CAROLINE Fielding was a great editorial director � everyone said so. Then she married Donald Fairchild and had five children.
One morning, 26 years after their wedding she was driving him to the railway station, as she had done every day for the past 15 years, and casually dropped the suggestion that was to change their lives.
�I thought I might look for a job,� she said.
Those tentative words lit the fuse for a new ITV situation comedy called Executive Stress starting on Monday, which wil restore Penelope Keith to her rightful place as one of our very best comedy actresses.
It will also strike a deep chord within thousands of women who have set promising careers on indefinite hold to have children.
All the old stridency and hauteur of her two best roles � in The Good Life and To The Manor Born. have disappeared. This is Keith at her best playing a totally believable middle class, middle-aged woman with wit, finesse and touching vulnerability.
Her comedy is never forced because the situa� tion itself - a housewife and mother going back to work at the same publishing company where her husband works � is full of its own humour.
The producer and director, John Howard Davies, is the very one who cultivated Keith�s relatively unsung talents in Ihe Good Life . Above all, her co-star, Geoffrey Palmer the hang dog husband of Butterflies and the prejudiced major of A Fairly Secret Army is the perfect foil with his dry humour, understated style and rubbery features.
The wonder is that noone before thought of teaming the.two people who, more than any others, have distilled the essence of the middle classes.
�If anything it�s all come together a bit late. We�ve had women and mothers going off to be racing drivers or plumbers, but nothing so ordinary and apposite to the times,� says Howard Davies, who has already commissioned a second series.
Author George Layton, who also wrote Don�t Wait Up, was inspired by his own wife Moya�s experience after she found it impossible to juggle with a glamorous career in public relations, looking after American film stars, after the birth of their son and daughter.
�She tried going back to work, and felt guilty and decided she had to give up a month later,� he said. �Like Caroline In the series, she�d had a very good job and it set me thinking about all the compromises women have to make.
�It�s very hard to pick up where you left off more than 20 years ago. To me the crux of the series is that Donald has forgotten what a talented publishing editor his wife wasand she�s forgotten too. Her confidence is completely sapped.�
In the series Donald�s straight-faced, immediate reaction to his wife's ambition is that she shoUld look, for work in the local flower shop.
Even shehas only enough confidence to apply to her old firm for a secretarial vacancy.
By a stroke of luck, she gets her old job back. By a deft stroke of the pen, his firm is taken over by hers, and they find themselves working together in a company where strict rules ban husband and wife employees.
The core of the series which, makes very serious points about women, work and motherhood, is one that has set both stars thinking about their own lives.
Keith, who put her. career first and married too late to have children, is now considering adopting a child. She says: �I was always very single-minded and knew I wanted to be an actress more than anything else, to the exclusion of a man and a family.
�Later on that became something lacking in my life because what�s the use of having lots of success just for yourself?�
PALMER, married for 23 years to his wife Sally, with two children aged 20 and 21, has proudly watched her study for an Open University degree.
�It�s something that I and many other husbands are having to deal with these days, but I believe it�s a good thing.
�When I realised Sally wanted to go out and have her own interests, I thought: �Christ I used to be king.� But then I thought about it and decided that she should go out and get on with it.
�It�s a very middle-class thing. I think it shakes many a husband who likes to think of his wife as the little woman in the kitchen. It reminds him that the woman is not to be taken for granted.
�I have to admit I couldn�t do what Sally�s done.
�I just don�t know how women can run a home, look after children and either go out to work or get up at God-awful hours to listen to a lot of facts for their Open University degrees.'Thanks to Maree Wilson for sending this article which appeared in The Daily Mail (UK) on October 18, 1986.