The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 18th May 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Springfield Revival
Cannon and Ball
Julie Rogers
Eric Delaney
Tina Townsley
The Bachelors

The Springfield Revival open the show with a bouncy little number. They’re comprised of two white-suited gentleman strumming guitars and a lady in a blue dress shaking a tambourine for all she’s worth. There’s the odd cutaway shot to the audience who seem a little unenthused (but possibly it was early and the alcohol hadn’t begun to kick in yet). But they do manage to engage the audience in a singalong after their main number which warms them up a bit.

Tommy Cannon is introduced as a solo performer. He’s sporting an impressive brown suit complete with flares and a ruffled shirt. His sartorial eloquence somewhat detracts from his lusty attack on Summertime it has to be said. But Tommy’s moment in the spotlight doesn’t last long as an enthusiastic friend from the audience (Bobby, of course) can’t help but show his appreciation at Tommy’s star quality.

This doesn’t go down well with some members of the audience, who cry out “sit down, you’re spoiling his act”. Did they really not twig that Bobby was the other half of the double act? But it doesn’t take long before Bobby’s cheeky-chappy persona (and no doubt his politically incorrect song about a house full of Pakistanis) has won them round, which enables Bobby to milk the audience’s sympathy after Tommy orders him offstage.

You’d have been hard pushed from this spot to foresee that Cannon and Ball would go on to enjoy such a long run on ITV, but there’s clearly some spark there – even if their Wheeltappers debut is only fitfully amusing.

Julia Rogers, a vision in a sparkly pink dress, has an impressive set of lungs which she uses to belt out a couple of songs. Best known for her 1964 hit The Wedding, she has something of a Shirley Bassey feel. Given this, it’s possibly not surprising that she had a close encounter with the James Bond world – recording a demo of You Only Live Twice (albeit a different song from the one later recorded by Nancy Sinatra).

Upon Eric Delaney’s death in 2011, aged 87, many of his obituaries commented on his energetic stage persona. An inventive drummer – he pioneered the technique of playing the timpani with wire brushes – he’s good value during his short Wheeltappers appearance.

The arrival of Tina Townsley gains some murmurs of approval from the audience. Are they appreciating her baton twirling skills, or is it more to do her brief costume? Hmm, I wonder. She gets the opportunity to prove that she can twirl other things too – such as knives – although the act doesn’t really go anywhere. She appears, twirls some objects and then departs.

The Bachelors run through a medley of some of their greatest hits (Marie, Charmaine, Diane, Whispering). They then spotlight a number of songs which feature the banjo. And why not. By this point some members of the audience are warmed up enough to clap whilst others (such as a gentlemen in the front) contents himself by gently nodding his head from side to side. It’s not exactly a show-stopping finale, but it has a certain charm.

The Rag Trade – The Christmas Rush

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Following on from the original BBC run during the early sixties and an abortive BBC attempt in the early seventies to revive the series via an unscreened pilot, The Rag Trade finally returned to television during 1977 and 1978 thanks to this LWT series.

Although only Peter Jones (Fenner) and Miriam Karlin (Paddy) reprised their roles from the BBC incarnation, all of the new characters weren’t terribly dissimilar to the old ones – which made sense, as some of the LWT scripts were directly recycled from the BBC originals.

Christopher Beeney, as Tony, stepped easily to the role vacated by Reg Varney whilst Diane Langton (Kathy) had something of the vague air of Carole, Sheila Hancock’s character (although Kathy was much more pneumatically enhanced).   One interesting conundrum is whether Anna Karen’s character is meant to be the same Olive from On The Buses.  She certain looks and acts like her and since both series were written by Chesney and Wolfe it does seem likely, although it’s never directly confirmed.

The Christmas Rush (tx 24th December 1977) finds a typically harassed Fenner attempting to chivvy the girls (and token male, Tony) into finishing up their latest order.  But of course, they’re much more interested in planning for Christmas …..

There’s a few different story threads in this one.  The first concerns Fenner’s annual dilemma – what to buy both his wife (played by Rowena Cooper) and Paddy for Christmas?  For the last fifteen years he’s abdicated this responsibility by asking Paddy to shop for his wife and his wife to shop for Paddy.  That Paddy elects to buy a smart handbag for Mrs Fenner but then pockets the accessories (purse, manicure set) is characteristic.  Mrs Fenner seem equally contemptuous about Paddy as she decides to give her one of her old presents (a manicure set!).  Fenner reacts in horror, since this was yet another gift selected by Paddy for his wife …..

The set piece comedy moment occurs after Tony bemoans the fact that he’s getting nowhere with Lyn (Gillian Taylforth).  His constant attempts to catch her under the mistletoe haven’t gone the way he planned, so Paddy suggests that if he waits until Lyn’s alone in the rest room and then switches out the light, he could embrace her in the dark.  Paddy tells him – and the other girls agree – that a woman shouldn’t be asked her consent, in fact quite the reverse (they like to be dominated).

Although Paddy later arms herself with a jug of water – all the better to pour over the randy Tony – it seems that the girls weren’t entirely lying when they suggested that the role of the female was to be submissive (although this is undercut in some of the dialogue).  You probably won’t be amazed to learn that things don’t go the way Tony planned since he ends up groping the unfortunate Mrs Fenner instead.

In today’s climate, it’s hard to imagine any scene being deemed less appropriate for broadcast (so don’t expect to see this popping up on ITV3 any time soon).  Mrs Fenner might be a little traumatised by her experience, but everybody else laughs it off and even Fenner doesn’t seem too concerned (telling his wife that Tony looks more upset than she does).

Whilst this scene, like most of the episode, is played very broadly, there’s one quiet moment – which closes the show.  With one dress ruined from an important order, Fenner needs to knock up a replacement quickly, but all the girls are keen to leave – all except Paddy.  Despite their combative relationship, she can’t bring herself to walk out (telling him that he was always a rotten machinist).  This is a beautifully played scene by Jones and Karlin which sees Fenner and Paddy share a drink in the peace and quiet of the workshop before she gets on with the job.  It certainly leaves us with the suggestion that this isn’t the first time they’ve shared a quiet moment together ….

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All Star Comedy Carnival – 1972. Part Two

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Christmas With Wogan

I think this could just be the greatest piece of television ever.  Things start sedately enough, with a song from Carl Wayne and Penny Lane (oh, their names rhyme) but after that the fun really begins.

Recorded on the set of Lunchtime with Wogan (all of which sadly seems to have been wiped) you can see that they’ve attempted to get the audience into the Christmas spirit by handing out some party hats.  But since there weren’t enough to go round, the camera tends to focus on the handful of lucky souls who do have one.  The audience shots are fascinating by the way (average age seems to be about eighty).

This segment is a celebration of ATV, so Crossroads naturally features quite heavily.  The sight of Amy Turtle (Ann George) pushing a tea trolley would surely melt even the hardest of hearts whilst Nurses Price and Shaw (Lynda Bellingham and Judy Buxton) from General Hospital also shuffle on.

The fun just keeps on coming as Peggy Mount, Hugh Lloyd, Leslie Crowther and Sylvia Syms appear as two ordinary couples who have been pulled out of the audience to play a game.  The sight of Crowther and Wogan attempting to shovel Mount’s ample form onto a high stool is something that will live long in the memory.

Larry Grayson, resplendent in a black cloak and mask, is brought on as the mystery guest. He has to recite his most famous catchphrases whilst the others attempt to guess his identity.  Simply sublime.

And just when you think things can’t get any better, Meg Richardson (Noele Gordon) arrives …..

Easily worth the price of the DVD alone, this is a rare Christmas treat.  Indeed, had the whole show come from the Wogan studio I would have been quite happy (although had this happened no doubt it would have been wiped along with the rest of his shows).

The Wandsworth School Choir are up next, entertaining Jimmy and the studio audience with The Holly and The Ivy.  Then Jimmy gets in the act and joins them for a trot through Do-Re-Me.  Bob Todd, as a drunken milkman, causes a little havoc for Jimmy.

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On The Buses

Like Love Thy NeighbourOn The Buses was one of those programmes which pulled huge contemporary audiences but hasn’t (in critical terms) aged well.  Although unlike Neighbour it does run regularly on ITV3, so clearly somebody still seems to enjoy it.  Like a number of later episodes, this was written by Stephen Lewis (Blakey) and Bob Grant (Jack).  Reg Varney is conspicuous by his absence, but he seems to have left the show after the 1972 run.

If you enjoy broad slapstick and incredible feats of mugging to the camera then this should appeal.  The story – a goose has been left on the bus and they have to stop it escaping – is the cue for everybody, including Olive (Anna Karin) and Mum (Doris Hare), to get covered in soot and flour.  For me, a little of On The Buses goes a very long way, so this is another series that I don’t have in my collection (but I don’t feel I’m missing out).

Jimmy welcomes David Nixon, who restores a touch of class to the programme.  It’s a mystery why Nixon’s existing magic shows aren’t available on DVD as he’s such an affable entertainer.  He does the eggs in the glass party trick which Tommy Cooper also attempted on his 1973 Christmas Show.  Tommy managed to get two out of four eggs in the glasses whilst David went one better – three out of three.

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Sez Lez

Les Dawson is on fine monologue form here.  “I bought my mother-in-law a nice fireside chair which cost me twenty five pounds and the first time I plugged it in, it fused”.  The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and Les’ dancers (Les Girls) also get in on the act.  The band are clearly all professionals as the sight of a group of attractive young ladies leaping about in silk pyjamas doesn’t put them off, not one little bit.

A moustachioed Tony Jacklin has a chat about golf with Jimmy.  They also sing ….

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The Fenn Street Gang

Spun out of Please Sir! after it became painfully obvious that the actors were no longer convincing as schoolchildren (they were well into their twenties by this point) The Fenn Street Gang followed their misadventures, post school.  Never as popular as Please Sir!, possibly due the fact that the characters no longer had a reason to be together and therefore the plotlines had to be split up, it still racked up an impressive thirty eight episodes.  This sketch has a good excuse for a reunion – Christmas dinner – and it passes the time nicely enough, although it’s not exactly an all-out showstopper.

Jimmy leads everybody, including Moria Anderson, Rod Hull & Emu and David Nixon, in a rousing singalong of White Christmas.  A traditional end to a real selection box of a programme – not every chocolate is especially tasty, but luckily there’s only a few hard centres.

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That’s Christmas Sez Les!

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That’s Christmas Sez Les!, Les Dawson’s 1973 Christmas extravaganza, certainly doesn’t lack on the guest front.  Along with regular contributors Eli Woods, Roy Barraclough and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Clive Dunn, Jack Douglas and Ronnie Caroll are on hand for comic duties whilst Slade, David Essex, the Kessler Twins and Lynsey de Paul provide the music.

If you watch all the surviving episodes of Sez Les in sequence then there’s a considerable progression from series three (broadcast in early 1972) to this special in late 1973.  The third series shows were very tightly formatted – each twenty-five minute edition contained an opening and closing monologue from Dawson, a spot from the Syd Lawence Orchestra, a couple of musical guests, one studio sketch and possibly a brief bit of location filming.

By 1973 there was clearly more money in the kitty, as the regular shows had been extended to forty minutes (this special runs for an addtional ten minutes). Another change is that there’s now a considerable number of very short sketches rather than a couple of longer ones, which means that in some ways it feels like The Fast Show twenty five years early. You certainly can’t complain that the sketches are too drawn out, since many only consist of an establishing line and a punchline.

One slightly longer sketch features Dawson as a barman and Barraclough as a customer who’s confused when Dawson keeps throwing the drinks into his face.  A basic rule of comedy – repetition – is in play here, every time Barraclough complains, it appears that Dawson has finally understood, only for him to repeat the drink throwing once again.  There’s a predictable pay-off, but it’s pleasant to see a young Gordon Kaye pop up.

Dunn, Douglas and Caroll, along with Dawson and Barraclough, are good value as a group of wise-cracking vicars.  This enables them to rescue gags from the old jokes home (“do you save fallen women?”) but they’re good enough to get away with it, just ….

With so many very brief sketches,  Dawson sometimes struggles to make an impression whilst the deluge of guests also helps to reduce his screen-time. Still, at least the musical performers are pretty top notch, although was Noddy Holder really upset at Dawson’s trademark mocking introduction?  Noddy’s rejoinder (“ta for that introduction, fatty. Don’t call us, we’ll call you”) could be taken as good-natured banter, or maybe he really didn’t see the joke.

No matter, as Slade’s performance – lipsyncing to Merry Christmas Everybody – is just about perfect.  The average age of the typical Sez Les audience tended to be a little outside of Slade’s usual demographic, which explains why director David Mallet elected to surround the group with an enthusiastic young crowd.  With Noddy’s trademark mirrored hat and platform boots, together with Dave Hill’s gleaming Super-Yob guitar, this is a classic Christmas moment.

David Essex elected to sing live, the pick of his two songs being Lamplight.  He doesn’t have the teen audience around him, instead he’s on a darkened stage (rather apt I suppose, considering the song title) but showman that he is, he soldiers on regardless.  Lyndsey de Paul is possibly one musical guest too many, but her dancing with Les is a nice comic moment.

Actually thinking about it, Clive Dunn’s musical spot is definitely one too many.  The good news is that it isn’t Grandad, the bad news is that it isn’t as good as Grandad.  As with his earlier smash hit, he’s surrounded by a group of cute children, which is either endearing or sickly, depending on your point of view.  But it’s Christmas, so let’s be generous ….

More Les Dawson would have been welcome, especially some decent monologues (always his comic strength) but That’s Christmas Sez Les! is a compelling selection box of entertainment from a diverse group of performers.

Robin’s Nest – Christmas at Robin’s Nest

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Airing on ITV between 1977 and 1981, Robin’s Nest (one of two sitcoms spun off from Man About The House) is centred around the restaurant of the title, run by Robin Tripp (Richard O’Sullivan) and his wife Victoria (Tessa Wyatt).  She provides him with moral support and able assistance whilst less able assistance comes from the enthusiastic but incompetent one-armed washer-upper, Albert Riddle (David Kelly).  Also on hand is Victoria’s father, James Nicholls (Tony Britton), a sleeping partner in the business who’s always keen to make the maximum amount of money from his investment.

Although the series was created by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, by this time they’d stepped away from scripting duties, so Robin’s Nest at Christmas was penned by George Layton, the second of his thirteen contributions to the show.  Enjoying an equally successful career as both an actor and writer (with his writer’s hat on he’d be reunited with Britton on the middle-of-the-road but nonetheless popular sitcom Don’t Wait Up a few years later) Layton seemed to easily pick up the rhythms of the series.

Although guest actors drop by occasionally, Robin’s Nest concentrates on the four regulars – with Robin and Victoria usually playing the straight-men to the more comic characters of Albert (inept at whatever he attempts) and James (a mean skinflint, content to work Robin into the ground to generate a healthy profit).

Easily the most memorable character of the four is Albert Riddle.  Kelly effortlessly steals every scene he’s in and is an endless delight to watch – without him it would be a much more routine show.  Albert’s complete ineptness is clearly on display in the opening few minutes as he attempts to help Robin to put up the Christmas decorations in the restaurant.  Of course he’s no help at all, and his endless off-key singing of Christmas songs (“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. We are doing up Robin’s Nest, just for Christmas day”) doesn’t help to reduce Robin’s stress levels.

Albert then pops by at one o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day to deliver a bombshell – after coming into a small windfall he’s been able to buy a business of his own so will be resigning from Robin’s Nest forthwith …..

There then follows a rather tense Christmas Day meal at James’ house, with a glum Robin and Victoria and a rather merry Albert, whilst Peggy Aitchison has a nice scene as James’ domestic servant, Gertrude.  Many sitcoms tended to have an extended running time for their Christmas Specials, but this Robin’s Nest remains at its normal twenty-five minute format.  This means that it all feels quite compact (with more time, the Christmas meal could have been extended and made to feel even more awkward) but the one interesting wrinkle is that the reset button with Albert isn’t hit at the end.  His arrival back at the restaurant in the last few minutes seems to indicate that he’s had a change of heart, but the reason for his reappearance is quite different and a good comic moment to end on.

Coasting by for 48 episodes thanks in no small part to the regulars, Robin’s Nest is undemanding but always watchable entertainment.  As for this one, I’ve always been a little puzzled why Robin is so upset at Albert’s decision to leave – since he spends all his time complaining about him you’d have thought he’d have welcomed it!

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All This and Christmas Too!

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Headed by Sidney James and Kenneth Connor and featuring cameos from the likes of Janet Webb and Joe Gladwin, All This and Christmas Too! doesn’t lack for on-screen talent.

Sidney James is probably best known for his appearances in a string of Carry On films, but his film career in general (particularly during the 1950’s) was extensive – The Lavender Hill Mob, The Belles of St Trinians, Quatermass 2 and Hell Drivers are just a few highlights.  He also served as an excellent comic foil to Tony Hancock, both on radio and television, as well as starring in a number of different television series – such as Citizen James, Taxi!, George and the Dragon and Bless This House.

Kenneth Connor was also a familiar Carry On name, although prior to his appearance in the first of the series, Carry on Sergeant in 1958, he’d already amassed a diverse list of credits – appearing alongside Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan during their early forays into television, for example.

So by the time All This and Christmas Too! was broadcast in 1971, both had built up a considerable reserve of affection from the British public, which was probably just as well.  All This and Christmas Too! is a variable fifty minutes of pretty broad comedy – but thanks to the star quality of Sid James and Kenneth Connor I can’t help but feel a little indulgent towards it.

James plays Sid Jones (they must have spent hours thinking that name up) whilst Connor is his rather dim next-door neighbour, Willie Beattie.  Like the not completely dissimilar Sid Abbot in Bless This House, this Sid is also a devoted family man – with a wife, Peggy (Beryl Mason) and two daughters, Linda (Juliette Kempson) and Sally (Katie Allen).

The best gag is reserved for the opening scene, where – to the strains of Also sprach Zarathustra – a spaceman (Sid) makes his entrance.  The incongruity of a spaceman walking down the streer is quickly explained though, as Sid’s been entertaining the kids at a local party (although why he didn’t remove his costume before returning home is anyone’s guess ….).

With Sally shortly due to give birth, the hapless Sid is put in charge of keeping an eye on her whilst Peggy heads out to do some last minute Christmas shopping.  But any thoughts of a quiet few hours are quickly dismissed when Willie pops around – he wants Sid’s advice on negligees (for Willie’s wife, naturally).

I have to confess to being somewhat smitten with Juliet Kempson, who plays Sid’s non-pregnant daughter Linda. She’s really rather lovely and her presence helps to make the programme a little more enjoyable. Sam Cree’s script mines familiar generational tropes as Sid finds himself frequently baffled by his youngest daughter – the music she likes, the make-up she wears, etc. Watch out for the moment when Sid tells Linda to turn her record off, it stops several seconds before she reaches the player. The grams operator must have been a tad quick off the mark!

When Sally tells her father that it might be a good idea to call for a taxi, Sid goes into panic mode. The baby! James and Connor are both excellent at playing flustered – Willie rushes off to call a taxi whilst Sid runs round and round in circles, attempting to get Sally’s suitcase ready. Clearly forward planning isn’t big in the Jones’ household ….

Next day, Sid is surprised to find a baby in the hall. Even though it’s black, he decides that it must be Sally’s (it’s not of course). Cue more frantic activity from James and Connor as they attempt to stop the baby crying (the production clearly didn’t record a real child’s cries – it’s painfully obvious that what we can hear is an adult doing a baby impression).

When news of Sally’s baby comes through, Sid and Willie decide to toast its health, several times in fact. James and Connor both indulge in a nice spot of drunk acting, although the speed at which they become virtually insensible (mere seconds after taking a drink) is bizarre.

Unfortunately they have to try and pull themselves together and entertain Sally’s husband’s parents, Mr and Mrs Hall (the ever lugubrious Gladwin and the stoney-faced Rose Power).  What’s interesting about Sid’s attempt to make casual conversation with the foreboding Mrs Hall is that the same exchange (“I tried it once, didn’t like it”) also turned up in the following year’s Carry on Abroad.

Janet Webb, like Gladwin, has a nice comic cameo – she plays the flighty Aunt Maud. Her interplay with Gladwin’s vitually catatonic Mr Hall is something of a treat, as is the transformed Mr Hall after Sid’s special drink has taken effect.

A mixed bag then, with some of the farce elements feeling rather forced, but Sid James and Kenneth Connor do their best with the material on offer.

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Six Dates with Barker – 2274: All the World’s a Stooge

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The year is 2274 and comedy is now a religion with Chaplin, Keaton and W.C. Fields revered as gods.  Life is an endless stream of corny jokes, but Prince Boffo (Barker), shortly to ascend to the throne, is increasingly dissatisfied with this.  His wife, Princess Hysteria (Joyce Grant), is baffled to learn that Boffo’s lost his sense of humour, but his daughter, Cheeky (Lesley Anne-Down) is more sympathetic.  Is Boffo fit to be King?  That’s for the Arch Funster (Michael Horden) to find out ….

Written by Barker (under his regular pseudonym of Gerald Wiley), All the World’s a Stooge is an intriguing and vaguely experimental sci-fi story.  No expense was spent to bring 2274 AD to life, although it’s possible this was an intentional nod to series such as Out of the Unknown, which also tended to depict future times on a shoestring budget.  And even if it wasn’t, it works anyway – flimsy looking sets and lashings of CSO just seem to be right for this type of story.

Did this obscure little playlet influence future writers?  It’s easy to see parallels in several later Doctor Who stories.  Vengeance on Varos also featured a couple who provide a running commentary on events, watching via their television screen (here it’s Joy Stewart and Victor Maddern as Tarty and Atlas).  And The Happiness Patrol could easily be depicting a sister world to this one.

Ronnie Barker loved corny gags and would later recycle many of them in the Two Ronnies Yokels sketches.  I’ve no doubt he enjoyed giving the old jokes featured here another airing, but there was also room to air a serious point.  This sort of humour becomes mechanical over time, with no joy to be gained from the responses and punchlines.  Boffo wants a world where humour is natural and unforced and it appears by the end of the episode that he’s got his wish, even if most of the planet (including his wife) don’t understand this and are simply glad he appears to be his old, funny self again.

A strong guest cast helps to enhance Wiley’s script.  Horden looks to be enjoying himself as the Arch Funster, especially when doing the Groucho walk.  Lesley-Anne Down is very appealing as Boffo’s idealistic daughter whilst Jack Tripp also impresses as the doctor who tells Boffo that his father is dead (“do you know what’s good for water on the brain? A tap on the head”).

Although it features a couple of indifferent instalments, overall Six Dates with Barker is a pretty strong series.  A few years later, after Barker moved back to the BBC, they did something similar with Seven of One, although that would produce both of Barker’s biggest sitcom successes …

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Six Dates with Barker – 1971: Come In and Lie Down

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After the disappointment of Lola, things take an upward turn again with Come In and Lie Down.  Doctor Swanton (Barker) is a brusque, seen-it-all psychiatrist who’s possibly met his match with Mr Matting (Michael Bates).  Matting’s tale of being observed all the time by a small man in a Robin Hood hat with binoculars seems like a typical sort of delusion, but then Swanton sees the man as well ….

Since it’s scripted by John Cleese, it’s possibly no surprise that it has a definite Python feel (for example, Reginald Maulding is namechecked).  Bates gives an energised performance as a man who has an intense fear of being labelled a looney.  To this end, when he first enters Swanton’s consulting room he pretends to be the gas man, sympathising about the difficulties Swanton must face.  “Blimey, what a job eh? Talking to loonies all day. Wouldn’t catch me being a psychiatrist, not me. I’ll stick to gas. A load of nutters aren’t they? In here, hopping around on one leg, squawking, think they’re Napoleon.”

Bates, best known for Last of the Summer Wine and It ‘Aint Half Hot Mum, freewheels in a most impressive fashion.  To begin with, it appears that he has the more showy role (Barker comes off as rather pallid in comparison).  But once Swanton believes he can also see Matting’s imaginary man, the power dynamic between the pair subtly shifts and Swanton begins to act in a hysterical fashion.  Matting is rather irritated when Swanton declares Matting isn’t a looney.  “Oh that’s nice isn’t it? If I can see him he’s imaginary but if you can see him he’s real. I get it. You think you’re Lord God Almighty don’t you? If a patent can see something you can’t see, he’s a looney, he should be down on the funny farm, but if Doctor Smartypants can see him, he’s there mate.”

The reveal of the imaginary man (Ian Trigger) is done subtly, as for a few minutes the audience is aware of him, but neither Swanton or Matting react.  As Matting’s used to him being there all the time that’s understandable, but are we viewing the scene through his eyes only?  It’s only when Swanton double-takes that the fun really starts.

Swanton’s mounting hysteria is a gift for Barker, who doesn’t disappoint.  The conclusion, as all three debate the nature of existence, is also nicely handed.  After Swanton proves that the imaginary man is real, Matting is able to leave a happy man – safe in the knowledge that he isn’t a looney.  You can see the final story-beat coming a mile off, but it’s really the only obvious punchline.

Given how the early series of The Two Ronnies recycled material from their time at LWT, it’s easy to see  a cut-down version of this working as a sketch, with Ronnie C taking the role of Michael Bates (despite the twenty five minute length, it’s played very much in the tempo of a typical Two Ronnies sketch).  It’s certainly one that still stands up well today.

Six Dates with Barker – 1915: Lola

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Fritz Braun (Barker) is a rather incompetent shorthand typist in the employ of Kaiser Wilhelm (Dennis Ramsden).  The Kasier dismisses him and then decides that since he knows too many secrets he can’t be allowed to live.  But the man he choses for the task, Captain Otto Von Diesel ( Graham Armitage), finds himself unable shoot his brother-in-law in cold blood.  This presents a problem, Fritz needs to be dead whilst a sultry female spy called Lola is reportedly dead but it would be better if she was alive.  This presents an obvious solution, why doesn’t Fritz drag up as Lola ….

After a couple of good episodes, Lola is a broad and fairly comedy-free farce.  Although Barker would put on women’s clothing on numerous occasions during The Two Ronnies, it was never something he felt terribly comfortable with.  His Lola is therefore a fairly broad creation (although the script by Ken Hoare and Mike Sharland didn’t really give him many opportunities for subtlety).

This studio-bound story flits between Germany and Paris and if the script is rather indifferent, then it’s possible to derive some enjoyment from the guest cast.  Hugh Walters has a few nice moments as a German corporal, Graham Armitage impresses as Von Diesel whilst Freddie Jones plays it very broad (but there’s no other way with this script) as an English officer bewitched by Lola’s charms.  The peerless Valentine Dyall has a small role as Lord Kitchener, posing for his famous portrait, complaining that his arm is going to sleep and taking more than a shine to Lola.

This one is best filed under indifferent.

Six Dates with Barker – 1970: The Odd Job

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David Jason’s early career was very much intertwined with Barker’s.  Jason’s respect and admiration for Barker has never been in doubt (to him, Barker was always “the guvnor”) and it’s plain that Jason considered his work with Barker, especially during the 1970’s, as something of a comedy apprenticeship – a chance for him to watch the master at work and learn from him.

Jason aged-up to play Dithers the gardener in Hark At Barker (1969 – 1970) and His Lordship Entertains (1972).  His old-age make-up would also come in useful when he appeared as Blanco in Porridge (1975 – 1977).  So it wouldn’t be until Open All Hours (1976 – 1985) that he was finally able to play a regular role of his own age opposite Barker.

The Odd Job also sees him act without aged make-up, as he appears as Clive, a man desperate for any odd jobs (“engines you want de-clogged or television sets, I mend typewriters and washing machines you know”).  Arthur Harriman (Barker) does have a job for him – remove the scabbard from a samurai sword.  Arthur can’t take the nagging from his wife Kitty (Joan Sims) any more, so has decided to take his own life.  But when faced with the sword (plus Clive’s graphic description of hari-kari) he finds it impossible to do it himself, so wonders if Clive would do this odd job for him ….

Arthur is a meek, mild and fairly monotonous character whilst Clive (thanks to Jason’s comic tics and Northern accent) rather commands the screen.  Given that Clive is by far the showier part, it’s interesting that Barker chose to play Arthur instead.  This may be because, coming from an acting background, he didn’t have the ego that some comedians possess and wouldn’t have minded if Jason was earning more of the laughs.

Written by Bernard McKenna, who’d earlier penned several instalments of Hark at Barker and would later write several of Jason’s early sitcom efforts, A Sharp Intake of Breath and The Secret Life of Edgar Briggs, it’s a simple, but effective concept which is given a twist when Arthur and Kitty are reconciled.  This means that he no longer needs Clive’s services, but convincing the enthusiastic Clive is a little tricky.

Part two is where we see Clive really begin to treat this odd job with gusto.  He’s a man of limitless invention – for example, putting hydrochloric acid in Arthur’s milk so that his cereal disintegrates, setting up a tripwire which catches an unfortunate milkman instead, and almost managing to shoot Arthur in the park (instead some garden gnomes are dispatched).

It’s always nice to see Joan Sims, even if she has little to do, and the appearance of Derek Ware (playing the milkman) is a sure sign that something nasty is going to happen.  Ware was one of those select band of stuntmen (along with the likes of Terry Walsh and Stuart Fell) who would become so ubiquitous that their arrival on screen was a clear indication that mayhem wouldn’t be far behind.

It’s a pity that The Odd Job only exists as a black and white film print, as I’ve no doubt that the location work in the second half would look rather better in colour.  But no matter, it’s always a pleasure to see Barker and Jason together and whilst the final twist may be obvious it’s also satisfying.  It would later be revived as a 1978 film with Jason reprising his role and Graham Chapman replacing Barker.  Chapman’s involvement makes it an interesting Python curio, but The Odd Job works best in the twenty five minute format.

All Star Comedy Carnival to be released by Network – 5th December 2016

all-star

Network will release the 1972 & 1973 editions of All Star Comedy Carnival in December.

An annual television event for five years from 1969, All Star Comedy Carnival was ITV’s annual ‘Christmas bonus’ – presenting viewers with brand-new sketches from the network’s most popular sitcoms of any given year. A highlight of the festive viewing period, only two editions still exist: those for 1972 and 1973.

This set presents both complete shows, comprising specially written festive sketches for thirteen classic series:

• LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
• ON THE BUSES
• CHRISTMAS WITH WOGAN
• NEAREST AND DEAREST
• THIRTY MINUTES WORTH
• SEZ LES
• THE FENN STREET GANG
• FATHER DEAR FATHER
• MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE
• MY GOOD WOMAN
• BILLY LIAR
• SPRING AND AUTUMN
• DOCTOR IN CHARGE

SPECIAL FEATURE: The Dustbinmen: All Star Comedy Carnival sketch from 1969.

Six Dates with Barker – 1899: The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town

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The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, thanks in part to the later Two Ronnies remake, is one of the more interesting segments of Six Dates With Barker.  The Six Dates version was written by Spike Milligan whilst the Two Ronnies remake was credited to Milligan and A Gentleman (an indication that Barker had a hand in reshaping the original concept in order to fill out the expanded running time of the Two Ronnies serial format).

Unsurprisingly there’s more than a touch of Goon Show humour about this one.  If the rumours are to believed, then Milligan originally planned it as a film which would have featured himself, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers – but these plans were abandoned due to Sellers’ film commitments.

After the somewhat laboured comedy of The Removals Man, Phantom is a joy right from the start.  Milligan’s eye for the absurd is given free range with numerous sight and dialogue gags.  One of my favourites revolves around Sergeant Bowles, who’s played by different actors of various builds.  One Bowles might enter a room directly behind Inspector Alexander (Barker) only for another to be seen in the next shot.  It’s stupid, but it works.

Barker plays several other roles (including dragging up as Lady Penelope Barclay-Hunt).  Lady Penelope ends up so shocked by the Phantom that her face turns black and her hair white (not something you’d see today of course).  The identity parade is another exercise in total ridiculousness – as we see a topless Scotsman, a Chinaman, a black Chelsea pensioner, a vicar and an upper class toff (played by the lovely Moira Foot, who’d earlier been equally unconvincing – in a comic way – as a newspaper urchin).

With concerns that Queen Victoria may be targeted, a number of male officers with no resemblance at all to her Majesty are drafted in to impersonate her (Pat Gorman is amongst their number).  Another favourite moment is the meeting of the heads of the Commonwealth, who feature a number of dummies amongst their number, including one who has a pumpkin for a head and another who sports a balloon instead!  Moira Foot, who’d also appeared alongside Barker as Effie the maid in Hark at Barker, once again provides a touch of glamour, this time as the pneumatically enhanced Maureen Body.

The later Two Ronnies remake might have seen the addition of many more gags (as well as enjoying the comic talents of Ronnie C) but the compact Six Dates with Barker version is highly entertaining in its own right.  A pity they didn’t spin this one off into its own series, had Milligan been able to keep up this stream of comic invention it might have worked very well.

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Six Dates with Barker – 1937: The Removals Person

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Having transferred over to LWT from the BBC, along with Ronnie Corbett and David Frost, it wasn’t surprising that Ronnie Barker’s talent for playing numerous different characters quickly earned him a series of one-off playlets, Six Dates with Barker, which aired during 1971.

The premise of the series is straightforward – each twenty five minute episode is set in a different year (mostly the 20th century, although the final one – All The World’s A Stooge – ventures into the year 2774AD) and sees Barker tackle a set of diverse characters.  Possibly it was hoped that one or more of them would prove popular enough to spin off into a series – it did happen with this one, although it took seventeen years until Clarence reached the screen (and then on the BBC).

The Removals Person is such a one-joke premise that it’s highly doubtful Clarence would have ever gone ahead had Barker not been so keen to make it.  At that late point in his career, Barker was a comedy heavyweight who was pretty much able to do as he pleased.  Barker clearly saw untapped potential in Hugh Leonard’s The Removals Person and wrote all six scripts of Clarence himself (under the pseudonym of Bob Ferris).  He wasn’t averse to recycling Leonard’s jokes though ….

Here, Barker plays Fred, although visually he’s pretty much identical to the later Clarence.  Josephine Tewson, as in Clarence, is Travers, a maid who attempts to limit the damage caused by the myopic removals man and then slowly falls in love with him.  The year is 1937 and whilst the rest of London is busy celebrating the Coronation, Fred and Albert (Christopher Timothy) have a job to do – pack up all the belongings from a swanky flat and transport them over to Southampton.

Albert (Timothy essays possibly not the most convincing Cockney accent ever heard) has other ideas as he wants to pop off for an hour or so to watch the procession, which leaves Fred in sole charge.  We’ve already had a quick look at the world through Fred’s eyes (blurry to the point of blindness) so nothing that happens subsequently should be a surprise.  For example, he mistakes a post box for a Chelsea pensioner, believes that Travers is a coat stand and decides that the unhappy Miss Angela (Gillian Fairchild) is a standard lamp.

How much this appeals will probably depend on how well disposed you are towards the numerous (lack of) sight gags.  Fred is rather crude and not terribly sympathetic, conversely Tewson is rather appealing as Travers, a woman so obviously lonely that she responds to Fred’s charmless overtures.  Gillian Fairchild soars over the top as Miss Angela, but this is mainly a two-hander between Fred and Travers.

The Removals Person is diverting enough, but it’s chiefly of interest because of the eighties revival – taken on its own this is pretty average fair.  The shocking amount of tape damage on the VT master is quite notable, it’s quite unusual to see something in such poor shape.

The Glories of Christmas

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Broadcast on the 25th of December 1973, The Glories of Christmas boasts a host of familiar faces. John Bluthal, Dora Bryan, Patrick Cargill, Diana Coupland, Les Dawson, Arthur English, Gerald Harper, Kathleen Harrison, Melvyn Hayes, James Hayter, Gordon Honeycombe, John Laurie, Alfred Marks, Bob Monkhouse, Pat Phoenix and Patrick Troughton were amongst those making an appearance (although some were very brief).  But the undoubted star of the show was Princess Grace of Monaco and it was a considerable coup that Yorkshire Television were able to recruit her.

We open with the Beverley Sisters and the Batchelors taking it in turns to sing excerpts from Christmas favourites.  If you can keep a straight face as the Batchelors sway their way through Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer then you have more self control than I do.  This sets the tone for the show – a selection of middle-brow entertainment that in some ways seems a lot further back than 1973.

The music hall setting of part one reinforces this – in quick succession we see the Scottish tenor Kenneth McKellar, Francis Van Dyke and his violin, Janet Baker singing Cherubino’s Aria from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Rostal & Schaefer tickling the ivories.  Let’s stop for a moment and consider that ITV decided this was just the sort of thing audiences wanted to watch on Christmas Day afternoon.  You certainly wouldn’t see anything like it today (especially the young boy blacked up as a golliwog) which makes it a window into a vanished television age.

Much more worthwhile is part two – The Glories of Literature – in which the cream of the British acting and entertainment profession make fleeting appearances as some of Charles Dickens’ immortal characters.  John Laurie is a perfect Scrooge, Gerald Harper is a fine Mr Jingle whilst Les Dawson is an interesting Mr Micawber (for some reason he chose to play it as W.C. Fields).  Dora Bryan has an amusing few lines as Sarah Gamp and Patrick Troughton reprised his role as Mr Quilp (albeit for twenty seconds or so).  It’s a great pity that his original turn as Quilp (from the 1962 BBC adaptation) is wiped – maybe one day it’ll return from a dusty overseas archive.  We can but hope.

Part three sees Princess Grace read the story of the nativity, which serves a reminder that The Glories of Christmas was produced by ITV’s religious department.  The visual representation of the story is either charming or shoddy (depending on how forgiving you are).  Everything is studio-bound and very false-looking, but maybe they were aiming for the slightly unreal feeling of a school nativity play.  Or it could just be that they lacked the budget to shoot on location.

The Glories of Christmas is a real curio that’s certainly worth a look (if you want to track it down it’s on the Les Dawson at ITV – The Specials DVD).


 

Christmas with Eric and Ernie (1979)

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In March 1979 Eric Morecambe suffered his second heart attack.  Told at one point that he only had three months to live, it was a slow road to recovery.  His illness meant that a traditional Christmas Special was out of the question, so instead Thames gave us Christmas With Eric and Ernie.  This was essentially an extended interview conducted by David Frost which also saw a few special guests (Des O’Connor, Glenda Jackson) popping by to indulge in some banter.

It’s probably the best of the Thames specials, mainly because it was always a pleasure to see a relaxed Morecambe and Wise just sitting around chatting.  Eric is quite notably “on” for the early part of the interview, constantly looking to crack gags, but there are a few moments when he’s in a slightly more reflective mood.

“All comedy is based on fear” he says at one point.  Ernie then comments about tough houses – playing the Glasgow Empire and going off to the sound of your own footsteps.  Both of them delight in reminding Des about his disastrous time at the same theatre (he was so intimated by the audience that he fainted).  Morecambe and Wise went on the next week and offered the audience their impression of Des.  “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen <thud>”.

It’s not a detailed career-spanning retrospective, although Frost does ask about the early days, enabling Ernie to give us a rendition of Let’s Have a Tiddly At the Milk Bar, which is a nice moment.  There’s a clip from the ATV years, which sparks some interesting comments from Eric about how his comedy persona had changed over the years.

Des O’Connor is on hand to receive some good-natured abuse from Eric and Glenda Jackson provides a link to the classic BBC years (not surprisingly there’s no clips).

They end with Bring Me Sunshine and the appearance of Janet Webb to take all the applause is a nod back to former glories.  The Parkinson interview from the 1970’s probably has the edge on this one (a pity it wasn’t included on the BBC Christmas Specials DVD) but this is still a joy.

Eric & Ernie’s Christmas Show (1978)

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Having jumped ship from the BBC to Thames in early 1978, this was their second special for ITV (the first was broadcast in October 1978).  Somebody who didn’t travel with them, at least to begin with, was Eddie Braben – so the show was written by Barry Cryer and John Junkin with additional material by Morecambe and Wise themselves.

The lack of Braben, and possibly having to work with producer/director Keith Beckett (who had produced the October special but still must have been an unknown quantity) might explain why everything feels a little laboured.

There’s the occasional ironic nod back to their BBC shows – most notably when they introduce Anna Ford and proceed to indulge in a trademark top hat and tails dance.  The joke, such as it is, is that this isn’t Ford but a lookalike – as becomes obvious when every opportunity is taken to shield her face from the camera.  Given that they were never short of real celebs, it’s an odd sequence – possibly a topical gag that hasn’t travelled down the decades too well?

The biggest waste of talent concerns Leonard Rossiter’s appearance.  Things start promisingly with some decent cross-talk in front of the curtain – Rossiter tells them he’s not working here, just passing through on his way to the BBC.  Eric then mutters they might not be far behind!  All three then drag up as the Andrews Sisters and mime to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.  And that’s it – the mere fact that they’re dressed as the Andrews Sisters is presumably supposed to be hilarious (but alas, no).

It’s not all bad though.  There’s a nice flat scene with Frank Finley and the sequence with Eric, Ernie and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra is good fun.  The big moment is reserved for the end, as Harold Wilson pops round to the flat.  Irrespective of whether he’s funny or not, the novelty of seeing the ex-prime minister is worth the price of admission alone.  The look on Eric and Ernie’s face as Wilson receives a tumultuous round of applause from the audience is lovely to see and Wilson’s a good sport – receiving Eric’s jibe that he’s actually Mike Yarwood (and doing an impression of Tommy Cooper!) with equanimity.

Overall it’s pretty patchy stuff.  M&W still obviously had the audience’s affection, but they weren’t well served by Cryer and Junkin’s material.

 

Stanley Baxter’s Christmas Box

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Although the BBC had the jewels in the light entertainment Christmas crown during the majority of the 1970’s – The Two Ronnies, Mike Yarwood and Morecambe & Wise – ITV weren’t totally bereft, as they had the considerable talents of Stanley Baxter.

Baxter had established himself on the BBC with a number of series between 1963 and 1971, but then jumped ship to LWT in 1972 where he remained for the next decade.  His programmes were quite expensive – big production numbers and his penchant for playing multiple characters were two of the reasons why.  And it was partially cost that saw him fade away from television (as executives decided they could no longer afford him).  But the change of the comedy landscape in the 1980’s, which had seen casualties like Benny Hill, could also have had something to do with it.

When pondering whether Baxter could have continued into the mid to late 1980’s, you have to say that Stanley Baxter’s Picture Box, broadcast on the 26th of December 1976, was of its time.  Stereotypes are certainly in evidence, such as the Jewish BBC newsreader.  “Here is the news at nine, but for you – eight forty five.”  He also blacks up towards the end in a sequence you could never imagine receiving an airing today.

An early highlight is the Philip Marlowe sketch which sees him approached by Cinderella.  Baxter plays all the characters – Marlowe, Cinderella, Prince Charming and the Ugly Sisters.  It’s notable that split-screen photography wasn’t used – instead we either focus on one person or if another’s in shot then they’re only seen from behind (played by a double).  One of the drawbacks with Baxter playing everybody is that he never had anyone else to react against, so he’s reliant on the editing.  But it’s pretty good here and although there’s some painfully obvious lines, there’s some good ones too.  “People from my past flashed before my eyes. Until they got booked for indecent exposure.”

There’s a fair amount of focus on the BBC. Apart from the newsreader we also see The Bruce Fosdyke Show (“tonight at 11:45 if you’ve absolutely nothing else to do”).  The Fosdyke sequence doesn’t outstay its welcome and contains several decent brief gags (such as Baxter dressed as Nana Mouskouri and Sharri Lewis and Lambchop as they’ve never been seen before).

An appeal on behalf of the inhibited from Faith Douche provides a good opportunity to exhume some old favourites.  “I was strongly against sex on television, because whenever I tried it I kept sliding off the top of the set”.  Elsewhere, Baxter’s amusing as Noel Coward and also impresses as Jacques Cousteau who’s decided to explore the murky depths of Margate.

Girl on the Cover tells the story of the obese Lois Latnick who’s turned into a cover beauty for the magazine Harpie’s Bizarre.  Lois’s fatsuit is rather crude compared to what could be achieved decades later, but the heart of the sequence is when she’s transformed into a beauty (or at least as beautiful as Baxter as could ever hope to be!) and we launch into a series of musical numbers which close the show.

Written by Ken Hoare with additional material from Baxter, Barry Cryer, Iain McIntyre and Neil Shand, Stanley Baxter’s Christmas Box is good, bawdy fun.

Two’s Company – A Loving Christmas

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Two’s Company was a culture clash comedy – Dorothy McNab (Elaine Stritch) is a rich American and Robert Hiller (Donald Sinden) is her superior English butler.  Their differing natures are spelt out in the opening credits (which seem to go on forever).

Running for four series between 1975 and 1979, Two’s Company‘s strength is the banter between Stritch and Sinden.  Take that away and there’s not a great deal left – the writing is amusing enough but it’s hardly top-tier sitcom fare.  But the first series had clearly been successful enough for A Kind of Loving (the opening episode of series two) to receive a Christmas Day airing in 1976.

The relationship between Dorothy and Robert is made clear by their choice of presents to each other.  Dorothy is underwhelmed to receive an LP of Elgar’s Enigma Variations whilst Robert is equally unimpressed with an LP by Jelly Roll Morton.  Once they swop, then they’re much happier.  Although both presents were unsuitable, there’s no malice in their choices – possibly they genuinely wanted to widen the others musical horizons (although it was doomed to failure).  This sets the tone for their general interaction – both indulge in a subtle form of one-upmanship, with honours (in this episode) ending up even.

The plot of this one is quite simple.  Both say their goodbyes on Christmas Eve as they head off in different directions (Dorothy to Paris and Robert to the country).  But both were fibbing and had planned to spend a quiet Christmas at home (Robert in the comfortable downstairs portion of the house) with convivial company.  As both of them have now returned that creates something of a problem.  And when Robert’s friend Gillian (Geraldine Newman) takes an interest in Dorothy’s friend Nigel (Derek Waring) that just adds to the tension.   And then Dorothy’s cousin Clarence (John Bay) turns up …..

Clarence is your stereotypical, loud, crass American – constantly referring to Robert as “Jeeves” much to his disgust.  Dorothy’s no more pleased to see him and when Gillian and Nigel leave together that means Dorothy, Robert and Clarence are fated to spend Christmas together.

Bay was married to Elaine Stritch, but he was a decent actor so his appearance here wasn’t just nepotism (it’s not his fault that Clarence was written as such an irritating person). Geraldine Newman and Derek Waring were both very experienced performers and they help to give the episode a bit of impetus.

Donald Sinden’s spot-on comic timing, even with the fairly thin material, is worth watching and he has a decent foe in Elaine Stritch.  Not a classic series, but a passable way of spending twenty five minutes.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 4th May 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

The Wedgewoods
Beryl Calvert
Jimmy Jewel
Marie
Valentino
Johnnie Wager, Union Man
Buddy Greco

First up are the Wedgewoods, a wholesome singing group.  They’re a vision in blue velvet and the highlight of their song must be when the camera pans into the audience to show us a man clapping with such grim determination that it’s possible to imagine there’s a gun pointing at him off camera!

Next is ventriloquist Beryl Calvert.  She’s quite well-spoken, whilst her doll sports a broad Liverpudlian accent.  It’s a decent act, although it only attracts polite laughter from the audience.  Beryl certainly doesn’t leave any stone unturned when attempting to tug at the heartstrings of the punters though (similar to the way that Keith Harris and Orville would later work).

Buddy Greco makes a brief appearance and he’s far from impressed with the piano he’s been given.  When he tells the chairman he requires a grand piano, he’s told that it’s the grandest they’ve got.  It’s not what he wants to hear, so he kicks the piano over and leaves the stage.  This forces Bernard to fill in, with the assistance of a drunk from the audience (played by Jimmy Jewel).

Jewel was a veteran British variety performer, who had enjoyed a thirty year partnership with his cousin Ben Warriss, before they went their separate ways in the late 1960’s.  After the split, Jewel would continue to rack up an impressive list of film and television credits well into the 1990’s.  At the time of this Wheeltappers appearance he would have been best known for the ITV sitcom Nearest and Dearest, where he appeared alongside Hylda Baker (famously, the pair detested each other in real life).

His comic talents are rather wasted here, as the “joke” is that Bernard and Jimmy perform a song which appears to get a rapturous reception.  But what they don’t realise is that the applause is for the stripper who’s appeared behind them.  So they continue to give encore after encore, whilst the stripper (Marie) takes off another item of clothing.  How long can this joke be stretched out?  Quite a way, it has to be said.

After the break, we’re launched into the middle of Valentino’s act.  It’s a compelling turn – although it might just be the ever-so shiny jacket that piqued my interest.  If you’ve ever wondered how Colonel Bogey would sound on the accordion when played in different countries, then this is the turn for you.  Valentino, born Jackie Farn, has enjoyed a long and successful career, rubbing shoulders with a host of showbiz greats (including the Beatles).  His official website, modestly called King of the Music is worth a look.

After a fairly laughter-free turn from Johnnie Wager, it’s a relief to learn that they’ve found Buddy Greco a decent piano and he’s returned to close the show.  Born in 1926, Greco is still going strong – a survivor from a classic era of music.  In the 1960’s he appeared with the Rat Pack and is a veteran of numerous Las Vegas engagements.  He brings a little of that glamour to the Wheeltappers, although the performance is slightly wonky – not necessarily his fault, since the band do seem to be playing different songs at the same time!

The Galton and Simpson Playhouse – Big Deal at York City

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Albert Cakebread (Warren Mitchell) has had a good day at York Races.  On the train back to London, he flashes his winnings (over two thousand pounds) in the bar and offers to buy everyone a drink.  This catches the attention of one of the passengers, Basil Trenchard (Gerald Flood).

Later on, Trenchard, along with two other people (played by Alister Williamson and Robert Dorning), asks Albert if he fancies a friendly game of cards to while away the journey.  Albert agrees, as does another passenger in the carriage (a businessman played by Robin Parkinson).  In order to keep things fair, Albert asks the imposing figure of the Bishop (Lockwood West) to deal the cards.

It’s obvious that Flood and his two friends are con-men who plan to fleece the ebullient Albert out of his winnings.  Each hand reduces Albert’s money little by little, so that by the last hand he desperately stakes everything he has  The others do as well and it seems that Trenchard is going to walk away with the lot.  But amazingly, it’s the mild-mannered businessman (Parkinson) who actually has the winning hand and he scoops the whole pot.  The twist is that he, Albert and the Bishop are also a gang of con-men (who have managed to outfox the other three by being a little more subtle).

Big Deal at York City boasts an interesting performance from Warren Mitchell who affects an accent which I believe is a West Country one.  Why he didn’t use his more familiar London tones is a bit of a mystery, unless it was supposed to lull the three marks into believing him to be a country bumpkin.  His character certainly comes over as something of a simple, trusting soul (although as we see that isn’t the case at all).

Gerald Flood (bad King John, or at least something that looked like him, in the Doctor Who story The Kings Demons) is rather good as the card-sharp who spies what he thinks is an easy mark, only to be taken to the cleaners himself.  Another solid performance comes from Lockwood West as a man of the cloth who seems to gain a great deal of knowledge about poker as the game goes on!

Although Mitchell’s accent and slight overplaying is a little distracting, Big Deal at York City is an entertaining twenty-five minutes that brings the Galton and Simpson Playhouse to a close.  Although the quality of the series was a little variable, the first-rate casts in each episode do help to sometimes lift the material.  It’s not Hancock or early Steptoe standard by any means, but it’s certainly worth a look.