Dated or Delightful? 'The Vicar of Dibley'

The cast of "The Vicar of Dibley". (Photo: Courtesy of BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions)
The cast of "The Vicar of Dibley". (Photo: Courtesy of BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions)

In this installment of Dated or Delightful, we return to the mid-90’s to see if a BBC sitcom about a fictional Oxfordshire village and their unexpected and enthusiatic new minister stands the test of time. Yes, let's take a look back at The Vicar of Dibley. 

In March 1994, the first women were ordained as Church of England priests (or vicars). Eight months later comedy legend Richard Curtis (along with co-writer Paul Mayhew-Archer) introduced television audiences to the eccentric residents of Dibley as they awaited the arrival of the new vicar of St. Barnabas, the parish church.

 

To the villagers' surprise, Reverend Granger turned out to be a plucky, compassionate, chocolate loving, man-crazy female vicar named Geraldine. The role of the “babe with a bob cut and a magnificent bosom” was, in fact, created especially for Dawn French.

The members of the parish council made up the rest of the show’s classic ensemble cast. They included chairman of the council, snobbish and very conservative, David Horton (Gary Waldhorn); David’s sweet but dim son, Hugo (James Fleet); dull and verbose council secretary, Frank Pickle (John Bluthal); stammering, libidinous villager, Jim Trott (Trevor Peacock) and lonely, odiferous farmer Owen Newitt played by the late Roger Lloyd Pack. In the first series Liz Smith portrayed Mrs. Cropley, an avant garde cook and flower arranger.

However it was the vicar’s childlike and rather sheltered verger, Alice Tinker-Horton (Emma Chambers) who stole the show more often than any other character. Alice’s naivety and simple-mindedness could make her an irritant to Geraldine, but there was never any doubt she was loyal and amazingly wise from time to time.

My verdict on The Vicar of Dibley is a no-brainer. It’s a delightful series and just as funny as I remembered. From the first episode I re-watched on Netflix, I felt like I was being welcomed back by a comfortable albeit disturbingly quirky family. There are plenty of pop culture references that younger folks and non-Brits may not know, but there are far more universal situations, issues and feelings that will resonate with viewers today as much as they did over two decades ago.

Some of my favorite elements of this series are:

The jokes that Geraldine tells Alice at the end of each episode - which of course Alice takes always takes literally and rarely finds funny.

 

It maintains a delicate balance between the secular and the religious. It could hardly be called preachy but doesn't shy away from the message of Christianity which must be addressed when your main character is a vicar.

 

The classic tug at the heartstrings moments that series creator Richard Curtis is so famous for in this rom-coms like Love Actually . As founder of Comic Relief along with Dawn French's ex husband Lenny Henry, Curtis wasn't afraid to interject his concerns about world poverty into the sitcom's plotlines.

 

And this time around, I particularly enjoyed spotting guest appearances by actors I may not have been as familar with on first viewing. For example, Doctor Who's Peter Capaldi played a crushworthy BBC producer in the 'Songs of Praise' episode. Great British Bake Off presenter Mel Giddroyc portrayed Alice's even more daft sister Mary in the 'Christmas Lunch Incident'. Miranda Hart was Suzie, the owner of a speed dating service, in the 2005 'Happy New Year' special. Keely Hawes was the mysterious beautiful woman who came to stay with Geraldine's beloved Harry (Richard Armitage) in the 'Handsome Stranger' holiday special in 2006. And Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville played Jeremy Oglivy, a priest with a thing for Geraldine who officated her wedding in the final offical episode, 2007's 'The Vicar in White'. 

There were also plenty of celebrity appearances where actors popped up as themselves over the years, particularly the Comic Relief sketches that have been produced even since the series finished. Here's a classic cameo featuring one of Geraldine's Wall of Blokes who sweeps in to rescue her from a unwise matrimonial situation. 

 

So what are your favorite memories of The Vicar of Dibley?  Do you still think it's relevant and humorous today? And please answer this burning question - Do you think Alice still can't believe the stuff that is not I Can't Believe It's Not Butter is not I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, etc? Be advised any comments you make will be recorded for posterity by Frank Pickle.