Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge)— who insists her surname is pronounced Bouquet (although in reality, her husband Richard has said, "It was always 'Bucket' until I met you!") — is an over-bearing, social-climbing snob, originally from a poor working-class background, whose main mission in life is to impress others with her lifestyle and perceived affluence and refinement. She's terrified that her background will be revealed, and goes to great lengths to hide it. Hyacinth likes to spend her days visiting stately homes (convinced she will meet and strike up a friendship with the upper class owners, especially if they are aristocratic) and hosting "executive-style" candlelight suppers (with her Royal Worcester double-glazed Avignon china and Royal Doulton china with "the hand-painted periwinkles"). She ostentatiously brags about her possessions to others, including her "white slimline telephone with automatic redial," which she always answers with "The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking." (Frequently she receives calls asking for a Chinese take-away, making her very angry.) She speaks in an exaggerated RP-like accent with Northern undertones, while her relatives speak in broad Northern accents. Her neighbours speak in milder RP accents. When flustered, Hyacinth regresses to her native Northern accent for a while.
Hyacinth's attempts to impress make the lives of those around her difficult; her continual efforts to improve her social position usually involve inviting her unwitting neighbours and friends to 'exclusive candlelit suppers'. Although Hyacinth is not deterred by the lack of response to her attempts, nearly everyone around her lives in fear of being invited, and will usually make frantic attempts to excuse themselves. The one who suffers the most is her husband Richard (Clive Swift). He initially worked for the council but, at the beginning of series 3, reluctantly accepts early retirement. Although he loves her with a long-suffering endurance, he is notably exasperated by her plans and her habit of making extravagant and unnecessary purchases. Although she lives to impress others, Hyacinth regularly competes with the upper-middle-class people (whom she considers snobbish show-offs), such as Sonia Barker-Finch, Delia Wheelwright and Lydia Hawksworth (who alone of Hyacinth's rivals seems to be an actual snob, as she disdains kiwifruit as "lower middle class".) Hyacinth sometimes says things like "I haven't a snobbish bone in my body" or "I can't abide such snobbery like that" when talking about those she considers her competition.
Always hindering Hyacinth's best efforts to impress – and providing an unwelcome reminder of her less-than-refined roots – are her underclass sisters Daisy (Judy Cornwell) and Rose (Shirley Stelfox in series 1; Mary Millar thereafter), and Daisy's proudly "bone-idle" husband Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes). They, along with Hyacinth's senile father, frequently turn up inconveniently (usually in their clapped out Ford Cortina Mk IV – which always makes a characteristic backfire when it pulls up), with Hyacinth going to great lengths to avoid them (saying "Richard, you know I love my family, but that's no reason why I should have to acknowledge them in broad daylight!"). Hyacinth's senile father frequently has flashbacks to the Second World War, and often exhibits bizarre behaviour, sometimes involving embarrassing situations with women (Onslow describes him as "barmy"). Two relatives Hyacinth is not ashamed of are her wealthy sister Violet (Anna Dawson) and her unseen son Sheridan. Violet frequently telephones Hyacinth for advice, allowing her to loudly announce to anyone in earshot, "It's my sister Violet – the one with a Mercedes, swimming pool/sauna and room for a pony". However, Violet's social acceptability is damaged by the eccentric behaviour of her transvestite, equestrian-loving husband Bruce, whom she violently attacks because of his behaviour. Hyacinth also tries to impress people with the intellectual prowess of her beloved Sheridan (who actually only takes courses in needlework at a polytechnic). Hyacinth boasts about the "psychic" closeness of their relationship and how often he writes to her and phones her, although he never writes to her and usually phone calls her only to ask for money (much to the despair of Richard). Hyacinth is blissfully oblivious of the seemingly obvious hints that Sheridan, who lives with a man named Tarquin (who makes his own curtains, wears silk pyjamas, and has won prizes for embroidery), is homosexual. It is at one point implied that Sheridan has come out to his father.
Hyacinth's neighbour Elizabeth Warden (Josephine Tewson) is frequently invited round to the Buckets' for coffee. Though she is ordinarily calm, Liz's nerves go to pieces in Hyacinth's house, causing her to smash Hyacinth's china and spill coffee and biscuits on Hyacinth's Burmese rug. She is married with a daughter away at University, but her husband works abroad and, like Sheridan, neither character ever appears. Elizabeth is occasionally able to 'one-up' Hyacinth herself by reminding her neighbour that her daughter is at University, whilst Sheridan is studying at a lesser Polytechnic. Liz's brother Emmet (David Griffin) moves in with her at the beginning of series 2 after a messy divorce. Hyacinth, upon learning that Emmet is a musician, frequently and abruptly sings out-of-key at him in an attempt to get a part in one of his productions, making him terrified of leaving the house, lest she see him ("She'll sing at me!"). Emmet's problems are further complicated by Hyacinth's mistaken belief that his frightened reactions indicate that he is infatuated with her, which in fact could not be further from the truth.
Hyacinth frequently confronts the postman with complaints, such as having to receive mail bearing second class stamps, harassing him to the point that he will go to extreme lengths not to face her; and she often forces workmen and other visitors to her home to remove their shoes before entering. Michael, the vicar of the local church (Jeremy Gittins) is also loath to face the overbearing Hyacinth, whom he refers to (behind her back) as "the Bucket woman." The vicar and his wife sometimes exact comic revenge on Hyacinth for her snobbishness; on one occasion, when she was one of a group of volunteer helpers at the church, the vicar's wife saw to it that Hyacinth's hand went up prematurely and assigned her the job of cleaning the church toilets.Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket
Clive Swift as Richard Bucket
Josephine Tewson as Elizabeth 'Liz' Warden
Judy Cornwell as Daisy
Geoffrey Hughes as Onslow
Shirley Stelfox as Rose (Series 1)
Mary Millar as Rose (Series 2–5)
David Griffin as Emmet Hawksworth (Series 2–5)
Jeremy Gittins as Michael, the vicar
George Webb as Daddy or Father (1990–1995)
Marion Barron as the Vicar's wife (1990–1995)
David Janson as the Postman (1992–1995)
Robert Rawles as the Milkman (1990–1995)
Anna Dawson as Violet (1995)
Peter Cellier as the Major (1990–1991)
Charmian May as Councillor Mrs. Nugent (1990-1992)
John Evitts as Bruce (1995)
Keeping Up Appearances aired for five series, four Christmas specials, and one short Children in Need special, from 29 October 1990 to 25 December 1995. The series officially ended after the episode "The Pageant", because Patricia Routledge wanted to focus on other TV and theatre work, including Hetty Wainthropp Investigates which began airing in 1996. Clive Swift, who portrayed Richard, stated in a BBC interview that Routledge "didn't want to be remembered as simply 'Mrs Bucket'".
Exterior shots around Hyacinth's house were taped in Binley Woods, Warwickshire, a village east of Coventry.
Exterior shots around Daisy and Onslow's council terrace were taped in Stoke Aldermoor in Coventry. Other exterior street and town shots were taped in Leamington Spa, and in various towns throughout Warwickshire, along with many scenes from the large town of Northampton, mainly the church hall. Some scenes were also shot in Swindon, Oxford, and Bristol. One scene was shot on location in Copenhagen, Denmark. One episode was filmed in Great Yarmouth, mainly in the Pleasure Beach Theme Park.
The opening sequence shows Hyacinth writing an invitation to one of her trademark candlelight suppers; this invitation lists Hyacinth's address as "Waney Edge, Blossom Avenue, Fuddleton". In the same sequence, the invitation is eventually sent to an address in Eddleton. Neither town actually exists. However, there are several references to the characters being in the West Midlands throughout the series, as when Hyacinth said that she could become the "Barbara Cartland of the West Midlands Social Circuit Scene" in the episode The Hostess. In another episode, police officers wearing West Midlands Police jumpers escorted Richard home.
Richard and Hyacinth Bucket's car is a Rover 200-series (SD3) saloon. Early episodes show a light blue 1987 216S bearing the number plate D541 EXL, but later episodes feature a sky blue 1989 216SE EFi model (bearing same number plate bar one letter, now D541 EFL).
Onslow drives a 1978 Ford Cortina (number plate VSD 389S) that is in poor condition and backfires loudly almost every time it starts or stops, embarrassing Hyacinth, and frequently crushing her hopes of creating a perfect impression with new people. Onslow is also the owner of the rusting carcass of a Hillman Avenger in his front garden, wherein lives Onslow's dog that always barks at Hyacinth as she approaches.
Violet and Bruce own a Mercedes-Benz W126 S-class and later a Mercedes-Benz W202 C-class.
Neighbour Elizabeth drives a white 1989 Austin Metro City hatchback with number plate F434 RLA (which, despite being the subject of comments from Hyacinth about its age, is actually newer than Richard's car).
Various shows related to the programs were released.The Memoirs of Hyacinth Bucket
In March 1997, Geoffrey Hughes and Judy Cornwell reprised their roles as Onslow and Daisy for a special compilation episode recorded for broadcast in the United States on PBS. The show saw the pair introduce classic clips from the series.Comedy Connections
In 2004, the documentary series featured an episode dedicated to Keeping Up Appearances. Stars Clive Swift, Josephine Tewson, Judy Cornwell and David Griffin, along with writer Roy Clarke and producer/director Harold Snoad, all discussed the series. Clips from an interview with Patricia Routledge from 2002 were also included. The episode revealed that there were serious artistic differences between Clarke and Snoad.Life Lessons from Onslow
In early 2008, Geoffrey Hughes reprised his role as Onslow once again for a clipshow of the series; this was to be broadcast on American television, and sees him teaching a credit course at the Open University, and has selected "successful relationships" as his subject matter. The special was also released on Region 1 DVD.
Mary Millar, who played Rose from series two to series five, died on 10 November 1998. George Webb, who played Daddy, died on 30 December 1998. Charmian May, who played Mrs. Councillor Nugent, died on 24 October 2002. Geoffrey Hughes, who played Onslow, died on 27 July 2012. Shirley Stelfox, who played Rose in series one, died on 7 December 2015.
In 1998, the BBC released three episodes of the show: "A Job for Richard", "Country Retreat" and "Sea Fever" on audio cassette. Clive Swift reprised his role as Richard recording a narrative to compensate for the lack of images.
BBC Video released three videos featuring episodes from the series.How to Enhance Your Husband's Retirement
This was released in 1993 and featured the episodes: "Iron Age Remains", "What to Wear when Yachting" and "How to Go on Holiday Without Really Trying".Sea Fever
This was released in 1994 and featured the episodes: "Sea Fever" and "A Job for Richard".Rural Retreat
This was released in 1995 and featured the episodes: "Country Retreat", "Let There Be Light" and "Please Mind Your Head".United States – Region 1
My Way or the Hyacinth Way (volume 1) – released 18 March 2003 (contains the complete series 1)
Hints from Hyacinth (volume 2) – released 18 March 2003 (contains episodes 1–5 from series 2)
Home is Where the Hyacinth Is (volume 3) – released 18 March 2003 (contains episodes 6–10 from series 2)
Deck the Halls with Hyacinth (volume 4) – released 18 March 2003 (contains all 4 Christmas Specials from 1991, 1993, 1994 & 1995)
Hyacinth in Full Bloom – released 18 March 2003 (contains volumes 1–4)
Everything's Coming Up Hyacinth (volume 5) – released 3 February 2004 (contains the complete series 3)
Some Like it Hyacinth (volume 6) – released 3 February 2004 (contains the complete series 4)
Living the Hyacinth Life (volume 7) – released 3 February 2004 (contains episodes 1–6 from series 5)
Hats Off to Hyacinth (volume 8) – released 3 February 2004 (contains episodes 7–10 from series 5 & the special "The Memoirs of Hyacinth Bucket")
Hyacinth Springs Eternal – released 3 February 2004 (contains volumes 5–8)
The Full Bouquet – released 7 September 2004 (complete series – contains volumes 1–8)
The Full Bouquet: Special Edition – released 9 September 2008 (complete series re-release, everything from volumes 1–8 & special "Life Lessons from Onslow")
Life Lessons from Onslow – released 9 September 2008
Collector's Edition – 5 November 2013 (contains all 5 series and every special)
United Kingdom – Region 2
Series 1 & 2 – released 7 March 2003
Series 3 & 4 – released 16 February 2004 (includes the 1991 Christmas special)
Series 5 – released 26 December 2006 (includes Christmas Specials from 1993, 1994 & 1995)
The Essential Collection – released 8 October 2007 (complete series)
The Complete Collection – released 23 September 2013 (complete series re-release, slimmer version)
Christmas Specials – released 3 November 2014 (contains all 4 Christmas specials)
Australia – Region 4
Series 1 & 2 – released 1 September 2003
Series 3 & 4 – released 8 July 2004
Series 5 – released 3 November 2005
Christmas Specials – released 11 November 2005
The Complete Series – released 2005
Life Lessons from Onslow – released 15 April 2010
In the United States, the complete series is available via streaming through Netflix and Amazon Video.
Three books related to the series have been released in the UK. Two were written by Jonathan Rice and published by BBC Books and the other one was written by Harold Snoad (the director of Keeping Up Appearances) and was published by Book Guild Publishing.Hyacinth Bucket's book of etiquette for the socially less fortunate
This was first published in 1993, and is a light-hearted guide to manners, as seen through Hyacinth Bucket's eyes. It is based on the TV series' scripts and contains many black-and-white photos of scenes from the show.Hyacinth Bucket's Hectic Social Calendar
This was published in 1995 and is presented in a diary format chronicling a year in Hyacinth Bucket's life, with typical comments about her relations and neighbours.It's Bouquet – Not Bucket
This was published in late 2009, the book includes rare photos which were taken during the filming of Keeping Up Appearances. The book contains full plot synopses for all episodes, main cast details, filming locations for all episodes which used outside shots, and stories of some entertaining events which happened during filming.Overseas books
Due to the popularity of Keeping Up Appearances in the United States, books about the series have also been published across the Atlantic.Keeping Up Appearances: A Companion to the Series
This comical series guidebook was published in the late 1990s by WLIW21. It was co-authored by mother and daughter writers, Georgene and Mary Lee Costa. It features summary descriptions of each episode, cast and crew biographies, series photographs and an interview with Harold Snoad.
Since it was written during the filming of the final series of episodes, Snoad included the co-authors of the guide as extras in the episode, "The Fancy Dress Ball."
In 2010, the television show was adapted into a play entitled Keeping Up Appearances that toured theatres in the UK. The cast included Rachel Bell as Hyacinth, Kim Hartman as Elizabeth, Gareth Hale as Onslow, Steven Pinder as Emmet, Debbie Arnold as Rose, David Janson (who had previously appeared in the TV show as the postman) as Mr Edward Milton, a new character created for the stage show, Christine Moore as Daisy and Sarah Whitlock as Mrs Debden. Main character Richard Bucket, Hyacinth's husband, does not appear in the production, but is frequently referred to: Hyacinth addresses to him off-stage and talks to him on the phone. The main plot of the show revolves around Emmett directing a play at the local village hall, but when Hyacinth is cast in the play's leading role disaster is in the making.
This adaptation, directed by playwright Johnny Culver, made its American premiere in New York City in March 2015, at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church Theater Fellowship/Jones Auditorium.
In 2015, it was announced that a prequel to the series entitled Young Hyacinth would be made, following a 19-year-old Hyacinth Bucket during the early postwar years and set some 40 years before Keeping Up Appearances. The cast were announced on 11 April 2016. Hyacinth was played by Kerry Howard; Rose by Katie Redford; Daisy by Katherine Pearce; Violet by Tamla Kari and Daddy by Mark Addy. It was broadcast on BBCOne on September 2, 2016 The prequel saw Hyacinth working as a maid and attempting to manage her family so they appeared well above their means. In the special, Hyacinth was in a relationship with a Mr. Will Hitchcock, who is forced by Hyacinth to dress up and wear a hat for their walks. The special ends with Daddy drunk and having fallen in the canal, which the couple Hyacinth works for sees and she becomes embarrassed, blaming her father's behavior on "an old war injury". 4.14 million viewers watched the show within seven days of its broadcast, making it the 22nd most watched BBCOne show for the week ending September 4. 4.39 million viewers watched the show within 28 days of its initial broadcast.