EXECUTIVE STRESS was yet another vehicle for actress Penelope Keith who was the very upper class queen of a number of sit-coms for some considerable time. All of them very 'cosy' indeed.

Like Guinness, Keith's style is somewhat of an acquired taste. The series, which ran from 1986 to 1988, was created by actor George Layton who wrote all 19 episodes (comprising three series). Here Penelope is cast as Caroline Fairchild née Fielding (a mother of 5 we are expected to believe) who decides to go back into publishing after the children are grown up - though in reality this could be a little difficult but hey, this is a sitcom! Promptly she is offered a job as senior editing chief with a new company taken over by a major US publishing company, with her new boss Edgar Frankland Jr. (Harry Ditson). Just by co-incidence her husband Donald Fairchild (Geoffrey Palmer in Series 1 and Peter Bowles in Series 2 and 3) soon finds himself in the same building after Frankland’s parent company takes over Donald’s firm. As if this ‘shock’ wouldn’t be bad enough things soon get worse when the couple learn that their megalomaniacal boss Mr. Frankland Jr. is adamant to stay true to one of the companies policies: the firm forbids married couples from working together! Just as well that Caroline applied for the job using her maiden name Fielding, while hubby Donald naturally goes by his name Fairchild when taking on his position as a Senior Marketing Sales Manager. Both Caroline and Donald are, of course, brilliant - although she even more so. The difficulty is, however, to keep their marriage secret from their boss and other staff, in particular assistant cum secretary Anthea Duxbury (Elizabeth Counsell) who clearly has the hots for Donald – much to the amusement of Caroline.

The ‘no married couples are allowed to work in our company’ policy leads to many hilarious situations, with Caroline and Donald forced to apply their joint wit if they want to survive their careers in the publishing house. Only in Series 3 does boss Frankland finally get an inkling that Caroline and Donald might be more than just close colleagues but initially keeps quiet about it.
Nothing really exciting ever happens in EXECUTIVE STRESS which is a shame as the stage was set for endlessly thrilling options, in particular Series 2 and 3 which saw Peter Bowles in the role of Donald Fairchild – seeing how Bowles’ own series, LYTTON’S DIARY (broadcast a few years earlier) had all the pizzazz which this series lacks. Granted, EXECUTIVE STRESS is a comedy whereas Lytton is a drama about the life of a Fleet Street newspaper editor… still, EXECUTIVE STRESS could have been considerably more exciting than it is! Instead, we are subjected to mundane stuff such as Donald Fairchild staining his suit with marmalade before an early morning meeting, Caroline having wardrobe malfunctions, locking herself out of the house, locking herself in a stockroom etc etc. Oh dreary! Not to mention the fact that her (old-fashioned) hairstyle always looks perfect at all times, even when she just climbs out of bed, while her dress sense lies somewhat between Maggie Thatcher and frumpy gran rather then executive glamour. Clearly upper middles class (this also goes for their friends), the Fairchilds seems to sip wine at every occasion (private, business meetings, you name it there is always a glass of wine). One must wonder how this power couple manages to keep a clear head instead of being permanently sozzled! Don't worry though, it being a comedy we know things will work out for the best and the indomitable and clever Caroline will always come up trumps though the canned laughter gets a trifle irritating after a while. What is it with comedies and canned laughter, can’t audiences decide for themselves when they want to laugh?

Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles are a good double act and work off each other well. Geoffrey Palmer (Donald Fairchild in Series 1) is himself no stranger to sitcoms and was the partner to earlier sit-com queen Wendy Craig. Palmer is less supercilious than the taller and younger Bowles and is more identifiable. Harry Ditson (a bit of a mystery without a Wiki page) appears in most episodes as the neurotic American boss (who is a long time leaving for the States), if indeed he is American it is a 'stagey' accent but not overly important. As for the star... well, Margaret Thatcher reigned for thirteen glorious years and put the ‘Great’ back in Britain and well, Penelope is Dame Penelope and here, she never ever seems to put a foot wrong even once – not very realistic that!
EXECUTIVE STRESS plods along in that nice and undemanding kind of way, just don’t expect anything controversial or edgy (what, a series set in the world of publishing without any edge?).

As for the theme tune ‘Why we fell in love’ (performed by Julie Covington), it was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and truth be told this must be one of the worst theme songs ever. Schmaltzy, twee and quite unmemorable it is almost enough to put you off the series before even giving it a glimpse.