GILES FRENCH IS THE QUINTESSENTIAL GENTLEMAN'S GENTLEMAN
Back in the '60s, television was crowded with sitcoms about single parents. Divorce was still taboo, but death in the family, it seemed, served as the basis for a good comedy. Jed Clampet, Andy Griffith and John Forsythe were amongst the many men of the tube who tragically and unexplainably had lost the mothers of their children before they made it to the small screen. And then there was Bill Davis of "Family Affair."
"Family Affair" was a twist on the bachelor father trend. Swinging single Bill Davis has a bombshell dropped on him when his brother and sister-in-law are tragically killed in a car wreck. A second bombshell is dropped when each of their three children turn up at Bill's bachelor pad needing a place to live. Although reluctant at first, Uncle Bill acquiesces, and along with his "gentleman's gentleman," Mr. French, agrees to keep the family together.
The show began in 1966 and ran through the summer of 1971, and aside from the twist of who was raising the kids, the show was sweet and tame, like most family oriented shows of the day. Most episodes revolve around the usual family type 30-minute crisis with an instant fix, although "Family Affair" had a tendency to remember that the kids, six-year-old twins Buffy and Jody and their sixteen-year-old sister Cissy, were indeed orphans from a troubled past and handled that with sensitivity.
Much of the show's comic relief came from fastidious Mr. French, who had inherited most of the responsibilities of raising the kids as Uncle Bill was often traveling on business as a consulting engineer. A little miffed at his responsibilities as a nanny, French often appeared exasperated with the role, although there was never any doubt he cared deeply for his young charges.
One unique quality of "Family Affair" was that it took place in New York City, where the family lived in a luxurious Fifth Avenue apartment. This was very unusual, as most television families seemed to live on Primrose Lane, with a white picket fence in front of their large, Tudor home. Most of the show took place in the apartment, although they made frequent visits to the local park for outdoor activity.
Another unique aspect to the show was Uncle Bill's social life. Having kids did not keep him at home, and he was often seen escorting a lovely new female suitor. Cissy, being a teenager, also dated, and there was never a dull moment with the situations that would arise from that. It was, after all, the '60s, which was an era that created conflicts of its own. Over all, they were a well adjusted bunch considering the turmoil and tragedy that brought them all together.
Giles French is the quintessential "gentleman's gentleman." He's a proper Englishman, and is quite happy in the service of his bachelor boss. Mr. French's life is turned upside down when the Davis children come to live in the Fifth Avenue apartment of his employer, and is a little unhappy to find himself somewhat of a "Mary Poppins." It is not long before French is totally charmed by the children, and the stuffy butler quickly warms up to his new responsibilities. Mr. French also has ties to the Royal Family, as we find out not long after the children arrive, and he whisks off to London to take care of the Queen for nine weeks as his brother, Nigel French, fills in for him at the Davis residence.
The very English Sebastian Cabot got his start as an actor in British stage and films in the late 1930s. By the '50s, he had received many roles in the US including early episodes of "Gunsmoke" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." Older viewers will remember him as the criminologist on the TV drama "Checkmate," which ran from 1960 to 1962. Youngsters will know Cabot's voice as the narrator to all the Disney Whinnie the Pooh cartoons of the '60s and '70s. Of course, he forever will be Mr. French to millions of TV aficionados. Cabot died of a stroke in 1977 after a long and prolific career. During the show's first season, Cabot took ill and needed to take several weeks off to convalesce. For those nine weeks, actor John Williams played the part of Mr. Giles French's brother, Nigel.