Back to May 1986 (19th May 1986)

The repeats just keep on coming, although many of them (like The Rock ‘N’ Roll Years) are very welcome. It’s difficult to articulate today quite how magical this series was back then – when history (news, music, entertainment) wasn’t available at the click of a button, these half hour digests were windows into vanished worlds.

Today’s episode, 1963, was – of course – notable for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but for a generation of young Doctor Who fans it meant we could enjoy a clip from An Unearthly Child. With the Five Faces repeat from 1981 a distant memory and the VHS release still four years away, it was like gold dust ….

Moving over to BBC2, there’s another chance to see The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. And on ITV’s there’s a re-run of Edward and Mrs Simpson, now stripped over three evenings. As it was originally broadcast in seven parts, it looks like it’s been trimmed down to fit six one-hour slots.

Rather like, Winston Churchill – The Wilderness Years, it has a supporting cast to die for. If the likes of Nigel Hawthorne, Peggy Ashcroft, Marius Goring, Cherie Lunghi, Kika Markham, John Shrapnel, Maurice Denham, Geoffrey Lumsden, Patrick Troughton, Patricia Hodge, Wensley Pithey, Gary Waldhorn and Hugh Fraser doesn’t get the pulse racing then you’re probably reading the wrong blog …

Back to May 1977 (1st May 1977)

Rounding off my week in 1977 with a skim through Sunday’s schedules.

The Good Life is an obvious pick – tonight’s new episode is The Weaver’s Tale.

It never fails to give me a twinge of amusement when somebody comments on Twitter about how selfish Tom is – why has it taken them so many decades to work this out? Tonight’s episode is a perfect example of his working methods – Tom spends his and Barbara’s hard earned profit on a loom without consulting her. No surprises though that everything works out in the end.

London ITV has an afternoon repeat of The Protectors whilst the Midlands plumps for Space 1999. I think I’ll go for The Protectors (partly because Space 1999 has never really interested me and partly because The Protectors, although far from perfect, rarely outstayed its welcome at 25 minutes).

I’ll stick with ITV for a repeat of Edward VII and (from a variety of regional films) Two Way Stretch.

If I had access, then both Jubilee and She would be on my list. Maybe they’ll surface sometime in the future, fingers crossed …

Back to April 1977 (25th April 1977)

I’ve fired up the Randomiser, which has taken me back to 1977 to spend a week riffling through the television schedules. Hope there’s some good programmes to watch ….

There’s something pleasing about Monty Python and Q6 sitting next to each other on BBC2 (especially since the Pythons were always quick to acknowledge the debt they owed to Spike). Today’s edition of Python hails from the first series (Man’s Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century) which is fine by me, as it’s probably the run of episodes I return to the most.

Given the lengthy gap between Q5 and Q6, Milligan was on top form throughout most of Q6 (later series tended to crop up more regularly and were much more bitty).

I’ve just started rewatching Don’t Forget to Write! so that’s going on the list. This programme always has a slightly odd feel for me – it could easily have fitted into a 30 minute sitcom slot, but instead was a 50 minute non-audience drama/comedy. George Cole, Gwen Watford with Francis Matthews head the cast.

The BBC schedules are stuffed with repeats today. Apart from Python and Q6 on BBC2 there’s also Poldark and Play for Today on BBC1. The Play for Today repeat makes sense as the sequel to this play will be broadcast tomorrow, so I’ll be tuning in for both of them (anything with Peter Barkworth is worth a look).

All of this means that I won’t have much time over on ITV, although if I’ve a spare half hour then there’s always Coronation Street.

Back to April 1979 (4th April 1979)

During the next seven days I’ll be sampling April’s schedules between 1979 and 1985. As before, I’m only going to choose programmes that I can actually source from my archive, so anything which looks intriguing but I don’t have will have to be sadly passed over. Let’s dive in ….

BBC1 offers a repeat of Happy Ever After which is followed by a repeat of Accident (no doubt the high preponderance of repeats was irritating certain viewers).

Accident has reached episode two, Take Your Partners. It’s an interesting series, which focuses on the ramifications of the same event (a multi vehicle accident) from different perspectives. This gives it a similar feel to Villains (LWT, 1972). There’s no shortage of good actors across the series’ eight episodes and this was one of three directed by the always reliable Douglas Camfield.

Over on ITV, there’s chicken issues in Coronation Street (a short-lived but nevertheless amusing plotline which sees an initially reluctant Hilda transformed into a doting fowl lover). Later I’ll be crossing over to BBC2 for the start of a new series – Q8. By this point, Spike Milligan’s idiosyncratic sketch show defies any sort of description – but, if you’re in the right mood, there’s usually some nuggets of gold still to be found.

On this day (9th January)

Strangers on a Train, the first episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1973.

There might be previous examples which have slipped my mind, but WHTTLL has to be one of the first sitcoms which allowed its characters to grow and develop. Most sitcoms prior to this (Steptoe & Son or Dad’s Army, say) existed in a kind of stasis, but the Bob and Terry of 1973 were certainly different from the young lads we first met in the early sixties.

Given Bolam and Bewes’ later estrangement, it’s hard not to rewatch the series without pondering how far real life mirrored fiction. Graham McCann’s summation of their relationship (click here) might be a little waspish towards Bewes, but it does help to redress the balance previously painted (largely by Bewes as a victim, it must be said).

Throughout WHTTLL it becomes obvious that Bob and Terry have little now in common and it’s mainly the ties of childhood friendship which still keep them together. For Bolam and Bewes during the 1970’s, it was only the work that kept them together – like Bob and Terry they were totally different people with few shared interests.

Mind you, I don’t have a problem with discovering this and am always surprised when someone states that they find it difficult to now watch the series after learning that the stars weren’t the best of friends. For me, they’re simply giving an acting performance – and if they convince, then they’re very good actors.

The Grand Design, the first episode of Yes Prime Minister, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1986.

I think that the first series of YPM has to be my favourite run of episodes (Yes Minister was always consistent, but these eight episodes just have the edge). By now the formula was well established, the three regulars were totally comfortable with their characters and the elevation of Jim Hacker to the PM’s chair gave the series a little extra spice.

Sitcom fans were well catered for this evening, as you could then switch over to BBC1 to catch the first episode of Blackadder IIBells.

Sirens, the first episode of Rockliffe’s Babies, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1987.

For the best part of thirty years the BBC pumped out a series of top-rated police series – Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and its various sequels and Juliet Bravo. After Juliet Bravo came to an end in 1985, they struggled to find a long-running replacement.

Rockliffe’s Babies briefly looked like it might have the legs, but in the end it only ran for two series. Oh, plus there was the faintly bizarre spin-off in which Rockliffe became a country copper (which was almost as jarring as seeing DI Maggie Forbes in the C.A.T.S. Eyes environment).

Reviewing it now, Rockliffe’s Babies is patchier than I remember, but there are some strong episodes and it has the same urban feel of The Bill from this period (like its Thames counterpart, the show was shot entirely on VT).

Ian Hogg’s always good to watch (although in this one he’s only called upon to utter a few words) and maybe casting seven relatively unknown young actors was done in the hope that one or two stars might emerge who could then be given their own series (as had happened with the likes of Auf Wiedersehen Pet). Most are still acting today, although Susanna Shelling’s post Rockliffe career was fairly brief (her last television credit was in 2007).

On this day (3rd January)

Peter the Postman, the first episode of Camberwick Green, was originally broadcast on BBC1 in 1966.

The first and arguably the greatest of the Trumptonshire trilogy, this is the series that features the iconic Windy Miller. Whenever I post a clip on Twitter, I like to play Camberwick Green bingo by wondering how long it’ll take before someone mentions Windy’s fondness for cider or posts a screengrab from Life On Mars …

The Bill Poster, the first episode of Trumpton, was originally broadcast on BBC1 in 1967.

Gordon Murray (or maybe the BBC schedulers) were obviously keen on the 3rd of January, as exactly a year after Camberwick Green first aired, along came Trumpton. All together now – Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb ….

Meet the Gang, the first episode of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was originally broadcast in 1974.

Fair to say that this is a series that polarises opinion. Two things – Sergeant Major Williams’ treatment of the platoon (they’re nothing but “a bunch of poofs”) and Michael Bates’ casting as Ranji Ram – remain hotly contested talking points.

Jimmy Perry made it plain that he was drawing on his own experiences and men like Williams did exist, so I personally don’t have a problem with him – plus if he wasn’t there to provide conflict, then the series would have fallen somewhat rather flat.

This wasn’t the first time that Michael Bates had played an Indian character, but Ranji is a far more rounded character than the stereotype Bates portrayed in an episode of The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder. And there’s something rather bittersweet about Ranji’s unflagging love of Britain, as it becomes clear over time (although this is left unspoken) that if he ever did get to the UK then he’d quickly find out it wasn’t quite the paradise he imagines it to be.

John Thaw, born in 1942.

Rifling through my Thaw collection for something slightly obscure to watch today, I’ve gone for The Absence of War, a Screen Two from 1995 adapted by David Hare from his own play.

Last of the Summer Wine – And a Dewhurst Up a Fir Tree (27th December 1979)

There’s no reason why Christmas specials have to be set at Christmas – even though most of them are. Roy Clarke, who established a mild anti-festive tone in his previous LOTSW festive special, has his (Christmas) cake and eats it in this one – there’s plenty of Christmas talk, even though the setting is late summer.

It’s always a little jarring to revisit these early episodes and witness our three heroes doing their own stunts. The sight of Sallis, Owen and Wilde indulging in a spot of plastic bag sledging is a joy though – especially since even the normally reserved Foggy seems to be enjoying himself for once.

It’s not long before Foggy’s normal character clicks back into gear though. Back at Clegg’s house he – with typically military precision – inflicts a slide-show on the other two. Neither are exactly delighted. Compo hopes that it’s not Foggy’s holiday snaps again whilst Clegg is slightly anxious, re his curtains (“I hate drawing my curtains during the daytime. Suppose the neighbours start sending flowers”).

Foggy’s pictures reveal a dismal picture of last Christmas – after taking Compo’s advice all their Christmas shopping was carried out on the 24th of December, with the result that they had no trimmings and a rather paltry Christmas dinner (a fish finger and a chip). But the attentive viewer will know that their previous Christmas as transmitted on television wasn’t like this at all, so clearly time in LOTSW land runs in a different way to the rest of the country.

Determined not to be caught napping a second time, Foggy decides the time is right to start their Christmas shopping (but finds that festive cards and treats are thin on the ground in August). Things get no better later on after he buys himself a bargain (100 Christmas trees for just £10). The Forestry Commission are having a summer sale you see.

It slowly dawns on Foggy that he’s been had (but then if you exchange money in the pub with someone called Big Eric, what do you expect?). Poor Foggy is eventually brought back to reality when the three trek over to see his purchases – since each tree is 100 ft high, they’re going to be a tad tricky to cut down ….

Brian Wilde rather drives this episode. I love Foggy’s wistful shake of the head when Compo asks him whether MI5 had attempted to recruit him. “I dropped hints that I was available when me time was up in the army. I watched for the postman every morning since, but nothing”. The final scene – which plays over the end credits – of Foggy left alone also rather tugs at the heartstrings.

Elsewhere, Ivy and Nora enjoy a cup of tea and swop notes about the sex-pest in their lives – Compo. Over the years, as the regular female cast grew, these interludes would become a regular fixture. This one, despite being a two-hander, is still good though – Ivy advising Nora to take a spoonful of sugar occasionally (“you might find it might relax you. Keep your hands off your airing cupboard”). The mundanity of their conversation (“troublesome as men are, their old vests make for lovely dusters”) is delightful.

They then plot to stop Compo in his tracks. Nora advises Ivy to drop the chip pan down his trousers (“the sooner it gets covered in batter the safer it’s going to be”). Ouch! In the end they elect to just forcibly remove his trousers, but maybe – for the moment – it may have done the trick.

Last of the Summer Wine – Small Tune On a Penny Wassail (26th December 1978)

Small Tune On a Penny Wassail opens with Wally – still dressed in his pyjama top – briefly tasting a moment of freedom before being dragged back into the house by Nora to continue his festive obligations. A reflective Compo, observing this domestic fracas, sighs before walking down the deserted streets. This is an early sign that Roy Clarke won’t be bashing you over the head with false Christmas sentiment – that’s simply not his way.

A moment of levity then occurs when Compo spies a lad with a new skateboard. Ever the child at heart, he can’t resist having a go (as you might expect, he falls off rather abruptly). This isn’t a big set-piece moment, but it does set things up for the episode climax.

The others are also given their solo moments. Foggy, after attending church, manages to accidentally hit the vicar in a very delicate place with his stick. It’s a typical Foggy moment – for a brief moment he’s given an air of authority and respectability, which is then abruptly punctured.

Meanwhile Clegg, never one to be overflowing with Christmas cheer, has nevertheless stirred himself and wandered off to the phonebox to ring up his friend, Gordon (Larry Noble). Gordon’s not in the mood to receive yuletide greetings though, due to the fact a fire’s broken out in his shed. What caused the fire remains an unresolved mystery ….

Eventually all three meet up at Clegg’s house for Christmas dinner. Compo’s assistance in the kitchen is clearly not called for, so he stalks around the house like a bored child whilst the other two reflect on the time of the year. Clegg: “Christmas comes but once a year, it just seems longer.”

The cynical Clegg gets most of the best lines during these scenes. “I gave up smoking so that I could live longer. It’s at times like this you wonder if you’re doing the right thing”. At least the meal prepared by Clegg looks like it was worth eating – which almost makes up for the air of melancholy that’s descended over them. Although when we drop in on some conventional family units later on it’s plain they’re not having a particularly sparkling time either.

Foggy suggests they pop down the hospital to visit poor old Edgar (Teddy Turner), who there all on his own. But of course it’s revealed that Edgar’s got everything he could wish for – all the food he can eat and plenty of attention from the nurses. Compo acidly mentions later that even the man dying in the next ward is having a better time than they are.

We’re then given a little vignette showing Ivy and Sid at home in their kitchen. They’re busy feeding the hordes of (unseen) relatives who have descended on them – Ivy with an air of duty, Sid with an ever increasing sense of exasperation. There’s a matching moment with Nora and Wally, where Wally is given a killer putdown. “Why don’t you go sit down, Nora? You’ve been on your mouth all day”.

Back at Clegg’s house it’s finally time for the presents. It’s always seemed slightly odd to me that Clegg and Foggy wrapped their presents for Compo in the same type of wrapping paper (plus their presents to each other were also in identical paper, albeit different from Compo’s). If you see what I mean. It’s probably easier to understand when you watch the scene but there’s something not quite right there.

They all seem quite chuffed with their gifts, as does Ivy when she receives an unexpected present from Sid. Sid and Ivy’s café based warfare can be vicious at times but there’s clearly still a frisson of love between them, even if it’s buried very deep. Her look of pleasure at the black negligee gifted to her by her husband suggests that his luck might be in later. Or not, depending on your point of view ….

We’re heading into the era when stunts (and stunt doubles) would dominate. This episode has been much more reflective and downbeat, but I suppose you can’t blame Roy Clarke for wanting to end things on a high – so an irresistible force (Compo on a skateboard) manages to navigate his way through a seemingly immovable object (the Dodworth Colliery Brass Band).

I’ve still yet to work out how the episode title ties back to the episode itself though. Answers on a postcard please.

The Dawson Watch – Simply Media DVD Review

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Les Dawson’s road to television stardom was a long and rocky one. Born in Collyhurst, Manchester in 1934, Dawson pursued numerous dead-end jobs whilst attempting to break into the comedy world.  After many false starts, thanks to a spot on Opportunity Knocks his luck slowly began to change.

His own show – Sez Lez – which ran on Yorkshire Televison from 1969 to 1976 was key in establishing his brand of entertaining miserablism.  Whilst some of the early editions were a bit thin comedy-wise, the arrival of a crop of experienced writers such as Barry Cryer and David Nobbs gave the show a considerable boost.  Having John Cleese as a regular co-star for a while didn’t hurt either.

Whilst with Yorkshire, Dawson also appeared in The Loner (scripted by Alan Plater) and Dawson’s Weekly (penned by Galton and Simpson) so he didn’t lack for heavyweight writers. Throw in a number of one-off specials, guest spots on other people’s programmes and appearances on panel shows such as Joker’s Wild and Celebrity Squares and it’s fair to say that by the mid seventies Dawson had well and truly arrived.

His defection to the BBC in 1977 wasn’t a shock on the same level as the departure of Morecambe and Wise to Thames, but it still raised a few eyebrows.  Lacking his familiar group of writers (even though they would have been happy to continue working with him) Dawson’s first BBC starring venture – imaginatively titled The Les Dawson Show – turned out to be something of a damp squib.

The writers – including Eddie Braben and a young David Renwick – were strong, but in some respects it seemed to be little more than a Sez Lez rehash (Les interacting with guest stars – such as Lulu – plus regular spots for singers and dancers).  The time was clearly right for Les to do something a little different next time and so The Dawson Watch (1979 – 1980) was born.

Dawson’s monologues (which he wrote himself, the sketches tended to be penned by other writers) often railed at life’s follies, so a series in which Les examined a different hot topic each week (Housing, Transport, Money, etc) was something which played to his strengths.

Along with a new writing team – Ian Davidson as script editor, Terry Ravenscroft and Andy Hamilton providing the sketches – the show began to take shape.  The Dawson Watch has the air of a consumer programme in which Les introduces sketches illustrating the topic of the week whilst moving around a studio packed with high-tech equipment (well, high-tech for the late seventies) and attractive young ladies pushing buttons.

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It’s fair to say that the first series was a learning experience for all concerned.  Dawson seemed a little ill-at-ease in the first programme, only coming to life when he began to banter with the audience about where they live.  Once he does that – and presumably starts to go off-script – he visibly perks up.  Although there’s plenty of new material in his monologues, several old favourites (“until I was fifteen, I thought that knives and forks were jewellery”) also receive airings.

There are so many gems which can be mined from Dawson’s routines, such as this bleak portrait of Christmas.  Les confided that he could “only remember being given one Christmas present by my father. It was a do-it-yourself electric train set. Turned out to be a roll of fuse wire and a platform ticket”.

Possibly the major failing of the first series is the fact that Dawson doesn’t appear in many of the sketches.  Familiar faces such as Cosmo Smallpiece and Cissie and Ada do pop up, but most of the sketches are handled by others.  There’s certainly some very talented performers on view during these early shows – Sam Kelly, Johnny Ball, Michael Knowles, John Junkin, Patrick Newell, Terence Alexander, David Lodge, Andrew Sachs – but it would have been much more enjoyable had we seen Dawson playing off against them.

However, one of Les’ early sketch appearances (with Roy Barraclough as Cissie) is a Dawson classic.

CISSIE: Leonard and I went to Greece last year.
ADA: Oh, Bert and I have been to Greece, with Wallace Arnold’s Sunkissed Package Holiday and Inter-Continental Tours.
CISSIE: Oh, really? Did you have the shish kebabs?
ADA: From the moment we arrived. All down that side.
CISSIE: Did you see the Acropolis?
ADA: See it? We were never off it.

Clearly lessons had been learned for series two as Dawson takes a much more central role in the sketches whilst Vicki Michelle (as one of the computer girls) proved to be a welcome additon to the line-up. The girls in the first series were rarely called upon to be anything more than mute and attractive – acting simply as fodder for Dawson’s remarks – but Michelle possessed the comic chops to be able to engage in banter with him (which made Les’ lecherous advances seem a little less uncomfortable).

The astonishing roster of familiar faces making guest appearances during series one was reduced for the second and third series.  As was more common with series of this type, a “rep” of performers was used instead – Roy Barraclough headed the list, with Daphne Oxenford and Gordon Peters amongst the other regulars.

The formula remained the same for the third and final series (broadcast in 1980 and culminating with a Christmas Special discussing the obvious topic of Christmas). Vicki Michelle wasn’t featured so prominently, although one of her future Allo, Allo! co-stars, Kirsten Cooke, made a few appearances whilst it was also nice to see the likes of George Sweeney and Michael Keating.

Compared to some of his contemporaries, such as Mike Yarwood and Dick Emery, Les Dawson is very well represented on DVD. Virtually all of his surviving ITV material can be purchased from Network whilst this release from Simply constitutes a welcome chunk of his later BBC work. Hopefully more will surface in the future.

Whilst some aspects of Dawson’s humour haven’t aged well, there’s still so much of interest here – his wonderfully crafted monologues, the impressive parade of supporting actors – to make it easy for me to wholeheartedly recommend this release.

The Dawson Watch consists of nineteen 30 minute episodes spread across three discs (six, six, seven) and is subtitled. It’s released tomorrow (4th March 2019) by Simply Media and can be ordered directly here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

 

 

The Two Ronnies – Sid & Lily, George and Edie

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Trawling through the British Newspaper Archive on a separate research project, I stumbled across this interesting article from the Daily Mirror, dated the 29th of October 1979.

It reported how the death of Freddie Usher (who wrote the Lily & Edie segments of these joint sketches) might mean the characters wouldn’t be seen again  (John Sullivan was responsible for writing the Sid & George parts).

Whenever I watch these sketches I’m always conscious of the fact that I enjoy the segments with Sid & George much more than Lily & Edie’s contribution.  I’d previously thought that this was down to the fact that the Rons in drag never quite convinced (at least outside of their barnstorming musical numbers).

Certainly compared to the masters of the genre during the seventies – Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough – the Rons never seemed totally at ease during the Lily & Edie sketches, with the laughs (such as they were) being somewhat muted.

But this new nugget of information about the different writers could explain the disparity between the two halves.

I’d love to have a complete breakdown of the writing credits for The Two Ronnies but (unless anybody knows differently) there’s not one in circulation. A fair few sketches can be credited (most of Ronnie Barker’s contributions for example and various others, such as David Renwick’s Mastermind) but a fair few are less certain.  Even identifying which sketches were penned by the Pythons isn’t clear cut.

Moving back to Sid & Lily, George and Edie, it’s interesting that their slot in series seven (broadcast between December 1978 and February 1979) is right in the middle of the programme, exactly where – in previous series – the film serial would have been.  Since inflation was biting and budgets were being cut, I can only assume that this year the Rons weren’t able to afford the type of lavish serial they’d previously enjoyed.

So this cheap studio sketch had to suffice (the running time of each episode tended to be about five minutes shorter than previous years as well).

A last point – if there’s one thing that’s always irked me, it’s the fact that the doubles of Barker and Corbett (seen in the opening titles) look nothing like them.  The double of Barker is somewhat on the thin side whilst the faux Corbett seems a little tall.  Never mind, one day I’m sure I’ll get over it ….

The Good Life – Silly, but it’s fun (26th December 1977)

Unsurprisingly, the message of Silly, but it’s fun is that you don’t have to spend a fortune in order to have an enjoyable Christmas – all you need is the company of good (no pun intended) friends.

The Goods, of course, have no other choice than to economise (Tom scavenging a Christmas tree – or at least part of it – from the greengrocers, Barbara using her craft skills to make a yule log with a rather substantial Robin). But on the plus side, it does mean that this year’s Christmas has only cost them fifteen pence!

But next door, commercialism is rampant – with Margo railing against tradesmen. David Battley is the tradesman in question, offering a wonderfully phlegmatic performance which was something of a trademark of his (a similar turn in The Beiderbecke Tapes immediately springs to mind).

Margo’s unhappy that her tree – part of her Christmas delivery – is slightly under the required height, so she decides that everything will have to go back (it’s all or nothing for her). Given that it’s Christmas Eve this seems a little reckless. I know that the seventies was another era, but surely nobody would have been expecting another delivery on Christmas Day? And yet, this is the crux of the story.

Suspension of disbelief also has to come into play when pondering the question as to why Margo’s left it so late to take delivery of all her Christmas provisions – not only the tree, but the food, drink and decorations. A severe lack of forward planning? Or maybe back in the seventies, Christmas really did begin on Christmas Eve and not – as it seems today – in late November ….

The upshot is that when no fresh delivery is forthcoming, she’s forced to ring up all her friends and fob them off from coming around (claiming that Jerry has chickenpox and therefore is out of bounds for the duration). Jerry’s “political” chickenpox cheers him up, as he wasn’t looking forward to spending yet another Christmas with all their friends, mouthing the same pointless trivialities at the same round of endless parties.

I daresay his wish (which came true) to simply have a quiet Christmas at home would have struck a chord with many ….

So Margo and Jerry spend Christmas Day with Tom and Barbara. It may just have been the especially potent peapod burgundy, but Jerry does get rather frisky with Barbara (although you can’t really blame him). The same sort of sexual tension doesn’t crackle with Tom and Margo (the mind boggles at the thought of that) but they do share a rather intimate scene in the privacy of the kitchen – although this is more about Tom forcing Margo to unbend a little, and embrace their silly Christmas revels.

It’s rather touching that Margo confesses that she’d like to, but simply doesn’t know how. But it doesn’t take long before she’s completely warmed up and throwing herself into all the party games with gusto.

Some sitcom Christmas specials, especially from the eighties onwards, tended to offer something more expansive than their usual fare. Silly, but it’s fun revels in the fact that nothing much happens except that the Goods and the Leadbetters have a jolly enjoyable Christmas day. The way it’s content to embrace the joy of simple pleasures may be one of the reasons why this episode always seems to strike a pleasing chord whenever it makes a Christmas appearance.

 

Are You Being Served? – Christmas Crackers (22nd December 1975)

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It’s Christmas, so we can forgive the employees of Grace Brothers for indulging in a spot of dress up. Mind you, as the series progressed they tended to do it virtually every week ….

Christmas Crackers is a game of four halves.  It begins with a brain-storming meeting called by Mr Rumbold – although in his absence Captain Peacock moves into his seat with alacrity. He also quickly acquires Mr Rumbold’s cup of tea (the only one in a real cup – the others have to make do with plastic ones). It’s a reminder of the rigid herichary which exists at Grace Brothers.

Elsewhere the chat is, as you’d expect, very dependent on double entendres. Mrs Slocombe frets about her pussy whilst Mr Grainger – late once again – tells the others that Mrs Grainger failed to rouse him this morning. Mr Lucas supplies the obvious punchline.

The strangest moment occurs just after Mr Humphries suggests that they should organise a glee club.  This seems reasonable enough, but it tickles the fancy of one member of the audience who hoots in a very distracting fashion.  John Inman, pro that he was, carried on regardless which meant they didn’t have to go for a retake.

When Mr Rumbold eventually does turn up, he reveals that young Mr Grace has already decided exactly how the department should get into the Christmas spirit, thereby negating the previous ten minutes of chat.  This is either a clever touch or it reveals that the plotting of AYBS? was never that solid.

The second section of the episode revolves around a shop-floor spat between Mrs Slocombe and Captain Peacock.  Mrs Slocombe doesn’t like the high-kicking automated display model which has been wheeled onto the floor by the ever-annoying Mr Mash. She wants it removed, but Captain Peacock stands firm and tells her to return to her counter.  So she turns it on when his back is turned and the inevitable happens (it kicks him up the backside).  Mr Humphries then notes that it’s playing the Nutcracker Suite ….

Christmas dinner is next on the agenda, which is a good example of the fact that Grace Brothers remains the most parsimonious of employers.  A microscopic chicken has to be shared amongst them all, whilst their Christmas pudding deflates after Mr Mash liberally sprinkles it with a dose of powerful wood alcohol.  Mind you, their crackers were very large and did include decent novelties, so it wasn’t all bad. Chief amongst these were Captain Peacock’s googly eyes and Mr Grainger’s sticky-out ears, which allows him to cosplay as Mr Rumbold.

This just leaves the reveal of the shop floor, now transformed into a very credible Christmas grotto (clearly all the money went on this, rather than the staff Christmas dinner) and the emergence of the regulars, all decked out in their costumes (this was young Mr Grace’s brainwave).  Whenever dress up was on the cards it seemed there was a strict pecking order (with Mr Humphries always being the last to show his face). This suggests that the writers had quickly latched onto the fact that Inman had clicked with the audience (he certainly gets the loudest whoop of appreciation – although it’s debatable whether his costume is the funniest).

Captain Peacock’s snowman is wonderful (I think it’s the addition of the pipe which really sells it) whilst Miss Brahams and Mr Lucas, as a fairy and Long John Silver, don’t let the side down. Mrs Slocombe’s Robin Hood isn’t too way out but it’s counterbalanced by Mr Grainger’s egg costume (my favourite). As always, Arthur Brough helps to sell the moment – Mr Grainger’s long-suffering miserablism is pitched at just the right level.  Like all Croft/Lloyd and Croft/Perry series, AYBS? was never the same once the original cast began to break up and Brough’s death (following the conclusion of series five) undeniably affected the balance of the show.

Once all the staff have assembled, out of nowhere music begins to play and also out of nowhere everybody starts to sing a song based on the way their day has gone.  This isn’t quite as jolting as raising a glass and wishing everyone at home a very Merry Christmas, but it’s not far short.

Are You Being Served?

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Are You Being Served? is a series I’ve never added to my DVD collection – mainly because the R2 sounded a little unappealing (certain episodes used shorter edits prepared by David Croft for a nineties repeat season) and in the past I didn’t have a R1 compatible player, so the uncut American release was out of reach.

Which meant that I’ve come to the recent Gold repeats pretty fresh and – so far – AYBS? has proved to be a more than pleasant surprise. Of course, it’s early days yet (I’m currently on series three) and there will no doubt come a point – as happens with most Croft/Perry and Croft/Lloyd sitcoms – where the show starts to run out of steam.

Often it’s cast changes which seem to signal the beginning of the end. Dad’s Army was never the same after James Beck’s death, although it’s true that his absence wasn’t the only reason why the post Beck episodes lacked a little spark. On the other hand, the departure of Simon Cadell from Hi-De-Hi! was a major tipping point. When Jeffrey Fairbrother was replaced by someone more streetwise and less vulnerable it was a blow which the series never recovered from.

I’m expecting the post Trevor Bannister years to be a little tricky and I can’t say I’m looking forward to the introduction of Old Mr Grace. Young Mr Grace (Harold Blewett) was always a charming character, but Old Mr Grace (Kenneth Waller) was just a nasty type.

But one piece of replacement casting which I think did work was that of Arthur English stepping in for Larry Martyn (as the general handyman/dogsbody character). Martyn’s Mr Mash stands out during the early series, mainly because Martyn is playing much broader than the others (had he appeared during the later run this might not have been such a problem). Another issue with Mash is that Martyn’s clearly been made up to play older, which didn’t work very well. So the later hiring of a more mature actor (English) made sense.

If the Gold repeats continue, then I await with interest the numerous replacements for Mr Grainger, none of whom lasted very long.

The innuendo of AYBS? started fairly mildly, although you can see that series by series things are getting broader. One such barometer is Mrs Slocombe’s pussy, whose misadventures become much more suggestive over time ….

Apart from the increasing lashings of sexual innuendo, highlights so far have included Camping In (S01E04). There’s something rather charming about the way that the members of staff – forced as they are to sleep in the store overnight – reminisce about the good old days of WW2 and engage in a spot of Blitz-era spirt with a good old singalong. This one also ties the programme to another specific moment in British history – namely the early seventies when strikes and power shortages were increasingly common (other episodes also make capital out of this).

Several episodes focus on work/office politics in a way that’s still highly recognisable today. How the others react unfavourably to Captain Peacock being rewarded for twenty years loyal service (with the key to the executive washroom) will no doubt strike a chord with many. The travails of Coffee Morning (S02E02) is another one which seems just as relevant today as it did then. Stores like Grace Brothers might be long gone, but companies who react unfavourably whenever workers elect to nip off for a tea break or a visit to the toilet are still very much with us ….

The last word should be left to Mrs Slocombe.

It’s a wonder I’m here at all, you know. My pussy got soaking wet. I had to dry it out in front of the fire before I left!

Blankety Blank – Series One

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Those hardy souls who’ve been keeping an eye on my Twitter feed recently will have noticed that I’ve been tweeting screencaps from the first series of Blankety Blank (I cater for very niche interests it has to be said ….)

Although I’ve a great deal of time for the later Dawson incarnation, my heart really belongs to the Wogan era of Blankety Blank. And thanks to Challenge broadcasting a selection of shows a few years ago (although they could really do with digging out some more) I’ve now got most of the first series available whenever I need a BB fix.

And I do tend to give them a spin quite regularly. Why should a quiz game, no doubt seen at the time as rather disposable, still work so well for me today? I’ll try and explain …..

The presence of Terry Wogan is an obvious plus. Relaxed and jocular, he’s nevertheless quite happy to be the butt of endless jokes from the more boisterous panel members (Paul Daniels springs to mind). On the one hand this shows a refreshing lack of ego, but Wogan was canny enough to realise that by playing the victim he could gain a good deal of audience sympathy (which he does). But whilst he may be a ham (witness his endless array of funny voices when reading out the questions) he’s an endearing one.

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The range of guests across this first series is another major plus. There’s plenty of faces that you’d expect to see on a show of this type (Bernie Winters, Lennie Bennett, Lorraine Chase, etc) but it’s the more leftfield choices which really catch the eye. George Baker and Ron Moody are two actors who would appear to be fishes out of water in this sort of environment, but both throw themselves into the spirit of the game with gusto.

The real stars are some of the more regular players. Beryl Reid appears to be gloriously disconnected from reality whilst Peter Jones’ cutting wit always entertains. It’s always good to see Bill Tidy and his cartoons whilst David Jason (not really a quiz game regular outside of BB) seems to acting a part (that of the abrasive quiz game celeb) but he’s still good value.

But goodness, Paul Daniels is irritating. I’ve always been very appreciative of Daniels the magician, but he’s at his impish worst here. Position five, where Daniels sits, quickly came to be seen as the place where you plonk the comic/disruptive element (lest we forget it was Kenny Everett’s favourite seat).

I have to confess that I found the presence of the likes of Shirley Ann Field, Alexandra Bastedo, Diane Keen and Wanda Ventham to be rather pleasing ….

Jon Pertwee only made one appearance during this first series, but it’s a good ‘un. He decided to come along dressed as the Doctor (or maybe that was his usual evening leisurewear) and couldn’t help but aim a sly dig at Who mid way through. It clearly always rankled with him that Tom Baker was more popular in the role than he was.

The Generation Game had already presented us with the spectacle of the contestant as star, but Blankety Blank is more of a throwback to an earlier age. Most of the contestants (bar the odd confident chap – such as the Taxi Driver of the Year) seem more than a little overawed. This is best seen during Terry’s introductory chat, which always tends to be brief and to the point.

Generally Terry has three questions for them – finding out the quaking contestant’s name, the place where they live and then either their job or whether they’re married. For some, even this brief (but very gentle) interrogation seems like a terrible ordeal.

It’s interesting that much later quiz/panel shows have come in for criticism due to the dominance of male players. Blankety Blank never had that problem – the celebrities were always split equally as were the contestants. True, it’s noticeable that Terry is always keen to clutch the younger, female contestants tightly (plus they also run the risk of attracting the attention of the likes of Paul Daniels) but it was the 1970’s, so that sort of treatment was no doubt par for the course.

If you haven’t seen it for a while, then you could do much worse than seeking it out on YouTube. Genuinely entertaining, series one of Blankety Blank is something of a keeper.

The Prince of Denmark – Simply Media DVD Review

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Although largely forgotten today, Barry Cryer and Graham Chapman had a lengthy sitcom partnership with Ronnie Corbett (they ended up penning three different comedy shows for him).  First, along with Eric Idle, they created No – That’s Me Over Here, which ran for three series between 1967 and 1970 on ITV.  The first two series no longer exist, although one episode is possibly held in private hands.   Series three is available from Network.

After Corbett and Barker moved from ITV to the BBC in the early seventies, Corbett’s sitcom career continued with Now Look Here (1971 – 1973).  Rosemary Leach, who had also appeared in No – That’s Me Over Here, returned, although since she was now playing Laura, rather than Rosemary, the series clearly wasn’t a direct continuation.  Mind you, Ronnie was still playing Ronnie and to all intents and purposes was pretty much the same character (unlike his long-time comedy colleague, Ronnie Barker, Corbett tended to stick with a very similar comic persona).

Something of a precursor to Sorry!, Corbett’s most popular sitcom success, Now Look Here saw Ronnie attempting to break free from the stifling influence of his mother.  The difference was that in Now Look Here he does (albeit his new house is just a few doors away) and by the second and final series he was married to Laura.  Although a release from Simply was announced, it was then pulled due to unspecified rights issues.  Hopefully these problems can be ironed out and it’ll reappear on the schedule at a later date.

The Prince of Denmark (1974) followed on directly from Now Look Here.  This series saw Ronnie and Laura running a pub (hence the series’ title) which Laura had inherited.  Ronnie, despite knowing nothing about the pub game, blithely assumes he knows best and frequently overrides the good advice offered by those around him, with inevitably disastrous comic results.

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Ronnie Corbett & Rosemary Leach

The pub setting is a fruitful one, since it allows new comic characters to keep popping up in each show.  Making appearances were a host of familiar faces, including Derek Deadman, Richard Davies, Harold Goodwin, Mary Hignett, Claire Neilson (also a regular on The Two Ronnies) and Geoffrey Palmer. Penny Irving adds a touch of glamour as the pneumatic barmaid Polly.

The dependable David Warwick appeared in all six episodes as the long-suffering barman Steve whilst the pub also boasted several semi-regulars.  These included Mr Blackburn (Tim Barrett) who never manages to catch his train due to the fact he always stays for one more drink and a crossword addict (played by Michael Nightingale) who only talks in riddles.  The unmistakable Declan Mulholland, playing the abusive Danny, also helps to enliven a couple of episodes.

The first episode opens with Ronnie and Laura visiting their new pub incognito. Ronnie’s pedantic, uppity and pompous (complaining about the service and the fellow customers whilst also muttering darkly that there’s going to be changes) whilst Laura is much more patient and understanding. These traits will be repeated across the series time and time again.

And the price of Ronnie’s half a bitter and Laura’s small sherry? Twenty five pence, which is a bargain!

The start-up screen displays the following disclaimer. “Due to the archive nature of this material, modern audiences may find some of it editorially challenging. In order to present the content as transmitted, no edits have been made. We ask that viewers remain mindful of the period in which it was commissioned and transmitted”.

This seems to be due to the moment in the opening episode where we see a black customer, Reg (Lee Davis), tell the departing licensee, Mrs Bowman (Maggie Hanley) that her pies are disgusting (she suggests he eats a missionary instead). That’s the only slightly off-key joke I can find, which makes the disclaimer seem a little anti-climactic.

Since the first episode went out at 7:40 pm, it’s surprising to hear Declan Mulholland’s truculent troublemaker call Ronnie a bastard several times. Another interesting point is the later scene where Ronnie mistakes an ordinary customer for a Brewery bigwig and fawns over him whilst roundly abusing the real Brewery man.  Given Graham Chapman’s involvement, it’s highly likely that his old comedy partner John Cleese would have tuned in. Could this have inspired Cleese to pen the later Fawlty Towers episode The Hotel Inspectors?

By the third episode things are ticking along nicely. This one boasts a strong guest cast – Richard Davies, Claire Nielson, Geoffrey Palmer – and sees Ronnie cast as a confidant and sage to his customers. The only problem is his total lack of understanding.  For example, when Davies’ character mentions that he believes in a benign oligarchy, all Ronnie can do is nod sagely. Ronnie’s increasing desperation as he’s quizzed about his views on democracy is nicely done.

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Ronnie Corbett & Geoffrey Palmer

Ronnie’s exuberant cheeky-chappy persona is precisely what Martin (Geoffrey Palmer) doesn’t need as he’s suffering from marriage problems. And when Martin’s wife, Alison (Claire Nielson), turns up, Ronnie once again puts his foot in it. Corbett and Palmer play off each other very well (is it just another coincidence that both Palmer and Nielson would later check into Fawlty Towers?). Although Corbett overplays somewhat, Palmer is a model of restraint and it’s probably their differing styles which helps to make this one flow nicely.

Show four opens with Ronnie in the kitchen, attempting (but failing disastrously) to make Laura a snack whilst she enjoys a quiet bath. Whilst it offers a change of pace from the bar scenes, the visual comedy on offer is somewhat laboured (and subject to some hard edits – one moment the pan is on fire, the next it isn’t).

Elsewhere, Ronnie’s prejudices are on display. He declares that all football supporters are hooligans unlike followers of rugby, who are gentlemen. Given this set-up, no prizes for guessing what happens when a large crowd of rugger fans turn up. The highly-recognisable Michael Sharvell-Martin pops up as Gerry, captain of the rugby team, whilst the equally-recognisable Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman (familiar background faces from this era of television) are also present.

Ronnie’s jukebox jiving in show five is a highlight and seems to briefly amuse what is otherwise a very muted audience. When Ronnie treats a couple of customers to his regular joke about the Irishman in the restaurant, the punchline doesn’t raise a titter either from them or the studio audience. This episode also seems to have the strongest Graham Chapman feel, as what begins as a quiet night quickly spins out of control. The comic escalation we see is a touch Pythonesque.

Although Ronnie’s character remains highly smackable throughout, Corbett’s timing ensures that he makes the most of the material he’s given. It’s just a slight pity that Rosemary Leach didn’t have more to work with.

This was an era where female members of comedy couples were often dominant (Terry & June, George & Mildred) and although Laura is clearly much more sensible and level-headed than her husband, she’s less well drawn than either June or Mildred. More often than not Laura isn’t called on to do much more than show exasperation at Ronnie’s latest flight of fancy.

No lost classic then, but The Prince of Denmark should be of interest to both Ronnie Corbett fans and devotees of seventies British sitcoms. Although the scripts can be a little weak in places (surprising given Cryer and Chapman’s track record) it’s still enjoyable fare, thanks to the familar faces guesting and Corbett’s energetic performance. Recommended.

The Prince of Denmark is released by Simply Media on the 17th of July 2017.  RRP £19.99.  It can be ordered directly from Simply here

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The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Eight

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Original Transmission – 29th May 1971

Written by Eric Idle, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Peter Vincent, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley. Additional material by Gary Chambers, Tony Hare, David McKellar.

Introduction/News Items
Doctor’s Sketch
Tina Charles – Remember Me
Ronnie B Solo – Statistics
Hampton Wick – Episode Eight
Class Sketch (with John Cleese)
New World – Tom Tom Turnaround
Ronnie C in the Chair
Christening Sketch
Big Jim Jehosophat and Fat Belly Jones

Notes: I rather like this news item. “The world’s greatest jigsaw puzzle designer was divorced today after his wife found he was keeping a piece on the side.”

No party sketch, instead it’s a sketch with Ronnie B as a doctor and Ronnie C as a patient who complains of not being there all the time (and promptly vanishes). He also tells the doctor that he gets this floating feeling sometimes and – via the magic of CSO – does just that. A fairly indifferent effort, although Cheryl Kennedy as a nurse with a very short skirt provides a brief moment of interest.

For only the second time, Tina Charles is up before New World. For this final show she tackles Diana Ross’ Remember Me. New World bid us farewell with their biggest UK hit, Tom Tom Turnaround, which made the top ten.

Ronnie B is in his familiar spokesman guise, this time as a Statistician. “A recent survey conduced in Bolton has proved conclusively that 10 out of 10 people who live in Bolton, live in Bolton. Although 3 out of 10 people who live in Bolton think they live in Birmingham. On further questioning, 5 out of 10 people agreed with us, agreed with us that they agreed with us. Of the remaining 5, 5 out of 10 remained out of the 10 from which the 5 out of 10 who agreed with us that they agreed with us remained.”

Hampton Wick concludes in a rather recursive way, with Henrietta waking up in 1971 after a long illness, realising that everything she’d experienced had been nothing but a dream. But Barker and Corbett, playing themselves, happen to be sitting on a bench outside the hospital, and after they see her leave both decide she’d be perfect for their show …

There’s another Class Sketch with John Cleese but once again there’s no speciality act. Double boo!

After Ronnie C in the chair and a christening sketch (Ronnie B as a vicar, Ronnie C and Cheryl Kennedy as parents who are surprised to find their baby is Chinese) we end as we began, with Big Jim Jehosophat and Fat-Belly Jones.

Although series one was a pretty mixed bag, the Python influence (and the appearances of John Cleese) make it pretty noteworthy. There might have been the odd production misstep, but even this early on the formula of the show is pretty much set in stone. That’s not a criticism, as whilst Python and Q might have delighted in unpredictability, there’s also a place for a series which delivers precisely what the audience expects and rarely lets them down – and The Two Ronnies is a perfect example of that.

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Seven

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Original Transmission – 22nd May 1971

Written by Barry Cryer, Eric Idle, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Bill Solly, Dick Vosburg, Gerald Wiley.  Additional Material by Garry Chambers, Tony Hare, David McKellar, Peter Vincent

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch
New World – Cape Cod Boys/My Dear Mary Anne
Ronnie B Solo – Wedding Speech
Hampton Wick – Episode Seven
Dress Shop Sketch
Tina Charles – Wedding Bell Blues
Ronnie C in the Chair
Employment Sketch
The Short & Fat Minstrel Show
Outro

Notes: I’ve previously touched upon how you can date the series by observing which female celebrity is most frequently mentioned in the news items. Another way to quickly identify that we’re definitely in the seventies is by totting up the number of jokes directed at lazy British workers, like this one. “At Ford’s Halewood plant today, a man was given a gold watch for long service …. after working for 25 minutes.” That it gets a round of applause from the audience clearly indicates that it struck a chord (expect much more of this throughout the decade).

For a change the party sketch doesn’t take place in somebody’s living room, instead we’re in the hall, which sees Ronnie B open a conversation with Ronnie C, who’s just come down the stairs. Set design is pretty minimal, with black drapes behind the staircase. Once again we see a mini obsession with chartered accounts – that’s Ronnie B’s occupation (who in time honoured Python fashion comes across as incredibly dull – well he’s a chartered accountant, so he must be). Ronnie C is completely different – he’s the world’s leading authority on impressionist paintings and therefore someone who has nothing in common with his fellow guest.

For example, Ronnie C lives in a converted monastery in the Outer Hebrides whilst Ronnie B lives in Hendon. The sketch continues to escalate nicely, before the final pay off is made. Corbett might be the one in control but Barker is delightful as a very dull man, so the honours are about even.

New World weld a couple of songs together, including My Dear Mary Anne which features this immortal line. “A lobster dies in a boiling pot. Oh, pity the blue fish too. Yet they’re quickly gone and they suffer not like the ache I bear for you, my dear Mary Anne.”  Tina Charles can’t hope to top this, but Wedding Bell Blues (yet another song from Laura Nyro) is pleasant enough fare.

Ronnie B is up next, as a drunken father toasting the happy couple at a wedding reception. “He has already shown that he can put her in the family way … the family way of life to which she has become accustomed. We drink to Arthur as he’s always drunk … to us.” Christopher Timothy gets to sit and suffer in silence as the unfortunate bridegroom. He’d briefly appeared opposite Barker earlier in the year in Six Dates with BarkerThe Removals Person.

Madeline Smith’s indomitable heroine Henrietta Beckett now finds herself in America as Hampton Wick slowly staggers towards a conclusion. She’s found gainful employment “as a slave-girl in the orgy scene of a film called Belshazzar’s Feast.” But for once this isn’t an excuse to dress her up in very little  ….

She does get to act though, opposite Ronnie C as a diminutive film-star who has to stand on a box in order to play scenes eye to eye with her. And when he slips off, he inevitably falls into her breasts. Subtle this isn’t, although a later section, shot in black and white and mingling new footage with vintage clips, is a little more inventive.

We then have a quickie sketch with Ronnie B as a man who’s come to by a dress. But not for his wife, it’s for him. He claims it’s only for fancy dress, but the assistant (played by Claire Neilson – a familiar Two Rons face) isn’t so sure. Once again, the sketch is played against black drapes, an indication that a spot of cost cutting was going on.

Following Ronnie C’s chair spot, there’s a sketch which features Corbett as Jenkinson, a man who’s come for a job interview but instead acts as if he’s the one in charge. As with the party sketch, Corbett dominates, but Barker – in the more passive role – is much more than a simple feed.

There’s no speciality act in this one. Boo!

We close with The Short & Fat Minstrel Show, which is the sort of sequence I’d expect to see pop up in one of those My Goodness Wasn’t Television Awful Back in the Old Days type shows, where modern comedians you’ve never heard of pour scorn on the crimes of their forefathers. True, it’s undeniably a little grisly but it’s very much of it’s time. And the Raquel Welch obsession continues. “Oh Raquel Welch, I love your left … doo-dah, doo-dah.  I sit and think of Raquel’s left doo-dah all the day.”

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Six

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Original Transmission – 15th May 1971

Written by Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Peter Vincent, Gerald Wiley. Additional material by Garry Chambers, Tony Hare, David McKellar

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch – Trends (with John Cleese)
New World
Ronnie B Solo – Appeal on behalf of the very clumsy
Hampton Wick – Episode Six
Class Sketch (with John Cleese)
Tina Charles – Got To Get You Into My Life
Ronnie C in the Chair
Wasta
Musical Number- Elizabeth Aa Ha
Outro

Notes: The party sketch simply screams early seventies. There’s a variety of bizarre fashions (Ronnie B has to be seen to be believed) whilst attractive women lounge around in hotpants.  A poster of Che Guevara on the wall is further evidence that it’s a hip and happening joint. The only person not hip and happening seems to be Ronnie C, dressed in a normal suit, but he’s doing his best to try and be in with the new scene, telling the others that jumping up and down is the latest, fun thing.

No-one else seems impressed with this as the sketch – a sly swipe at fashion and trends – continues. It’s only when a new guest appears (John Cleese) and starts doing Ronnie C’s hopping that it instantly becomes accepted. Nice to see Cleese, who pops up again later.

New World are standing up this week with a slightly more uptempo foot-tapper. But if they’re still operating in fairly gentle territory, which might lull some into a sense of slumber, there’s no chance of dozing when Tina Charles is around. She belts out the Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life with the sort of full-hearted gusto that’s already become her trademark, six shows in.

Ronnie B is in his element as a very clumsy man making an appeal on behalf of others equally afflicted. “I myself to tend to knock over the occasional table. In fact, last month I knocked over five occasional tables.” Although Barker never liked to appear as himself before an audience, once in character he was in total command.  This is seen here after an onscreen caption causes a little titter amongst the audience and slightly throws him off his stride. But he’s able to say “thank you” and carry on, keeping in character all the time.

Next, there’s a reprise of the famous Frost Report sketch featuring Cleese, Barker and Corbett as examples of  the upper, middle and lower class members of society. As with the original, it’s Ronnie C who gets all the laughs whilst the other two play his straight men.

Wasta is this week’s speciality act. He’s a physical drunk act and is rather good (not a great many other credits I can find, apart from a few appearances in The Good Old Days, which would make sense – it’s the sort of non verbal comedy that would work well there).

The closing musical number is an Elizabethan costume drama set to music. Ronnie B as Queen Elizabeth I fairly takes the breath away, although Ronnie C’s Sir Francis Drake (sporting a very modern pair of glasses) is equally as eye-catching. Mind you, this sketch is probably best known for the impressive entry of John Owens.

Owens was a very dependable Two Rons performer (chalking up many credits between this one and their final Christmas special in 1987). He should have come running in and then slid to a kneeling position, but possibly the floor was a little too slippery, which meant he ended up on his backside. Ronnie B just about keeps it together, although the extras in the background are less restrained. They could have gone for another take, but since it’s a nice moment (the audience always likes to see a few fluffs and mishaps) it wasn’t surprising they kept it in.

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Five

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Original Transmission – 8th May 1971

Written by Garry Chambers, Tony Hare, Eric Idle, David McKellar, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Peter Vincent, Bill Solly, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch – Toilet Humour
New World
Ronnie C at the piano
Hampton Wick – Episode Five
Tina Charles – Time and Love
Doctor sketch
Chaz Chase
Rev Spooner – The Musical
Outro

Notes: In this party sketch, Ronnie C desperately wants to find the toilet, but can’t bring himself to actually say so – instead he uses a string of subtle hints (inspect the plumbing, etc) which Ronnie B totally fails to understand. It’s not a terribly long sketch, nor does it have a particularly good punchline, but you can’t beat a bit of good, honest toilet humour.

New World, a vision in matching blue sweaters, are as relaxing as always. Tina Charles ups the tempo a little with another Laura Nyro song, Time and Love.

Now this is odd. Even this early on, the Two Ronnies had a sense of order and tradition, so it’s jarring that Ronnie C’s solo spot is so early in the show (we’re only seven minutes in) and what’s worse he’s not sitting in his chair – he’s by a piano instead! Luckily the jokes are just the same, including this one which I’m sure had more than one outing over the years. “This morning we had an argument with the children about staying up late to watch daddy. They wanted to go to bed.”

Hampton Wick once again places Madeline Smith in low cut dresses as well as offering us the chance to see Ronnie C as Toulouse Lautrec.

Next up Ronnie B plays a confused Scottish doctor (he doesn’t seem to realise he’s a doctor) whilst Ronnie C is his patient attempting to get a little treatment. When Ronnie C gives his profession as a Chartered Surveyor, it’s impossible not to wonder if one of the Pythons scripted this (Chartered Surveyors tended to loom large in Python).   That the sketch veers off in an unexpected direction also supports this, as that’s a very Pythonesque trademark.

Chaz Chase, born in Russia in 1901, made a career out of eating practically anything – cigarettes, flowers – and he does so here as well. Definitely one of the odder spesh acts we’ve seen so far, but I’m rather glad we have it.

The closing musical number is something that’s archetypical Two Ronnies fare. Ronnie B is the Rev Spooner who has endless trouble with words. Here he is attempting to give his wife (Josephiner Tewson) a present.  “I knew you needed a scentle of bot. A sottle of bent. Perfume”. Ronnie C gets in on the act. “The manner of your speaking, it ounds it a little sod.” And so on and on.

There’s several ways to date the episodes. If you don’t want to do it by the suits the Rons wear, then you can always do so by observing which big-breasted celebrity is the butt (as it were) of many of the news items. Here it’s Raquel Welch, so it’s plainly early days. She’s been signed to play Quasimodo “in the new film entitled The Hunchfront of Notre Dame.”

The Two Ronnies – Series One, Show Four

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Original Transmission – 1st May 1971

Written by Garry Chambers, Tony Hare, Eric Idle, David McKellar, Spike Mullins, David Nobbs, Michael Palin & Terry Jones, Peter Vincent, Bill Solly, Dick Vosburgh, Gerald Wiley

Introduction/News Items
Party Sketch – Fancy Dress
Tina Charles – Stoney End
Ronnie B Solo – Smart Cooking
Hampton Wick – Episode Four
New World – Delia
Ronnie C in the Chair
Joe Andy
Marriage Sketch
Outro

Notes: The party sketch is a fancy dress affair, with Ronnie C making a very fetching Nell Gwynne, complete with copious oranges. His appearance certainly tickles the studio audience, leading to a round of applause. Ronnie B has apparently come as Richard the Lionheart, although he doesn’t quite look the part in a lounge suit (but apparently that’s what Richard wore when he wanted to relax).

Tina Charles tackles Laura Nyro’s Stoney End, which had been a hit for Barbra Streisand in early 1971, whilst New World offer rather soporific fare with Delia.

Ronnie B is Lionel Smart, who demonstrates Smart Cooking (this week bourguinon a la pouf celebre). That Smart is a grubby common type is the joke, of course.

Hampton Wick continues, with Madeline Smith’s winsome heroine now ensconced in the Crimea, tending to the wounded. She has to make the ultimate sacrifice (her clothes for bandages) which certainly seems to bring a smile to the faces of the patients (and no doubt warmed the hearts of some of the viewers at home too).

Joe Andy balances swords on his chin and attempts to climb a ladder at the same time. Oddly, he doesn’t receive an introduction (not even an onscreen caption). As impressive as his feats are, what’s more interesting is that as he slowly climbs the ladder you can see the studio lights, transmission sign and the clock – which tells you exactly what time this was recorded. Well it interested me anyway.

Up next is a sketch with Ronnie B as a vicar attempting to marry Ronnie C and Josephine Tewson. If they all didn’t have various ailments (hiccups, sneezing fits) then no doubt things would be a lot easier. This is one of those sketches where because the joke is obvious straight away, the question is whether things will get more or less funny when the gag gets repeated numerous times.

No musical item in this one, so the marriage sketch leads into the closing items.