Saturday, 20 April 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Benny Hill Show (21 April 1976)

 Are breasts really particularly funny? I suppose that there's comic potential in how the thought of breasts has the capacity to reduce some man to an infantilised drooling state. But with a lot of these gags it just seems that the viewer is supposed to find women having breasts inherently funny in itself. There are two jokes about them within the first two minutes (one verbal and one visual), which primed me to notice the astonishing regularity with which they pop up... Breasts poking between two holes in a fence, women standing behind pairs of melons, etc., etc. It’s a peculiar fixation.

 Paul Eddington joins the team in this edition, but doesn't really have much to do.

 I'm often surprised by just how little film there is in these, as those are the sections that come to mind first whenever I think of The Benny Hill Show. There's only the one sequence in this one, and that's over within the first ten minutes. There's a curious moment of audience response in this sequence when a bowler hatted Hill is in a room with a nubile girl in her underwear. The girl leaves the room and is substituted by a man with long hair and a handbag over his shoulder who approaches Hill. "OHH GAWD!" one member of the audience exclaims, unable to restrain himself at the hilarity of this humiliating reversal.

 Best thing by a country mile in this edition is a parody of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? with Hill as both George/ Burton and Martha/ Taylor. As well as the inflections it does a good job of catching some of the tone of the piece as well. I wonder if Edward Albee ever saw it? I really do hope so.

Friday, 19 April 2019

A Comedy On This Day: I Didn't Know You Cared - The Way My Wife Looks At Me (20 April 1976)

 Ee bah gum, this comedy is grim in its implications. Young Carter and his bride Pat return back home from honeymoon. The older womenfolk continually quiz Pat for full details of the honeymoon with a prurient fascination, while Carter escapes to the pub with the other men at the earliest opportunity, leaving his wife to burn the dinner and turn up in a fury, which the other men see as a rite of passage.

 I've always found this battle-of-the-sexes worldview much more dispiriting than funny. What does amuse me is watching men and women trying to get along, however haplessly. I find the later Uncle Mort radio series much more enjoyable, maybe because they're on the road and more narrated.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

A Comedy on This Day: The Morecambe & Wise Show (19 April 1976)

 The last of their regular BBC shows presents the duo at the pinnacle of their popularity. Their innate likability does a lot of work in getting the duffer patches of some sketches over the line. I think that because so many people associated them with happiness, there was a collective willingness on the part of audiences to go along with them, making their shows a kind of communal celebration of good cheer.

 The best bit is the most-repeated moment - the famous breakfast dance which mimes 'The Stripper' to various actions with eggs, pancakes, sausages, grapefruit, etc. The section when Eric tosses the eggs to Eric, who then breaks and beats them in time must have taken a bit of rehearsal. I'd forgotten that there are a couple of minutes before the dancing, mostly of the pair dropping things. You'd wonder where this sketch was going if you were watching for the first time.

 Its something of a surprise that the BBC's top comedy talents at the height of their powers didn't find more impressive musical guests this week. Diane Solomon, who did at least have minor hit albums at this time, sings a song of undying devotion ('Whistle Me') from the perspective of a dog. Her performance of the song is wholly upstaged by the large grey Afghan hound sat on her lap - "His name's Kafka. Isn't he lovely?"

 Top recording artistes Champagne don't even have pets to hide behind. They are a 3M 2F group, but one of the men is a drummer, perched behind his kit of a dais at the back of the set. The remaining quartet are lined at the front in a Brotherhood of Man-type formation, but unfortunately the two men (one of whom sports an impressive afro and beard that reminds me of George Berry) are encumbered by guitars, so interaction between the sexes is minimal. The women try to make the best of things by walking back and forth and raising their arms in trousered outfits formed out of six tiers of fringed pink material that flaps about in unison a bit. Their song, 'Love for All Seasons' ("The flowers that we picked in June/ would die too! soon!", etc.) is unfamiliar and a bit confused.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Good Life - The Weaker Sex? (18 April 1975)

(Margo is trying to give Barbara a new dress as a present)

Barbara: That's nice.

Margo: Yes, well, that's what I thought when I bought it. But I'm afraid it was a terrible mistake.

Barbara: Oooh - Leclerc. Jolly expensive mistake.

Margo: Well, that's not important. The point is, Barbara, I got it home, I put it on and I said to myself, 'Margo, that simply looks cheap and nasty'. So I wondered if you'd like it? 

 That dress is a good example of how everything can come together very well in a BBC sitcom in this period. The costume department have come up with a really good prop. The dress itself is a striking garment of scarlet chiffon, decorated in a rainbow of coloured spots. Its outlandish enough to look like a bad purchase, but designed enough to still look plausible as a high fashion purchase. Our never actually seeing either woman wear the dress helps this suitability. The viewer can only imagine what each might look like with it on, an appealing invitation to our imaginations. We do get the pleasure of Margo in several other costumes this episode, all of which feel dressy and eccentrically designed, but are also clearly well-made, helping to sell the authenticity of the dress to the viewer.

 Even from a distance of 43 years the other piece of information that we're given about the dress, that it cost £55 (£453.22 in 2018 money), feels comically just right. It certainly amuses Jerry, until he learns that Margo bought it with the joint account. This is the first series so we see rather less of Margo and Jerry than we do later on, but Penelope Keith's performance is already extraordinarily well judged and funny in every line. She makes every permutation of the situation - how Margo is oblivious to her condescension towards Barbara and certain of her convictions with Jerry - register to the viewer.

 And then there's another appealing payoff to the dress, when we finally do get to see it being worn - by Tom's new scarecrow.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Prince Of Denmark - Flaps & Light Ale (17 April 1974)

 It is quite extraordinary how appalling a man the Ronnie Corbett character is in this, and how little in the way of redeeming qualities he is given. Peevish, squirming and not keen for others to take the credit, it’s the type of role that Ricky Gervais would create a generation later.

 This viewer's sympathies where wholly with his wife, a very underwritten character in an attractive scarlet dress with a flat white collar, despite her not being called upon to do much other than discourage Ronnie from getting into scrapes and clear up his confusions with other people in the publican trade. A lot of what the viewer gets from the wife - appreciating her constant balance between matrimonial loyalty and running a tight ship - is much more the creation of Rosemary Leach, realised through responses, looks and vocal tone than the script itself.

 Thinking about the joint authorship of Graham Chapman and Barry Cryer causes me to speculate as to which bits come from which writer. There are a two sections in particular which one can imagine in Monty Python, and feel more like Chapman. There's a running joke with a customer preoccupied with a cryptic crossword, whose clues Ronnie takes literally, culminating in a cross-purposes dialogue in which Ronnie misinterprets the man's reading aloud of clues as a confession to the barman of his wife's promiscuity (spectacular and with multiple partners). The other moment is when Ronnie's failure to operate an electricity fuse box causes a bombardment of every sound and lighting device to go off simultaneously, soundtracked by the first bars of Status Quo's 'Caroline' from the jukebox repeating again and again.

Monday, 15 April 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Love Thy Neighbour - The Lift (16 April 1973)

 A relative truce between Eddie and Bill this week, as the main concentration of prejudice this edition is against wives and their unendurable feminine ways. When Joan invites the Reynolds round for drinks, Eddie's displeasure at the invitation ("I don't socialise with sambos") is overridden by Joan and Barbie's unendurable feminine conversation about needlework, dressmaking and cooking. So the two husbands come up with a ruse to escape to the club for the evening. In the club, Arthur complains about his wife - "I'll 'ave to get blind drunk before I can face 'er". The evening ends with all of the men trapped in a lift together.

 By far the most interesting moment is between Joan and Barbie, left alone together for the evening and watching a romantic weepie on television together. This is partly interesting because its the only moment of grace experienced by anybody in the episode, but mostly because a soundtrack fro the made-up film on television has had to be devised, consisting of some clipped "I love you darling"s and sound effects of steam trains leaving stations. I wonder who the voices were.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Seven Of One - Spanner's Eleven (15 April 1973)

  Roy Clarke's other script for this anthology series (alongside of Open All Hours) is pretty hard to get a handle on. Sometimes Ronnie Barker's football coach-cum-taxi driver character seems besotted by soccer, and on other occasions using his position to further his own way. Everyone seems rather sketchily drawn and it’s hard to tell what's supposed to be funny.

 I do notice the same thing that I always do whenever I chance upon something by Roy Clarke, and that's the inevitable mention of knickers and ladies' underclothes - it even happens in his episode of Manhunt! There's a kind of feeble lechery that seems to run through his writing.

 I'm intrigued by where this is set, especially the dilapidated football ground. The characters speak with West Country accents, but it looks more like West London to me. I think the football ground is the old Edgware Towns White Lion Ground... (some derelict pictures about half way down this page).