The idea of an English serving caring for an American family with hilarity ensuing dates back to 1947 (at least) with Gwen Davenport’s novel, Belvedere. The concept would lead to three movies and a 1980s sitcom starring Christopher Hewitt.
In many ways, It’s Higgins, Sir treds the same ground in its 1951 run as a Summer replacement over NBC. Attorney Philip Roberts (Vinton Hayworth) is left a $10,000 silver tea service by a distant relative in England, Lord Robertson. However, Lord Robertson’s faithful English butler (Harry McNaughton), Higgins comes attached to the deal. Lord Robertson’s will provides for the pay of Higgins. If Higgins goes, so does the tea service and the Roberts want to hold on to it. A socially climbing middle class American family finds itself with an English butler and hilarity ensues (usually.)
McNaughton is delightful as Higgins, delivering fantastic lines, accentuated by the use of stereotypical butler-speak such as, ‘If you say so, sir,’ in ways that are actually original and quite funny. Higgins like the 1980s Mr. Belvedere show I knew from my youth may have seemed out of his element, but always seems to come through for the Roberts family with his combination wisdom, honor, and quick thinking. The writers come up with some hilarious plots, though occasionally, there ideas are more silly than sublime.
McNaughton was supported ably by the rest of the cast with the exception of Hayworth’s characterization of Mr. Roberts. The Mr. Roberts character was one of the worst comedy fathers on the radio, unfailingly whining, bellicose, and ungrateful, audiences had to feel sorry for poor Higgins having to put up with him.
It’s hard to tell if another actor playing Mr. Roberts would have made the show last. A few years earlier, the show may have had a chance, even with Hayworth’s performance, but standards were rising on radio and marginal shows couldn’t survive.
The end of 1951 wasn’t the end of Higgins and the Roberts family. A year and a half later in 1953, NBC premiered the family sitcom, My Son Jeep, using the same musical score as Higgins and in one episode, it was mentioned that the Roberts family were neighbors to the Allison Family.
More directly, Our Man Higgins starring Stanley Holloway as the butler to the McRoberts family. Unlike fellow late radio arriver, Green Acres, Our Man Higgins failed to maintain an audience and left the air after one season.
The entire thirteen-episode Summer run of, It’s Higgins, Sir is in circulation. It remains a delightful and fun comedy that’s fun for the whole family, which allows readers to escape into a relaxing world as Higgins solves the many problems of the Roberts clan in thirty minutes, while creating a few along the way.
The episodes are available for download here.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.