A couple of years after Six Dates with Barker aired on LWT, the very similar Seven of One was broadcast on BBC1. Both the BBC and Barker hoped that several of these one-off comedy playlets might have the potential to be developed into fully fledged series and this proved to be the case as Seven of One would spawn both of Barker’s most successful sitcoms – Open All Hours and Porridge.
As good as the Seven of One pilot of Open All Hours is, it would be hard to imagine that such a restrictive and enclosed format would later spawn four popular series which ran between 1976 and 1985. It’s even more amazing that Roy Clarke has revived the series in the 21st century with David Jason still going strong as Granville, now the spitting image of the late lamented Arkwright.
Roy Clarke (b. 1930) had contributed to a number of drama series in the late sixties and early seventies (The Troubleshooters, Mr Rose, The Power Game, Manhunt, etc) but comedy proved to be his enduring strength and in retrospect 1973 turned out to be a very significant year. At this point he was a respected, if not terribly high-profile, writer. But the Open All Hours pilot as well as the launch of Last of the Summer Wine would both help to launch him into the mainstream.
This Seven of One pilot presents the world of Arkwright and Granville to us pretty much fully formed. All of the familiar tics are here – Arkwright’s first words are “fetch a cloth Granville” as he spies something nasty left by a passing bird on the shop-front window, Granville fears the bite of the unforgiving till whilst Arkwright lusts after the generously formed figure of Nurse Gladys Emmanuel (played here by Sheila Brennan, later replaced by Lynda Barron for the series proper).
Virtually all good sitcoms feature peopled trapped together (Porridge is the ultimate example of this, of course). Mostly the ties are family or work-related, Open All Hours (like Steptoe & Son) neatly manages to combine the two. Granville is twenty five and yearns for a life outside of the restrictive and stifling world of Arkwright’s corner shop. How, he argues, can he possibly have any social life when they open in the early hours of the morning and don’t close until ten at night? The grasping Arkwright rides roughshod over these concerns – after all, if Granville ever left then he’d probably have to pay his replacement a decent wage (it’s almost certain that Granville receives little more than a pittance).
But there’s also some familial love shown by Arkwright (possibly). It’s a harsh world out there and he’s convinced that Granville will eventually be happier if he stays with what he knows (plus all of Arkwright’s empire will eventually come to Granville). Still Open All Hours has confirmed that despite all of Granville’s hopes and dreams he never managed to escape, turning into an Arkwright clone instead, which is something of a bitter joke.
Roy Clarke’s gift for wordplay is already in evidence. Arkwright is more than a little perturbed that Nurse Gladys Emmanuel seems to spend more time than he considers proper dealing with Wesley Cosgrave’s bottom, whilst the corner shop setting allows for a stream of characters to pass through (here it’s Yootha Joyce with a Northern accent and a young Keith Chegwin).
Favourite line? Mrs Scully (Joyce) asks Arkwright if she’ll give him half a bottle of sherry for her Claudine. He tells her that it sounds like a fair exchange!