One of the advantages of a series like Hi-De-Hi! is that the large ensemble cast enables each character, especially those who usually operate on the periphery, to have a chance to shine. And as might be expected by the title, The Partridge Season (Series One, Episode Four, Tx 12/04/81) puts the spotlight on the perpetually grumpy Punch and Judy man Mr Partridge (Leslie Dwyer).
Dwyer was a veteran actor (born 1906) who had enjoyed a long career in films and television (although usually in supporting roles). Therefore, his regular performances in Hi-De-Hi! gave him a late taste of fame (very similar to the experiences enjoyed by the likes of John Laurie and Arnold Ridley in another Perry/Croft vehicle, Dad’s Army). Mr Partridge was never going to be a character who would be central to the series (he worked better as someone who confined himself to the odd withering one-liner delivered from the comfort of his chair in the staff-room) but every so often he could be moved more up-front, as here.
Jeffrey has received orders to sack him. Mr Partridge’s contempt for all children has already been well established, but this time he’s overstepped the mark. When Jeffrey calls him into the office, Mr Partridge knows why he’s there and he gives him his side of the story.
Well, I was packing up the Punch and Judy and I couldn’t find the sausages. So I looked around and there was this snotty-nosed kid sucking an ice-cream cornet. ‘Have you got my sausages?’ I said. ‘Get lost, Grandad’ he said, and I could see ’em sticking out of his pocket. So I grabbed ’em off him, snatched his ice-cream cornet, stuck it in his face, give it a twist, then I clipped ‘im round the earhole and kicked ‘im up the arse.
I’ve already mentioned in my post on Hey Diddle Diddle how an air of melancholy is sometimes not far from the surface. The forced jollity of the holiday-camp environment has something to do with it, but Mr Partridge (like some of the others) is an individual who’s found himself washed up at Maplins, past his prime and unable to get a job anywhere else.
He gives Jeffrey a brief outline of his career (as the camera slowly closes in on Dwyer, an obvious, but a good way of focusing the audience’s attention). He started off on the halls as Whimsical Willie, the Juggling Joker. After he came out of the Army in 1918 he gave up the juggling and became a comic – but talking pictures killed variety so he became a children’s entertainer. After a stint entertaining the troops with ENSA during WW2 he eventually found himself working at Maplins.
All this is enough to convince Jeffrey that deserves another chance. Mr Partridge is delighted and promises that he won’t let him down. He also asks for an advance on his salary – to buy a new cover for the Punch and Judy booth, he says. Jeffrey agrees and this is where the trouble really starts.
Jeffrey’s mistakenly under the impression that the affair of the ice-cream cornet was an isolated incident, but Ted puts him straight and lists some of Mr Partridge’s numerous run-ins with his audience. “What about the time he put syrup of figs in the pot at the tiny-tots tea party?” Worse than all this though is the benders. “Once or twice every season, he gets a load of whisky and locks himself in his chalet and he’s legless for three days.” And Jeffrey’s given him the money to do just that.
As ever, it’s the decent and honourable Jeffrey who has to suffer. Always thinking the best of people, he finds himself left down by Mr Partridge and as a consequence has to share his chalet with Fred Quilley (who apologies for the horsey smell). Best of all, he’s pressured into covering the Punch and Judy show. The man-eating Sylvia offers to help, which seems like a good idea, but there’s very little room in the tent for two, much to Sylvia’s delight!
Spike wants to help Mr Partridge, but Ted is unsympathetic. “I’ve been covering up for him for ten years. And I’ve had it up to here. He’s a rotten, bad tempered old tosspot!” Ted has never thought of him as anything other than a third-rate Punch and Judy man, but Spike tells him he’s seen the cuttings that record his earlier successes – topping the bill at the Holborn Empire and performing in a Royal Command Performance at Windsor Castle.
Of course, in the end all is well and whilst it’s inevitable that it won’t be long before Mr Partridge causes more trouble, his dysfunctional surrogate family at Maplins will no doubt rally round. The reveal that he actually was as a big a star as he claimed is a nice, sentimental touch. It would have been just as easy for him to really have been nothing more than a third-rate musical hall turn, but it’s his genuine (if faded) stardom, as well as the injury he sustained during WW1 (which was the reason he had to give up the juggling), that persuades Ted to talk Jeffrey into giving him another chance.