David Jason’s early career was very much intertwined with Barker’s. Jason’s respect and admiration for Barker has never been in doubt (to him, Barker was always “the guvnor”) and it’s plain that Jason considered his work with Barker, especially during the 1970’s, as something of a comedy apprenticeship – a chance for him to watch the master at work and learn from him.
Jason aged-up to play Dithers the gardener in Hark At Barker (1969 – 1970) and His Lordship Entertains (1972). His old-age make-up would also come in useful when he appeared as Blanco in Porridge (1975 – 1977). So it wouldn’t be until Open All Hours (1976 – 1985) that he was finally able to play a regular role of his own age opposite Barker.
The Odd Job also sees him act without aged make-up, as he appears as Clive, a man desperate for any odd jobs (“engines you want de-clogged or television sets, I mend typewriters and washing machines you know”). Arthur Harriman (Barker) does have a job for him – removing the scabbard from a samurai sword. Arthur can’t take the nagging from his wife Kitty (Joan Sims) any more, so has decided to take his own life. But when faced with the sword (plus Clive’s graphic description of hari-kari) he finds it impossible to do it himself, so wonders if Clive would do this odd job for him ….
Arthur is a meek, mild and fairly monotonous character whilst Clive (thanks to Jason’s comic tics and Northern accent) rather commands the screen. Given that Clive is by far the showier part, it’s interesting that Barker chose to play Arthur instead. This may be because, coming from an acting background, he didn’t have the ego that some comedians possessed and so wouldn’t have minded that Jason was earning more of the laughs.
Written by Bernard McKenna, who’d earlier penned several instalments of Hark at Barker and would later write several of Jason’s early sitcom efforts, A Sharp Intake of Breath and The Secret Life of Edgar Briggs, it’s a simple, but effective concept which is given a twist when Arthur and Kitty are reconciled. This means that he no longer needs Clive’s services, but convincing the enthusiastic Clive to halt his murderous plans proves to be a little tricky.
Part two is where we see Clive really begin to treat this odd job with gusto. He’s a man of limitless invention – for example, putting hydrochloric acid in Arthur’s milk so that his cereal disintegrates, setting up a tripwire which catches an unfortunate milkman instead, and almost managing to shoot Arthur in the park (instead some garden gnomes are dispatched).
It’s always nice to see Joan Sims, even if she has little to do, and the appearance of Derek Ware (playing the milkman) is a sure sign that something nasty is going to happen. Ware was one of those select band of stuntmen (along with the likes of Terry Walsh and Stuart Fell) who would become so ubiquitous that their arrival on screen was a clear indication that mayhem wouldn’t be far behind.
It’s a pity that The Odd Job only exists as a black and white film recording (due to the ITV colour strike) as I’ve no doubt that the location work in the second half would look rather better in colour. But no matter, it’s always a pleasure to see Barker and Jason together and whilst the final twist may be obvious it’s also satisfying. This tale would later be revived as a 1978 film with Jason reprising his role and Graham Chapman replacing Barker. Chapman’s involvement makes it an interesting Python curio, but I think that The Odd Job works best in this twenty five minute format.