She starred as Penny Warrender in Just Good Friends, the on/off love interest of Paul Nicholas’ Vincent Pinner in the seminal 1980s series by John Sullivan.
But don’t ask Jan Francis to revive the comedy which hooked the interest of millions of viewers over three series as the couple worked out if they could get back together. She has, she says, already rebuffed many overtures over the years since the show ended in 1986 to bring it back.
In fact the actress believes that the current vogue for reviving old shows like Keeping Up Appearances, Porridge and Cold Feet should stop right away.
“You just think let’s have something new, for now,” she tells RadioTimes.com. “Not going back, harking back. And they are bringing back Hyacinth Bouquet, aren’t they and all that? They are bringing back loads of these things. I know they are saying that was a golden age of comedy but you have got to actually move on, really.”
Making just three series and a special of Just Good Friends, she says, means that it remains “a jewel and people remember it fondly… If you try and extend it, it’s like a piece of chewing gum, it loses its taste. People go ‘you know what used to be good?’”
The BBC has already brought back the classic Ronnie Barker comedy Open All Hours with the revamp Still Open All Hours and is promising to revive other classic comedies in a special season which will see comebacks for Are You Being Served? Porridge, Up Pompeii! and a special prequel to Keeping Up Appearances. ITV is in the process of resurrecting nineties/noughties favourite Cold Feet with the original cast including James Nesbitt and Fay Ripley.
Francis said she “quaked a bit” when considering the upcoming return of Cold Feet. “It was of that time, they were that age and it just a hit a spot and it’s really hard to do. I understand why people want to resurrect things that are really so successful.”
A Just Good Friends revival, she adds, has been “mentioned” by producers over the years in a bid to replicate the success of the show (pictured below) which attracted more than 20m viewers for the 1984 Christmas Special.
“People ask me and say wouldn’t it be lovely but I don’t think it would. And of course [writer] John [Sullivan] is not around. It would have to be somebody else and it was his.
“John’s genius and writing for a woman, it was a wonderful experience, I used to meet him for lunch quite regularly. But he was a genius, he knew how to write comedy that meant something. And of course, it really affected people. And I don’t know that you could use the same characters with somebody else at the helm. I’d be worried about that. So no, let’s keep it special. Something unique.”
Francis stars as Paula in new comedy I Want My Wife Back, playing the well-meaning but interfering mother of Caroline Catz’s Bex who is married to Murray (Ben Miller) but decides to leave him at the start of the series.
Working with Miller, she says, was a “delight” and the cast and crew are hoping for a second series.
“He’s a very generous, charming man who, although he had the majority of the workload, always had time, always was cheerful. A real professional, really, what can you say? And he’s brainy too. Good gracious, what more could a girl want?
“It was a really joyous experience and I think a lot of care had been taken over it. You know what I mean? The writers, they really took so much trouble about every single word and angle. I think it’s got a sort of charm, all of it. And it’s hard to describe it. I mean, it’s definitely not a sitcom.
“But what’s interesting is that it’s not Paula, it’s not my character, who’s the sort of interfering one. It’s more the husband, Don [played by Peter Wight]. Which is quite nice actually, because it’s such a cliché that it’s the mother who’s in there, stirring, and she’s not.”
Miller’s character Murray “means well,” she explains, but that isn’t quite enough.
“People are always asking him to do things. You know, “will you come away this weekend’ and do that. He’s just a pleaser. He has no idea that this is going on. And Paula, my character, and Don, they adore him. It’s not that Murray is an egoist or a selfish man, but he just can’t say no to people.”
But saying no is something Francis is more than capable of.
I Want My Wife Back starts on BBC1 at 9.30pm tonight