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.