Two cars meet in a narrow country lane. One will have to back up and give way, but neither Dave (Merton), driving a Volkswagen Beetle, nor Mr Ferris (Geoffrey Whitehead), behind the wheel of a Bentley, are prepared to give any quarter. So a tense battle of nerves begins ….
The original version of Impasse was broadcast during the second series of Comedy Playhouse in 1963. Bernard Cribbins and Leslie Phillips were the implacable motorists, whilst Yootha Joyce and Georgina Cookson played their long-suffering wives. Here, Tilly Vosburgh is Dave’s wife, Kirsty, whilst Phyllida Law plays Mr Ferris’ spouse.
You might expect the script to lean towards the side of Dave, the little man facing off against the rich and privileged Mr Ferris, but that’s not really the case at all. Both are shown to be equally pig-headed and unlikable (it’s plainly no coincidence that they treat their wives in pretty much the same way – badly).
Mr Ferris has decided that Dave’s truculence is due to class envy, but maybe Dave just likes a fight. They nearly come to blows a little later, although their fight is more notable for the way each circles around the other, throwing punches in the air. It rather brings to mind a similarly non-contact scrap between Hancock and Sid in the classic radio HHH episode The Last Bus Home.
Just as you get the sense that the comic potential has been wrung out of this scenario, then help – in the form of an AA Man (Sam Kelly) turns up – shortly followed by an RAC Representative (Denis Lill). Kelly and Lill are just as good (if not better) than Merton and Whitehead, with the AA Man standing firmly behind his member, Dave, and the RAC Man equally steadfast in defending the interests of his member, Mr Ferris.
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again, but it’s a joy to see the quality of the casts in this series. It’s fair to say that Vosburgh and Law have little to do – although they do have a nice scene (not present in the original) where they’re able to pour scorn on their respective husbands. This leaves the field open for the two squabbling male sides to dominate proceedings and it’s amusing that the AA and RAC representatives carry on exactly the same sort of one-upmanship we’d previously seen from Dave and Mr Ferris.
The late arrival of a policeman (played by Roger Lloyd-Pack) who finally solves the impasse is another bonus. The sting in the tail – the winner of the battle finds he is forced to back up anyway – brings events to a satisfying conclusion. And unlike the original this benefited from being shot on location, rather than in the studio.