Arnold (Merton) and Primrose (Josie Lawrence) are carrying on a passionate, albeit long-distance, affair by post. The only problem is that they’ve yet to meet and both have been rather economical with the truth.
Arnold, a coalman by trade, has rechristened himself Damon, a hard-working brain surgeon who drives a Porsche whilst Primrose is Michelle, an international model often to be found in the pages of Vogue. Both exchange photographs (not of themselves naturally) which means that when they finally come face to face confusion is bound to reign ….
The original Sealed with a Loving Kiss was broadcast in 1962, during series one of Comedy Playhouse, with Ronald Fraser and Avril Elgar as the two would-be lovers.
Comedy and melancholy often sit side-by-side in Galton & Simpson’s material – countless examples can be found in their most famous works (Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe & Son). Hancock and Harold were classic under-achievers, constantly knocked about by an uncaring world that seemed not to even notice they were there.
This same theme is deftly developed here. Both Arnold and Primrose are perfectly nice people who live respectable lives, but there’s clearly self-esteem issues which have made them take refuge in fantasy. We never learn precisely what makes Primrose tick, but Arnold’s neuroses are laid bare in part one.
Arnold still lives with his mother (an excellent turn by Rosemary Leach) who has sabotaged his previous relationships and now seems to relish telling him that he’s too old to get married. After all, who would look twice at him? Merton really seems to spring to life when he’s acting opposite quality players and sparkles here.
Both Arnold and Primrose are disappointed that their dates (Michelle and Damon) haven’t turned up, so they decide to have a cup of tea in the railway station café. Merton and Lawrence, both members of the Comedy Store Players, had a long performing history, which helps to explain why they’re so comfortable in each others company. Lawrence displays a pleasing vulnerability and both combine to clearly touch the hearts of the studio audience (whenever you hear an “awww” from the audience, you know you’ve struck gold).
After the disappointment of The Radio Ham, we’re on firmer ground here. No doubt helped by the fact it was a much more unfamiliar piece, we feel more invested in the fates of Arnold and Primrose, especially when they decide to eschew their fantasy lives and embrace the reality in front of them.
Packed with nice touches (for example, when Primrose reads Arnold’s letter, the voice she hears is that of the urbane Michael Jayston) Sealed with a Loving Kiss is a series one highlight.