George and the Dragon – Merry Christmas (24th December 1966)

Given that it stars Sid James, Peggy Mount and John Le Mesurier, it’s a little surprising that George and the Dragon isn’t better known (especially since, unusually for a mid sixties series, all twenty four episodes still exist). Maybe its relative anonymity is down to the fact that it’s in black and white – had it been made a few years later in colour it might have been one of those selected series granted eternal life on ITV3.

Based on the opening titles (which feature the names of Sid James and Peggy Mount battling for supremacy) and the name of the programme itself, you could be forgiven for assuming that George and the Dragon revolves around George Russell (Sid James) and battleaxe Gabrielle Dragon (Peggy Mount) constantly being at each other’s throats.

The series isn’t really like that though – Gabrielle does raise an eyebrow at George’s philandering ways, but there’s a lot more humour in her character than you might expect. George, on the other hand, is not terribly loveable – the fact that it’s Sid James helps to cushion the blow, but George is rather a selfish type ….

Both George and Gabrielle (as driver and housekeeper) are in the employ of the affable but rather vague Colonel Maynard (a perfectly cast John Le Mesurier). A gardener called Ralph (Keith Marsh) rounds off the household.

As this episode opens, George is attempting to seduce a with-it sixties dollybird called Irma (Yootha Joyce). Interesting to see that before Yootha made her name as a seventies battleaxe, she had her share of more glamourous roles. Lecherous old George is deprived from taking things with Irma as far as he hopes after suddenly realising that it’s eight in the morning (Eh? What have they been doing all night?). So the race is then on to get shot of her before everyone else wakes up.

Gabrielle is up and about though and highly amused at the sweet nothings George is whispering into Irma’s ear. “She’s going to get her death of cold, that’s more like a belt than a skirt” mutters Gabrielle through gritted but smiling teeth, as Irma wanders off into the morning.

There’s a good example of George’s selfish nature during the scene where they all exchange presents.  Gabrielle has bought something nice for George, but his present to her is simply one of his unwanted gifts (and he’s so dim that he’s forgotten to take the original tag off).  As I’ve said, thanks to Sid James’ playing he’s able to soften moments like these, but it’s far easier to be on Gabrielle’s side than George’s.

I adore the moment when Gabrielle stands longingly under the mistletoe and the other three – after preparing themselves – all troop over to give her a kiss!

They then depart for their separate Christmas destinations – George for a spot of one-on-one time with Irma, Gabrielle to stay with her sister, Ralph to spend time with his niece whilst the Colonel is off to his club to meet his brother.

But all their plans fall through, one way or another. George discovers he has a rival for Irma’s affections (her sailor friend returns from the high seas). There’s a brief spot of bedroom farce as Irma attempts to juggle both of her paramours, but this isn’t really developed as much as it could have been.

Gabrielle’s sister had forgotten that she invited her – so after realising that there’s no room at the inn, Gabrielle silently slips away.  That feels slightly tragic, but not as tragic as Ralph’s admission that he doesn’t actually have a niece (he always spends Christmas alone in the big house after everyone else has left).

With the Colonel also returning, the mismatched quartet then resolve to spend Christmas together.  This is a rather touching moment, nicely played by all four. Vince Powell and Harry Driver’s sitcom work may never have been particularly subtle, but George and the Dragon is one which I still enjoy revisiting today. If you haven’t seen it, then you could do worse than spending some of your Christmas money on the DVD set.

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