Till Death us do Part will be released by Network in December.
Highly popular – and more than a little controversial – Johnny Speight’s classic sitcom satirised the less acceptable aspects of conservative working-class culture and the yawning generation gap, creating a sea change in television comedy that influenced just about every sitcom that followed. As relevant today as when first transmitted, Speight’s liberal attitude to comedy shone a light on some of the more unsavoury aspects of the national character to great effect.
Starring Warren Mitchell as highly opinionated, true-blue bigot Alf Garnett, Till Death Us Do Part sees him mouthing off on race, immigration, party politics and any other issues that take his fancy. His rantings meet fierce opposition in the form of his left-wing, Liverpudlian layabout son-in-law Mike, while liberal daughter Rita despairs and long-suffering wife Else occasionally wields a sharp put-down of her own.
Though all colour episodes exist, many early black and white episodes were wiped decades ago. The recent recovery of the episode Intolerance, however, alongside off-air audio recordings made on original transmission allow us to present a near-complete run of the series from beginning to end.
Running across BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4, the upcoming Landmark Sitcom Season is a series of one-off specials designed to celebrate sixty years of the British sitcom (Hancock’s Half Hour, which debuted on BBC tv in 1956, has been taken as the starting point). Of course, if any prove to be popular they can be developed into full series, which means that the cynics amongst us might regard this as little more than a season of pilots …..
For the purposes of this blog, there’s seven which are of interest – four on BBC1 and the other three on BBC4. BBC1 gives us Porridge, Are You Being Served, Goodnight Sweetheart and Young Hyacinth (a prequel to Keeping Up Appearances) whist BBC4 has Hancock’s Half Hour, Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son.
Goodnight Sweetheart is notable because it’s the only one able to reunite the original cast (alas, time has caught up with most of the stars from the others). Marks and Gran have already revived another of their sitcoms, Birds of a Feather, on ITV, so it’s not difficult to believe that this has been made with one eye on a full series.
Young Hyacinth is another that’s easy to imagine has been crafted as a back-door pilot. Writer Roy Clarke has form for this – First of the Summer Wine was an effective (if not terribly popular, ratings-wise) prequel to Last of the Summer Wine – and the current success of Still Open All Hours suggests that Clarke would be up for a revisit of another of his old shows. Some other time I’ll cast an eye over Clarke’s whole career – it’s amazing that he’s still going strong and it has to be said that his CV is a varied one with a lot more to offer than just umpteen years of Summer Wine.
Are You Being Served looks to be a pitch-perfect recreation of the original series, complete with all the familiar catchphrases. Whether this is a good or bad thing is very much down to personal taste of course ….
Porridge looks to be doing something a little different. It would have been easy enough to cast someone not physically dissimilar to Ronnie Barker (Peter Kay for example) and simply rehash old glories, but the clips show that it’s very much set in the present day (unlike Are You Being Served which remains stuck in the mid eighties) . One positive is that the updated Porridge has been scripted by Clement and La Frenais themselves, although it’s slightly concerning that they’re not adverse to plagiarising themselves. Familiar gags (“I won’t let you catch me”) and a martinet Scottish prison officer are present and correct.
Whilst the BBC1 revivals feature new scripts, the ones on BBC4 take a different approach. Steptoe, Hancock and Till Death are newly recorded versions of wiped originals …. well sort of. All the Steptoe episodes still exist, so they’ve chosen one which only remains as a poor quality B&W video recording.
These three episodes have a very different feel to their BBC1 counterparts. The original sitcoms tended to be rather studio-bound, but these new recordings heighten this feel. The lack of solid walls in the sets makes them seem rather theatrical and artificial, although it’s more than likely that this has something to do with the fact that BBC4 has a considerably lower budget than BBC1.
Although some of the efforts look interesting rather than rib-tickling, I have to say that I’m looking forward to the Hancock episode. Kevin McNally has already recorded a number of missing HHH radio scripts for Radio 4 (jolly good they are too) and his performances make it clear just how much love and respect he has for the Lad Himself.
When the season’s up and running I’ll be blogging about some of my favourite British sitcom episodes. So I guess now’s a good time to go off and do some research …..