THE family who brought one of Britain’s most watched TV shows ever to the quaint Somerset countryside has marked the 40th anniversary of the programme.

To The Manor Born was filmed at Cricket House, in Cricket St Thomas, starting in 1979.

The instant hit starred Penelope Keith as Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, one-time owner of the house who had been forced to sell up when her husband died.

Opposite her on the small screen was Peter Bowles, whose character Richard DeVere was a Czechoslovakian supermarket owner, and who bought ‘Grantleigh Manor’ in episode one.

The series one finale saw nearly 24 million people tune in on November 11, 1979, a feat which has only been passed by one sitcom since, Only Fools and Horses.

Instead of Mrs fforbes-Hamilton, Cricket House was actually owned by the Taylor family in those days, and since 1967 had been run as a wildlife park.

As well as being filmed on site, much of the show was written in Cricket St Thomas by Peter Spence.

Mr Spence married into the Taylor family and said much of the material seen in the show was taken from what he saw around the farm.

Steven Taylor is Mr Spence’s brother-in-law and one of the site’s occupants during filming.

He said: “My sister was living on a farm on the edge of the estate with her husband, who was a script writer.

“He had met Penelope Keith at a house party, and then the BBC asked him to write a script for her for the radio.

“When they read it they decided they wanted it for the TV. It was a huge immediate success.”

The plan was originally for Audrey to move into a smaller dwelling next to Cricket House, where Steven actually lived.

However, producers decided it was still too big and shifted her a mile down the road into West Lodge - also a Taylor property at the time but since sold.

The show filmed a pillar outside West Lodge and then placed a near identical post outside Cricket House to give the illusion that just a few metres separated the two.

“In those days we were running the wildlife park and getting around 300,000 visitors a year,” said Steven

“Sometimes they had to redo a take because of an animal noise in the background.”

The show was such a success that the tax man couldn’t believe the Taylors only received £5,000 for the first series. An investigation was launched, which ultimately turned up nothing.

Steven added: “We also filmed the Anchor butter advert here with the football cows, and we got £25,000 for that one shoot.”

As well as owning the wildlife park, the Taylor family were responsible for bringing Mr Blobby to Somerset in 1994, although the Crinkley Bottom attraction closed two years later.

In the late 1990s, the Taylors over-expanded into the dairy industry, and when their business with milk went bust they were forced to sell off some assets.

This included the cheese factory, which is now part of the biggest dairy company in the world, Lactalis.

Cricket House and the wildlife park were bought by Warner Leisure Hotels and the exotic animals started to be sold off.

That wasn’t the end of the Taylors however, as they still have around 1,000 acres of Cricket St Thomas land, and have started rebuilding the family business.

There are 14 acres of solar panels, and industrial units occupied by furniture, clothes, 4x4 and caravan firms.

More recently, Steven’s son Matt opened a series of holiday homes - Swandown Lodges - within walking distance of Cricket House, although far enough away to enjoy their own cut of countryside.

Adults visiting also have access to Cricket House’s pool and spa facilities.

The Taylors can still be seen around the old manor house looking after their own land, as well as still helping out with the area they sold off.

For more information on the Swandown Lodges, click here.