The Losers – A Star Is Born (12th November 1978)

Any sitcom starring Leonard Rossiter is going to be worth a look (even Tripper’s Day, although only the strong or foolhardy will probably be able to watch all six episodes of that one).

The Losers has plenty going for it – the series was scripted by Alan Coren and featured Alfred Molina (making his television debut) as Rossiter’s co-star.  It’s pretty tough going though, for several reasons.

Firstly the picture quality isn’t great. The videotape masters were wiped, so we’re left with off airs of the first five episodes (the final episode has presumably disappeared for good) which can be headache inducing. This is particularly noticeable during the series’ debut episode – A Star Is Born – where at certain points the picture keeps going to black every few seconds.

Set in the world of pro-wrestling, The Losers reinforced the widely held belief about the rigged nature of British wrestling (the sport was still a Saturday afternoon staple on ITV but its days were numbered). Sydney Foskitt (Rossiter) is a manager in desperate need of a fighter to lose convincingly in a big match. All seems doomed for Sydney, until he stumbles across the monosyllabic Nigel (Molina).

Good points about this first episode. Rossiter is his usual immaculate self and plays comfortably to type – he’s on decent form when the increasingly hysterical Sydney finds himself backed into a corner by the sport’s Mr Big, Max Snow (Peter Cleal). Joe Gladwin, as a cynical old trainer, is also good value as is Paul Luty, who throws himself around the ring with reckless abandon.

Possibly the best part of the episode takes place at a fairground where Sydney is hiding out (he’s attempting to dodge the wrath of Mr Snow). Sydney, as befits a WW2 veteran, breezily demonstrates his skill at the shooting range – only to miss the target and fill the top prize (a teddy bear) full of holes.

The stallholder and his wife (John Cater and Stella Tanner) are both dismayed about this, as is their son Nigel.  Things are about to turn nasty, when Sydney realises that Nigel (by a wonderful coincidence) is a wrestler. He may be a rubbish one, but that’s exactly what Sydney needs, someone who’ll lose when instructed.

There’s a harshness throughout A Star Is Born. Nigel’s father is more than happy to offload his son onto Sydney (“his mother and me always wanted a dwarf, there’s midgets on her side”) whilst the manipulation by Sydney of the simple and trusting Nigel does leave you with a nasty taste in the mouth.

Critical reaction to the series was muted at best. The Stage and Television Today reported that “there wasn’t much to say – except perhaps to express regret that it was written by Alan Coren” (16th November 1978). Meanwhile the Daily Mirror’s postbag contained this missive from R. Jackson of London. “Oh dear! What has that wonderful actor Leonard Rossiter done, getting mixed up in The Losers?” (25th November 1978).

The fact that the third and final series of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin began airing in late November 1978 did The Losers no favours, as it clearly came off second best when compared to Perrin.  Presumably ATV agreed and decided that the series had little or no repeat value, wiping the tapes sometime after transmission.

Although there were later archive loses (the erasure of BBC children’s programmes like Rentaghost and Animal Magic not to mention the accidental destruction of most of Granada’s Lift Off With Ayshea) The Losers has to be one of the last British dramas or sitcoms to have been deliberately wiped in its entirety.

The fact that most of it has been recovered is a cause for celebration, but the first episode suggests that it’s no lost classic (to put it mildly). No doubt I’ll brave the rest of the series in due course, but I’ll probably take it nice and slowly.

Alan Bleasdale Presents Requiem Apache

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Hamish (Alfred Molina) has left his former life as a getaway driver far behind. Now ensconced in a bucolic English village and living a contented existence with his wife and baby daughter, everything seems perfect. Which it is until his old friends come calling and ask him to join them in one final job. But with his wife away he’s been left holding the baby – so even if he wanted to, juggling the twin demands of a life of crime and baby care might turn out to be a little tricky ….

Alan Bleasdale Presents was a short series of C4 television films broadcast during 1994. With Bleasdale acting as producer and mentor, the series gave a handful of young writers valuble exposure and the opportunity to hone their talents. And there’s no doubt that his name on the project helped to attract the cream of the acting profession (Requiem Apache, for example, featured brief appearances from the likes of Julie Walters).

This appears to be Raymond Murtagh’s only script for either film or television, which is a slightly surprising since it’s a quirky and entertaining piece (Murtagth’s other credits were all on the acting front – he appeared in various series including Crown Court, Juliet Bravo and Doctor Who).

Once Hamish’s wife swiftly departs aboard for a foreign trip, he throws himself into the task of looking after his daughter Laura (Aimee and Lynsay Bullard) with gusto. There’s a definite “aww” factor to these scenes, helped no end by the baby actor. The scene where Hamish engages Laura in conversation and she turns to stare at him could clearly never be scripted, but is a lovely moment nonetheless!

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Elsewhere though, storm clouds are brewing. A mysterious individual, credited only as the Juice Man (Robin Lefevre) is putting the squeeze on Hamish’s old boss, Tony (Kenneth Cranham), who in turn decides to put the squeeze on Hamish. The Juice Man certainly makes an impact with his handful of scenes. He gets his name from the way he intimidates a hapless barman (Christopher Ryan – another well known face appearing in a fairly small role) into giving him an immaculately poured glass of orange juice. The Juice Man also has a unique way of disposing of people who displease him ….

As good as Alfred Molina is, Requiem Apache really springs to life whenever Kenneth Cranham is on the screen. Effortlessly stealing every scene he appears in, he gives a beautifully judged performance which adds an extra level of quality to the production. Andrew Schofield and Ralph Brown (as Tony’s fixers, Rocky and Mick) are also good value – they’re mainly cast as comic foils, but are also responsible for the occasional darker moment (these brief bursts of violence are especially jolting given that the majority of the story is played almost like an Ealing Comedy).

The climatic bank robbery, with Hamish as the driver and Tony, Rocky and Mick cast in the unlikely roles of three blind men (all the better for confusing the bank staff) then leads into a final payoff which I doubt many would have seen coming. But whilst it might be unexpected it’s also a satisfying conclusion which ties up all the loose ends.

As touched upon before, there’s plenty of quality in this cast. Along with Julie Walters’ cameo (which doesn’t advance the plot at all, but passes a few minutes very agreeably) it’s also nice to see Sam Kelly, Chris Ryan, Peter Benson and Jon Laurimore passing through and at just 77 minutes the story doesn’t outstay its welcome.

An amusing comedy romp which isn’t afraid to go dark at times, Requiem Apache is a brisk treat, powered along by the excellent cast. Recommended.

Requiem Apache is released by Simply Media on the 28th of May 2018, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).