After the disappointment of Lola, things take an upward turn again with Come In and Lie Down. Doctor Swanton (Barker) is a brusque, seen-it-all psychiatrist who’s possibly met his match with Mr Matting (Michael Bates). Matting’s tale of being observed all the time by a small man in a Robin Hood hat with binoculars seems like a typical sort of delusion, but then Swanton sees the man as well ….
Since it’s scripted by John Cleese, it’s possibly no surprise that it has a definite Python feel (for example, Reginald Maulding is namechecked). Bates gives an energised performance as a man who has an intense fear of being labelled a looney. To this end, when he first enters Swanton’s consulting room he pretends to be the gas man, sympathising about the difficulties Swanton must face. “Blimey, what a job eh? Talking to loonies all day. Wouldn’t catch me being a psychiatrist, not me. I’ll stick to gas. A load of nutters aren’t they? In here, hopping around on one leg, squawking, think they’re Napoleon.”
Bates, best known for Last of the Summer Wine and It ‘Aint Half Hot Mum, freewheels in a most impressive fashion. To begin with, it appears that he has the more showy role (Barker comes off as rather pallid in comparison). But once Swanton believes he can also see Matting’s imaginary man, the power dynamic between the pair subtly shifts and Swanton begins to act in a hysterical fashion. Matting is rather irritated when Swanton declares Matting isn’t a looney. “Oh that’s nice isn’t it? If I can see him he’s imaginary but if you can see him he’s real. I get it. You think you’re Lord God Almighty don’t you? If a patent can see something you can’t see, he’s a looney, he should be down on the funny farm, but if Doctor Smartypants can see him, he’s there mate.”
The reveal of the imaginary man (Ian Trigger) is done subtly, as for a few minutes the audience is aware of him, but neither Swanton or Matting react. As Matting’s used to him being there all the time that’s understandable, but are we viewing the scene through his eyes only? It’s only when Swanton double-takes that the fun really starts.
Swanton’s mounting hysteria is a gift for Barker, who doesn’t disappoint. The conclusion, as all three debate the nature of existence, is also nicely handed. After Swanton proves that the imaginary man is real, Matting is able to leave a happy man – safe in the knowledge that he isn’t a looney. You can see the final story-beat coming a mile off, but it’s really the only obvious punchline.
Given how the early series of The Two Ronnies recycled material from their time at LWT, it’s easy to see a cut-down version of this working as a sketch, with Ronnie C taking the role of Michael Bates (despite the twenty five minute length, it’s played very much in the tempo of a typical Two Ronnies sketch). It’s certainly one that still stands up well today.