The return of television's feelgood factor

The BBC's Lark Rise to Candleford is helping viewers to forget their woes. And the schedulers want more blues-beating dramas, says James Rampton

The last Monday in January, according to psychologist Cliff Arnall, is officially the most depressing day of the year. It's all apparently down to a combination of debt hanging over from Christmas, failed New Year's resolutions, long dark nights, appalling weather and, this year, overwhelming financial gloom too. But before you get too downcast, help is at hand. Television drama commissoners are queueing up to assist us in staving off the recession-blighted winter blues. They are serving up all manner of wholesome dramatic fare to take our minds off the dire state of the climate (both meteorological and economic). Escapism is all.

ITV1 is showing a raft of untaxing, visually ravishing detective dramas – Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Marple – not to mention the deeply cosy Heartbeat and Wild at Heart, the reassuring series set on a South African game reserve, which starts again this Sunday. Meanwhile, BBC1 is matching ITV1 with any number of undemanding, easy-on-the-eye series. Viewers can escape to the African charm of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, the stolid dependability of 1950s sleuth George Gently, or the fantasy kingdom of Merlin, which has been recommissioned. The BBC will also shortly announce a new Sherlock Holmes story. But perhaps the most cockle-warming of all is Lark Rise to Candleford, BBC1's 12-part adaptation of Flora Thompson's gentle memoirs of her childhood growing up in rural Oxfordshire during the late 19th century. The show, which goes out on Sunday nights, has proved a surprise hit. Broadcast this time last year, the first series averaged almost seven million viewers.

The polar opposite of in-your-face contemporary dramas, Lark Rise is about as edgy as a helping of blancmange. But for all that, it possesses an undeniably beguiling aura. Centred on the Candleford Post Office run by Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha), the drama allows you to immerse yourself in an uncomplicated bygone era for a guilt-free hour each week.

The characters' thriftiness also strikes a chord today; as Thompson puts it, the villagers carry "the lost secret of being happy on little". Above all, the drama evokes a bucolic vision of a kinder, gentler world. We like nothing better than losing ourselves in this place quite untouched by sharp-suited short-sellers. Lark Rise is a village where a "credit crunch" would be a nourishing biscuit served in the local tea shop.

Lark Rise is filmed in the distinctly unidyllic surroundings of an industrial park on the outskirts of Bristol. Here, a deserted warehouse has been turned into a studio and filled with all manner of meticulously constructed sets. We wander from the ornate reception hall of the Golden Lion Hotel – all imposing leather-bound armchairs, silver candelabra and oil paintings of storm-tossed sailing ships – to the interior of the Candleford Post Office, whose walls are adorned with pictures of Queen Victoria and a poster reading "syrup of figs is pleasant and effective". It all serves to conjure up an England of lost values (and immaculate furniture).

That is one of the major appeals of the series, which is adapted for the screen by Bill Gallagher. People, it seems, crave a return to the good manners of yore. In a break between scenes, Sawalha speaks for many when she asserts: "I love chivalry. I love doors being held open for me. I can't get enough of all that." The actress thinks there are other reasons why the series chimes with audiences. "For a start, Lark Rise is the costume drama nobody knows about – it's not Austen or the Brontës, and nobody knows the storylines. With something like Tess [of the D'Urbervilles], you're simply watching someone else's interpretation of your own imagination. But with Lark Rise, you can really fly. With its pretty costumes, scenery and music, it's ideal Sunday night telly. It's quite simple and unchallenging. It takes you just far enough so you can have both tears and smiles."

Pausing on the hotel set, in front of a tapestry depicting a grand country house, Annie Tricklebank, the producer of Lark Rise, observes: "You watch some crime dramas these days and they're so dark and full of dead bodies. When I tune in to them, I think, 'oh, I'm so glad I work on Lark Rise!' The great thing is, you can watch this with anyone. There is no bad language and nothing shocking happens. You could watch it with your grandmother or your five-year-old and it wouldn't be a problem – they'd both get something out of it."

Lark Rise has been sold to an astonishing 50 countries. Why does it hold such universal appeal? According to Tricklebank, "everyone can relate to these characters. They endure. People watch the series and think: 'Even though it's set more than 100 years ago, exactly the same thing has happened to me.' The characters are enormously appealing, too. I, for one, would like to join the post office family for tea. They serve the most beautiful cakes and sandwiches."

Finally, there is one more reason why Lark Rise has done so well with family audiences: sex – or, rather, the lack of it. Tricklebank expresses mock horror at the idea of "intimate relations" in this piece. "Sex? In Lark Rise? I don't think so!"

'Lark Rise to Candleford' is on BBC1 on Sundays at 8pm

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test