Initially titled, Jam & Jerusalem is a British comedy-drama that aired on BBC One from 2006 to 2009. Written by Jennifer Saunders and Abigail Wilson, it starred Sue Johnston, Jennifer Saunders, Pauline McLynn, Dawn French, Maggie Steed, David Mitchell, and Sally Phillips. Earlier episodes also starred Joanna Lumley and Doreen Mantle. On BBC America the first series was aired as Clatterford.
The show centers on a Women’s Guild in a fictional small West Country town called Clatterford St. Mary.
It first aired on 24 November 2006. The second series began airing on 1 January 2008 with a 40-minute special and finished on 1 February 2008. The third series was filmed from April 2009. It consists of three one-hour specials, and began its broadcast on BBC One on 9 August 2009.
In November 2009, on her blog, Pauline McLynn announced that Jam & Jerusalem would not be returning for a fourth series. She later stated that it was the decision of the BBC and not Jennifer Saunders.
The first episode of Jam & Jerusalem was shot in Autumn 2005 as a pilot (not broadcast at the time) and led to the BBC commissioning of the rest of the six-part series and a Christmas special which were filmed in Autumn 2006. The second series was filmed in Autumn 2007. Both series were filmed in North Tawton, Devon, on nearby Dartmoor, and in Staines.
The programme is one of a group of shows being filmed in High-Definition for a trial run in November on the BBC. The theme tune is a version of The Kinks’ “The Village Green Preservation Society” sung by Kate Rusby, whose songs are also used as incidental music.
Jam & Jerusalem has no laugh track and is not recorded before a studio audience. The title phrase has traditionally been associated with the Women’s Institute in England and Wales, who are popularly supposed to devote much time to the making of jam, and for whom the hymn “Jerusalem” is an unofficial anthem.
Jennifer Saunders’ real life daughters, Ella, Beattie and Freya Edmondson, all appear in the show. Beattie and Freya as the daughters of Saunders’ character, Caroline, also named Beattie and Freya respectively. Ella Edmondson appears performing a song from her Hold Your Horses album.
“Clatterford” opens with rolling hills, sheep and village greens. This is scenery out of Hardy: the Wessex of Thomas Hardy, or the Yorkshire of Robert Hardy, who played the senior veterinarian on the series “All Creatures Great and Small.” The village of Clatterford is idyllic, but the people in it are not.
There’s a cheese-factory worker with a dual personality (Dawn French, Ms. Saunders’s comedy partner) and a New Age victim named Tash (Sally Phillips, memorable as the obscenity-spouting friend in “Bridget Jones’s Diary”). Ms. Saunders’s character is name-dropping landed gentry. (“Lovely evening, until Sting played the lute.”) The best-looking people are only marginally attractive; the rest are variations on grotesque.
Joanna Lumley, who undercut her physical glamour as the Botoxed Patsy on “Absolutely Fabulous,” goes even further as Delilah, the ancient church organist. In fake dentures, spectacles and a knit cap, Ms. Lumley fearlessly demonstrates the indignities of old age and proves that spitting up cake can be as funny as a neck brace or a well-executed pratfall. But Patsy brought her troubles on herself; when Delilah chokes, it’s because she’s old. And there are people around to keep her. That’s a hint that there may be a warm center to this apparently cool British pudding.
The protagonist is Sal Vine (Sue Johnston), who works as her physician husband’s nurse. Middle-aged and looking it, Sal has an antic streak. The local head of the Ladies Guild tells her the group needs “new blood.” When she comes to distribute prescriptions at the next Guild meeting, she brings along her red-veined rubber phlebotomy arm.
“Kill me if I ever join the Guild,” she tells her friend Tip.
Tip promises, “I’ll kill you, and I’ll knit you a coffin.”
This is the tipoff that Sal will soon be a Guild member. All it takes is the death of her husband, followed by a hilarious funeral in which an altar hanging called the “Web of God” catches fire. Then comes a visit from the puerile representative of the local Grieving Group, who asks, “Have you made death a color yet?”
Although Sal herself is a mess — in the episode’s funniest bit she spends the night in her dog’s bed — she ends up comforting the comforter.
The simplest forms of the pastoral genre — Jan Karon’s Mitford novels, “Far From the Madding Crowd” or even the Yorkshire-based movie “Calendar Girls” — are elegies that awaken nostalgia for a vanishing way of life. When mysteries are set in British villages, as in the “Midsomer Murders” series, surface charms mask a subversive reality: Evil lurks everywhere, even here.
“Clatterford,” for all its outrageousness, belongs to the first category. There are no homicidal secrets. (Although Sal and Tip might have killed Sal’s husband, they did it while trying to save him.) The secret is that these people are as much a web of God as the altar hanging they despise. This series takes away one vision of country life and gives us something slightly deeper.
Directed by Mandie Fletcher; written by Jennifer Saunders; Jo Sargent, producer; Jon Plowman, executive producer; music composed by Kate Rusby and John McCusker; title song composed by Ray Davies, performed by Ms. Rusby.
WITH: Jennifer Saunders (Caroline), Sue Johnston (Sal Vine), Pauline McLynn (Tip), Maggie Steed (Eileen), Joanna Lumley (Delilah), Dawn French (Rosie), David Mitchell (James), Sally Phillips (Tash), Patrick Barlow (the Vicar) and Doreen Mantle (Queenie).