A US version, which ran for a mere 13 episodes on ABC in 1973, was called Thicker Than Water, but bore no relation to a British sitcom of that name which starred...coincidentally, Jimmy Jewel.

Published on January 11th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (February 2003) for Television Heaven.