From 1980 to 1982 one of London Weekend Television’s top-rated sitcoms was Holding the Fort in which Peter Davison played a microbrewer. We spoke to the writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, to find out more.
We were first tipped off to the existence of Holding the Fort by a comment from ‘Dvorak’ on something we posted back in September. We watched as much as we could find on YouTube and were amazed by how accurately it portrayed the then embryonic British microbrewing scene. On the off-chance, we emailed Marks & Gran via their website just as the success of their revival of Goodnight Sweetheart hit them and they became very busy. We heard nothing until this week when we got an apologetic reply and an invitation to phone them at their office.
Because the way the timing worked out Bailey made the call, speaking to Laurence Marks while Maurice Gran made muffled interjections somewhere in the background. We’ve slightly edited the transcript for clarity and to remove some umm-ing and er-ing.
From what we’ve been able to see Holding the Fort is a pretty accurate portrayal of what was going on in British brewing at the time.
Microbrewing had just started and we had met the man… What was his name? This was 40 years ago, our very first commissioned sitcom, so it’s hard to remember. He was the man who started a chain of pubs… What were they called?
David Bruce — the Firkin chain?
That’s him! He was always our adviser on brewing and, in fact, he provided all the brewing equipment for the production which was in the basement of our fictional brewer’s house in Tufnell Park, North London.
Our central character, our male central character, who we join in the first episode, is a brewer. The brewery where he works is closing and moving to the North. He and his wife, played by Patricia Hodge, have just had a little baby and they don’t want to move North, so she goes back to her old job as an Army Captain and he decides he can run a small brewery from his house.
And his assistant, played by Matthew Kelly, he’s a kind of stereotypical real ale drinker with the beard and so on.
No, Fitz, he’s not a brewer — he’s just kind of a layabout, but he starts to learn to brew. Peter Davison, who’s the brewer, is very clean cut. David Bruce always looked alright to me! Very smart.
Peter Davison was in Doctor Who at the same time you were making this series — is that right?
Well, yes and no. We made the first series in 1980 then he got cast as Doctor Who between series, so he was alternating between our series at LWT and Doctor Who at the BBC.
It’s odd that you’re so well-known but that this show is so obscure — we’d never heard of it and it’s quite hard to get to see. But there were three series so it must have been popular.
Oh, yes — hugely successful. It was, at one time, LWT’s top-rated comedy show. I have no idea why it’s out of circulation — I don’t understand the machinations of TV networks.
Were you into beer yourselves? Were you CAMRA members or anything like that?
I was a journalist at the time, in the mid-1970s, and was invited along to the first CAMRA beer festival at Covent Garden in 1975. I went along to what is now the London Transport Museum and there was every beer in the entire country, barrels everywhere. People were walking around vomiting, falling over… It was the closest we’d come to the Munich Oktoberfest, I suppose.
I was with a friend who was a much more learned beer drinker than me, and we worked our way round deciding which was the best beer there. We both agreed it was Hook Norton. In fact, we loved it so much, we found out where the brewery was, took a day off work and drove out there. There were three pubs near the brewery, supplied directly, and we drank in all of them. And funnily enough, it’s now my local brewer.
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Marks & Gran are still writing together. You can read more about their long career at their website, Marks & Gran, and they are also on Twitter @marksandgran.