Thursday, 21 February 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Sez Les (22 February 1974)


  Les Dawson is all well and good, but his comedy is of secondary interest to the amount of thought and imagination that went into the light entertainment sections of his shows. This week's musical guest is Lynsey De Paul (performing one of her signature flirtations, 'Let's Boogie'), sat behind the piano and singing in a sequence of close-up asides to various cameras with interesting mixes between shots.

 Of yet greater interest are the Irving Davies Dancers, whose routine is of the same idiosyncratic quality as their science fiction number of the 25th of January. I don't recognise the song, which lists the senses with a 'touch me' chorus, of the school of Hair or Tommy. It is interpreted with an Eastern spiritual theme, the troupe forming a deity with multiple arms, and an interest in choreographing the unit into one organic entity, from which individuals then break away from and again coalesce. As well as vivid colour lighting - a lime green filter this week - there's an interest in superimposing images, with the lead dancer wearing an enormous blue cloak which then becomes CSOed into a close-up of her face. These bold sequences must have been some of the most ambitious and abstract performance on British television at the time, and it’s exciting to think that they went out on such a mainstream show.
 

A Comedy On This Day: It Ain't Half Hot, Mum - The Inspector Calls (21 February 1974)


 Sergeant Major Williams gets another voice-over devious soliloquy in this episode, delivered in quite an alarming eyeball-swivelling, beads-of-sweat close-up.

 There's some
(to my mind) unorthodox casting here, with a visiting General played by Jeffrey Segal (best remembered now as Arthur Perkins in Rentaghost). Good actor that he was, there must have been dozens of other performers who would have been more obvious choices to convey the authority and class background of such a high ranking officer. David Croft must have been pleased with the decision, anyway, as he went on to cast Segal as a Brigadier in Dad's Army.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? - No Hiding Place (20 February 1973)


 This one seems familiar... Thanks to Genome, we learn that it was repeated in 1975, 1981, 1985, 1986, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2000. I think that I'd have seen almost all of those on transmission! That's around five more repeats than most of the surrounding episodes in the series, many of which were unseen between 1975 and 1995.

 One reason why this particular episode became the one that always got shown was scheduling fortuitousness. Its a comedy about international football that the viewer needs no interest whatsoever in international football to fully understand and enjoy, making it a handy programme to fill in half an hour during disruptive football programming (a trick first tried when it was broadcast immediately before the opening ceremony of the 1986 World Cup). Another reason was its comforting familiarity after it had been repeated a few times. Perhaps the biggest reason is that it has a narrative hook that is easily grasped - needing to get through a day without discovering the result of a major event - and appeals to peoples' imaginations (although maybe its starting to come across as alien in a smartphone age).

 What's odd about its particular fame is that it’s not a very representative episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? There's no Thelma for a start, and nothing of the major arc of that first series of Bob's engagement and marriage. There's also very little of class comedy of the gap between Bob and Terry's aspirations and approaches to life. Its there in the first scene with Terry's unease at the (gloriously period) hairdressers, but that's it. There's also little of the terrible creeping nostalgia that often shades the two old friends' conversations beyond their memories of the unhygienic barbers of old. Its rather closer to the caper storylines of the sixties Likely Lads than most of the sequel's episodes.

 What it does shares with the other episode is dialogue that absolutely sings, with every other line carrying a memorable, clear image, and a wonderful rhythm between the two leads, whose occasional fluff and stumble gives a naturalism to a highly-crafted script.

Monday, 18 February 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Bless This House - Blood Is Thicker Than Water (19 February 1973)


 Sometimes you get a sitcom episode where the premise is so weak that anything that gets done with it comes over as painfully laboured. When a distant American cousin of Sid's unexpectedly comes to stay and the family believes him to be a mafia boss on the run... this is one such episode. The funniest thing in it is Jean Abbott worrying that this intimidating master criminal has come to steal her books of Green Shield Stamps.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Liver Birds - The Guest-House (18 February 1971)


 The girls' hopes are raised when an eligible bachelor moves in downstairs. My interest perked up when this sophisticated older man turned out to be… Ronald Allen! Long before Five Go Mad In Dorset, the great man already knew something about the comic potential inherent within his dashing matinee idol appeal.

 The density of detail in set dressing and costume remains a heady thing to survey. Sandra and Beryl are characters who would spend much of their money on clothes, and trying to impress this new man means that they change outfits frequently throughout the episode... generally what Sandra wears works better than Beryl's flea-market hippy bright colours. If that set had been preserved it could now be a National Trust installation of twentieth century tenement living, with its bare kitchen, Victorian paneling, skew-whiff line of china ducks on the wall, etc.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

A Comedy On This Day: George & The Dragon - Big Deal (17 February 1968)


  Even somewhat lax plotting from Powell and Driver can't mar the cheerful glow of this always-enjoyable programme. If I were a chauffer and a scrapyard had accidentally collected my employer's Bentley rather than the old banger that they were meant to buy for £50, the first thing that I'd do would be to phone them up! Although then there wouldn't be any hilarious consequences...

 Peggy Mount really was something of a wonder as a performer - knowing how to be funny but always seeming true, even when given the weakest generic battle-axe material. There's a long (and rather dull on the page) scene of the three servants relating George's financial dire straits to the national economy (devaluation - a rare moment of topicality) which becomes actively pleasurable to watch simply by having Mrs Dragon mixing a cake and doing the washing up during it.

Friday, 15 February 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Marriage Lines - A Night Of Nostalgia (16 February 1965)


 "Do you suppose that the off-licence would have those thin mints with chocolate that people have in the commercials?"

 Sadly, series 4 and 5 of Marriage Lines are now lost, but the last episode of series 3 is an apt point for modern viewers to bid farewell, as it refers back to the first episode, giving what does survive a circular narrative. The Starlings have elected to stay in London and bring up baby in a shabby top floor flat while their friends have left to live in Scotland and can afford to live in a grander manner. Peter and Norah return to London on an unexpected flying visit and the Kate Starling feels that she has offer them suitable hospitality.

 I was surprised how funny this one was, with the Starlings' poor relation status, unease with returning friends and coping with a two-week old baby feeling quite sharp and recognisable - on top of offering some fascinating period details which reminded me of what I understood my parents' lives to have been like about 55 years ago. The Starlings' expensive impromptu dinner includes serving sherry, tins of mock caviar (lumpfish) and artichoke hearts, some hamburger-type arrangement called 'birds with their heads off' (?) and some rainbow sugar crystals for display.