When people think of The Vicar of Dibley, the person that almost always springs to mind is Dawn French, whose performance as the titular Geraldine Grainger established the BBC sitcom as one of the nation’s all-time favourites.
Fans will therefore be surprised to learn that the role of Dibley’s first female vicar wasn’t written specifically for French, but for a different actor altogether.
Speaking to The Huffington Post, the show’s Producer Peter Bennett-Jones revealed that creator Richard Curtis had a few other stars in mind for the iconic character.
“It wasn’t written for Dawn but she made it her own,” he said. “Richard wrote it for a forthright comic actress. I think he might have even seen three or four different people have a go at it. Dawn got cast and the rest is history as it were.”
“I know he had a couple of other people but I think the right call was made. She just made it her own. She knows where comedy is – she’s a comic actress really, you can’t really imagine it without her, funnily enough.”
The producer, who also worked on Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, also revealed that French was initially apprehensive about taking on the role, but it was Joy Carroll – one of the first female vicars in the UK – that changed her mind.
Carroll reminded French vicars aren’t restricted from doing things like drinking and eating chocolate.
Bennett-Jones said: “Dawn was worried about doing the part…[She was worried it] might be a bit pious. Joy Carroll was such a force of nature.”
The British sitcom, which ran on BBC One from 1994 until 1998, has returned this month for a series of Christmas specials titled The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown, with French and James Fleet (Hugo Horton) reprising their roles for the three episodes.