The early 1970s saw a substantial amount of the British film industry being dedicated to sitcom spin-offs. I’ve covered many of these in this blog from ‘On the Buses’ to ‘Steptoe and Son’. Perhaps a slightly less well known series to be given the spin-off treatment is ‘Man About The House’. The scenario for the series and film is of a three way flat-share between two women (Paula Wilcox and Sally Thomsett) and a man (Richard O’Sullevan). The flat forms the upper floors of a house owned by an older couple (Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy) who later went on to have their own sitcom and film entitled ‘George and Mildred’.
As with most 1970s sitcom spin-offs, one shouldn’t tune in expecting anything akin to Olivier doing Shakespeare. But for a late night Saturday laugh with a good dose of nostalgia, they often hit the mark. I quite like the ‘Man About The House’ film. Primarily for Yootha as Mildred, whom, as I approach her age like a runaway rollercoaster, I find myself adopting as a role model. Battling on in the face of adversity with a perfect coiffure and an acerbic one-liner disguising a platinum heart, she is an inspiration. However it’s also an excellent film with which to play at “spot the seventies star bingo.” Cast members from ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘On The Buses’ and ‘It Aint Half Hot, Mum’ have walk-on parts, and there is a rather odd cameo from Spike Milligan.
Another reason to watch ‘Man About The House’ is for the street scenes of the North West London district. Both the street signs and the appearance of Maida Vale tube station give clues to the general location of filming. If you know this area well, no doubt it is a fascinating window on the area just prior to the re-gentrification that took place in the later 20th Century. The house that is occupied by the main characters is one of those north London residences that have had three lives. Originally constructed in a neo-Georgian style at the turn of the twentieth century, these town houses were spread over three or four floors, and were occupied by well-heeled middle class families and their servants. By the mid 20th Century, many of the wealthier types had moved out of central London, presumably for leafy Metroland and the rural idyll – especially easy with Marylebone station being just down the road. These houses became run down and separated into flats – as shown in this film. As the storyline shows us, many did not survive this loss of status and were swallowed up by developers, hungry for office block foundation space. But those who did survive had a considerable change in fortune, when their value as a sturdily built and spacious home in an envious location was recognised.
The street sign near the Roper household says Myddleton Terrace NW8. Several websites, including reelstreets.com tells us that the townhouse row is in reality Alma Square in Maida Vale. Another search for properties for sale in Alma Square confirms that today, these are very desirable residences indeed. At the beginning of April 2013 I found two properties for sale here. One – a four-bedroomed house – had just been sold at £3.5 million. A two-bedroomed flat here was on the market for £1.5 million. I doubt that it’s the film location pushing up the prices! Modern day streetviews show Mercedes parked where George and Mildred’s Morris Minor once stood. Fans of theirs will know that for their own spin-off film, they had swapped Maida Vale for a suburban new-build. What a mistake!