The Good Life writer Bob Larbey dies

Bob Larbey, co-writer of the classic sitcom The Good Life, has died at the age of 79, his agent has confirmed.

The 1970s hit show about two neighbouring suburban couples was one of a string of TV successes, spanning four decades, for Larbey and co-writer John Esmonde, who died in 2008.
Their joint hits included Ever Decreasing Circles, Brush Strokes and Please Sir!

Larbey’s solo successes included A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By.

But his biggest hit came alongside Esmonde with The Good Life.

It chronicled a middle class couple’s attempt at self sufficiency in suburban Surbiton, which did not impress their well-heeled neighbours.

Along with wife Barbara – played by Felicity Kendal – the character Tom Good, played by Richard Briers, decided to give up his steady office job on his 40th birthday, and convert his garden into an allotment to keep livestock.

Next door were the henpecked Jerry Leadbetter (Paul Eddington) and his wife Margot (Penelope Keith), a social climber who could not bear chickens wandering the back garden.

Over the course of its 30 episodes, the show went on to become a household favourite, pulling in audiences of 15 million a week. One special episode was filmed in front of the Queen, who was said to be a devoted viewer.

Larbey was born in 1934 in south London.

He and school friend Esmonde started out writing scripts for BBC Radio shows, such as I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again and contributing TV sketches to the Dick Emery Show.

Their idea for a comedy set in a London secondary school was turned down by the BBC, but became a major hit for ITV as Please Sir! in 1968.

It featured John Alderton as a young, newly qualified teacher who is put in charge of the school’s rowdiest class – eventually winning them over with his compassion. Its success led to a feature film and a follow-up series called the Fenn Street Gang.

After their even bigger success with The Good Life, Larbey and Esmonde created a string of comedy series which ran for varying lengths of time. They twice teamed up again with Good Life star Richard Briers, for five series of Ever Decreasing Circles in the 1980s and one series of Down To Earth in 1995.

The writers’ other big hit in the 1980s – also running for five series – was Brush Strokes, which chronicled the adventures of ladies’ man and house painter Jacko, played by Karl Howman.
Howman also starred in Mulberry, as the mysterious servant of spinster Miss Farnaby.

Larbey also enjoyed great success with his solo projects, which included writing the screenplays for the first four episodes of The Darling Buds of May from a novel by H E Bates. It was a massive ratings hit for ITV and provided Sir David Jason with his first major success away from Only Fools And Horses.

He also penned two hugely significant TV roles for Dame Judi Dench. First the future Oscar-winner appeared alongside her husband Michael Williams in A Fine Romance from 1981 to 1984. Then she starred opposite Geoffrey Palmer in As Time Goes By, which ran for nine series and a couple of reunion specials between 1992 and 2005.