Tonight at 8:30 – Red Peppers (21st April 1991)

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The first of Anthony Newley’s two appearances, Red Peppers is a delight from start to finish (my continuing grumbles about the odd audience laughter notwithstanding). There’s obviously considerable curiosity value in seeing Joan Collins teamed up with one of her ex-husbands (especially since Collins and Newley play a bickering married couple).

George and Lily Pepper are a middling music hall act, currently stuck in a nondescript provincial town in the middle of a fairly uninspiring (if varied) bill. They open the show on stage, dressed as sailors, with a saucy, innuendo laden song that I found to be great fun. How you could not love the sight of Newley and Collins bedecked in shocking orange wigs giving it everything they’ve got?

The one slight problem with this is they’re not supposed to be very good. Like Archie Rice in The Entertainer, the act should fall a little flat (which explains why the theatre audience react throughout with pained expressions). This doesn’t really come off though, since the studio audience are much more receptive, laughing regularly and applauding at the end.

Yet again this studio laughter doesn’t feel totally natural, although I didn’t find it as distracting as it was during Hands Across The Sea (maybe I’m just getting used to it). Mins you. if the studio audience did applaud warmly at the end of the song then I don’t know why it wasn’t removed, as it rather ruins the intention of the scene.

Post performance, the pair have a lengthy dressing room discussion about what went wrong. The barbs between George and Lily come flying thick and fast, with Collins and Newley both on very decent form.

Today’s playlet has a great deal of incidental colour. We never see any of the other acts perform – and only meet one of them, the tragedian Mabel Grace (Moyra Fraser), backstage – but enough comments about their fellow pros are slipped into the dialogue to build up an intriguing picture. The seediness of their current surroundings (at one point Lily laments that they don’t play the number one halls) also adds something – the production certainly benefited from location shooting in a real theatre.

Although Lily and George seem to loathe each other, they clearly despise everybody else even more. So when they’re attacked on several fronts – firstly by the alcoholically refreshed conductor Bert Bentley (Reg Varney) and then by the theatre manager Mr Edwards (Henry McGee) – they forget their differences and display an imposing united front. Watching Collins and Newley bickering is good fun, but it’s equally entertaining when they become a solid unit.

Reg Varney has the pick of the remaining roles. Bert is initially on affable terms with George but eventually they fall out when he dares to criticise George and Lily’s act. Varney looks to have been retired at the time (his previous television credit to this was a brief cameo in the Thames remake of The Plank back in 1979) but presumably the lure of acting with Collins and Newley was too intriguing a prospect to resist.

As for Joan, she’s good fun as a fast-talking, thoroughly working class turn. Quite a change from the previous week, but then that was the point of the series (and the original playlets too of course).

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