The Cedar tree was an ITV daytime drama made by ATV. It consisted of 102 x 25 minutes and 13 x 60 minute episodes. Transmitted between September 1976 and January 1978, with broadcast gaps beteween July and October 1977 and January to July 1978.
Transmission format was two parts on a bi –weekly basis.
Produced from the same team that brought us 'Upstairs Downstairs', led by writer and script editor Alfred Shaughnessy.
Set in similar style to its forerunner, it told the story of 'The Bournes' a middle class family living in Larkfield Manor, which was situated somewhere between Hereford and Worcester.
Just like in Upstairs Downstairs, the stories also involved the staff of the house, the obligatory Nanny (Jean Taylor Smith), the house cook, Mrs Bates(Ruth Holden) and Mr Bates the gardener and general help, played by Peter Hill, better known for his portrayal as Arthur Brownlow in the ATV soap Crossroads.
The Theme and incidental music was composed by Stepen Francis with additional music by Syd Amos.
Mr and Mrs Bates ( Peter Hill & Ruth Holden)
The series constant was the ‘Cedar tree’, which we never see, except in animated form on the opening titles, although it was often referred too.
We came tantalisingly close to seeing it on the pair of episodes entitled ‘A Mackerel Sky’ ( TX 12/13 May 1977), in this edition the large bough of the tree becomes loose and is danger of falling onto, and damaging the house.
We hear the branch crashing onto the ground and the visual reaction of the family, and that’s all.
Thr reaction of the familiy as
'The Cedar Tree' is damaged by the storm
Historically, set between the wars, during the 1930’s, and we move through the seasons of those decades, which are always clearly flagged.
The Story arc embrace key events of that Period, the rise of Hitler, the abdication of the king and the looming threat of the Second World War.
The plot lines move at a snail’s pace, but this can be forgiven, because it's true television nostalgia.
The cast is led by the excellent Philip Latham who plays Arthur Bourne the father of Vicky, Elisabeth and Ann, he is affectingly referred to as the ‘Commander', on account of his past Naval career.
In Season two Arthur Bourne wins a by-election and becomes the (Conservative) MP for Westcombe and Holbury, a valuable bonus for the writers, enabling more topical and political plotlines.
Joyce Carey gives a credible performance as Lady Alice Bourne, Arthurs mother, as does Cyril Luckham who portrays Charles Ashley, his father in law.
Jean Taylor Smith, as Nanny, sometimes struggles to get her lines out, in an Amy Turtle sort of a way ! But this in no way distracts from the authenticity of the drama.
Cover artical in the TV Times (September 1976) introducing 'The Cedar tree'
As in 'Upstairs’ Downstairs', the series had a go at tackling social issues, such as divorce, premature bereavement and even Homosexuality.
As this was a daytime drama, it was limited to how far some of these issues could be persued. A case in point, in one episode, Arthur glibly refers to homosexuals as Pansies! and that’s as far as the subject is discussed.
This was a multi camera studio based drama, made on a budget, one innovation was the use of incidental music over scenes to enhance the dramatic impact. With no location scenes, the focus of action mainly centring on the front room and the study, With the cast regularly going up and down the staircase.
The school room and the odd bed room were occasionally featured as was the kitchen and Mr Bates potting shed.
We also occasionally visited Aunt Phyllis’s flat in London.
She was the somewhat racy sister of Arthur, who continually ends up getting embroiled with shady gentlemen.
The series boasted several guest star appearances, including Ed Bishop, John Challis, Brian Wild and Nigel Havers.
From a merchandising prospective three spin off paperbacks where published by Corgi.
First Paperback from 1976
Paperback from 1977 (Autumn of and age)
Surprisingly all episodes still exist.
Bearing in mind ATV trashed many series from the 1970’s when their franchise was effectively lost and they became Central TV.
The episode titled ’Next of Kin’ originally broadcast in two parts on the 3rd and 4th of February 1978, only exists as a single hour long episode, which was a version made for overseas sales. The original 25 minute episodes have been erased.
A TV Times artical published in the week of beginning of the final series.
(You'll see from the editorial there were plans for a fourth series of hour long prime time episodes, but in the end they only aired off peak)
Much to the confusion of viewers, in the third series the role of 'Arthur Bourne' was taken by Jack Watling who had previously played the part of ‘Julian Palmer’ in the second series, a strange casting choice!
Jack Watling as 'Arthur Bourne'
The Cast of the third and final series
If you liked ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ you’ll also enjoy ‘The Cedar Tree’
Network have released all 30 minute and 60 episodes over five volumes and are available directly from them or Amazon.