Monday, 2 September 2019

A Comedy On This Day: I Didn't Know You Cared - A Knitter In The Family (3 September 1975)

LES: Look at it all. Gloom, muck, desolation. Ugliness.

MORT: Aye. Bloody marvellous, in't it?

 Only the second episode, and the studio audience are audibly subdued and hesitant at times. You can tell that they're trying to orient themselves around what sort of comedy this is and how it works. It has no familiar stars in it, and the rhythm and object of the jokes feels different to anything else. Peter Tinniswood was one of those writers with his own distinct idiom (none of his characters speak like people in any other programme) and I Didn't Know You Cared doesn't try to iron it out, making a virtue of this peculiarity instead. It's also very Northern/ Yorkshire and working-class, and so presumably harder for the Television Centre audience to quickly identify with.
 The audience become more won over by a bravura performance by Vanda Godsell as Carter's soon-to-be mother-in-law. Mrs Partington is a truly appalling woman, mean, judgemental and uninterested in others, traits that are revealed in a near-incessant monologue. Watching and understanding this character makes more sense of the rest of the world depicted in I Didn't Know You Cared, explaining why these menfolk are so gloomy and fatalistic about dealing with women.
 Personally, the one thing that really made me laugh in this episode was it's most extreme statement, when a despondent Uncle Mort reflects that, "Still, there's a lot to be said for death. I'll bet it's not half so boring as life."

Sunday, 1 September 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Rising Damp - The New Tenant (2 September 1974)

 The first episode, but not strictly from the first series. Actually part of an unofficial Comedy Playhouse-type series of six weekly playlets from Yorkshire Television. So what were the other five? A mixed bag, it would seem. Galton & Simpson's You'll Never Walk Alone, about Leeds United fans (led by Brian Glover) on a train to London for the Cup Final, was only ever intended to be a one-off. Brotherly Love with Keith Barron as a miner-turned property speculator. Slater's Day, with John Junkin as a PR man, a rare comedy excursion from Chris Boucher. Barry Took's Badger's Set, featured Julian Orchard doubling as a famous personality and his uncomprehending old father. And a second long-running success for Yorkshire, Oh No It's Selwyn Froggit.

 You can see why you'd immediately commission a series on the strength of this. It has a certain distinct individual personality to it. Eric Chappel's dialogue is quite densely-packed, full of allusions and reminiscences, and doesn't sound like anything that I've heard spoken in any earlier ITV sitcom. The Victorian house doesn't feel quite like anywhere we've seen before on ITV, not just in the detailed set (the bashed lampshade in the 'best' room) but in the relentless mentions of cold and discomfort - even the title, explained by Rigsby to Alan, "That's not rising damp, it's condensation!". Even Vienna is a geriatric cat of a type rarely allowed onto the television screen.
 It's obviously perfectly cast, with four identifiable characters who all seem to have some sort of gap in their past that has brought them to here. One thing that's rare about Rising Damp is that I'm equally interested in how all of the four characters get on with each of the other three, making six intriguing combinations.

 The studio audience are clearly very taken with what they're seeing, with one male and one female laugh particularly prominent. It is noticeable how the one thing that they find most hilarious is the very idea of having to respond to a black man...

Saturday, 31 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Sez Les (1 September 1973)

 Yorkshire seem to have tightened their belts in allocating the Sez Les budget since 1972. There's only one special guest artiste, only one dance routine, and little in the way of filmed sketches this time round.

 The unisex Irving Davies Dancers have replaced the Les Girls troupe, and they are quite a contrast to their predecessors. This week, they interpret Neil Sedaka's 'I'm A Song (Sing Me)" through the medium of mime. A curly-haired (male) lead dancer stands at the foot of a staircase, in front of the rest of the troupe who are arranged on the steps. All are in Marcel Marceux-type whiteface (something current in music at the time, with Leo Sayer and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band). The lead dancer is awarded a lot of close-ups and performs straight to camera. The effect is alarming. Someone in the team must really like Neil Sedaka because Dana's song is an unremarkable cover version of 'That's When The Music Takes Me'.

 There's a very curious long sketch with Roy Barraclough as a suitor of Dawson's daughter, announcing his intentions to the father. He is a wildly mincing character, and the mixed messages that he gives off cause Dawson to repeatedly respond inappropriately ("A CAMPari? Mind the POUFFE!", etc.). In a bewildering punchline, the suitor removes his cap and wig and reveals himself to actually be a butch fellow. It isn't made very clear why he should have been disguising himself in the first place... It's a frustrating watch, because it's an exciting premise and Roy Barraclough is so good in the role, but ends up as such a pointless skit.

Friday, 30 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Two Of A Kind (31 August 1963)

 The material that Morecambe & Wise were given to work with in this series was sometimes gossamer-thin. There are several cherishable moments in this episode - Eric trying to placate a growling offstage dog ("Is he registered with the kennel club?" "No, the zoo"), Ernie, dressed as a hussar, attempting to sing 'Wunderbar' through Eric's interruptions, Eric wearing a suit for an enormously fat man and claiming that it's perfect fit - but none of these moments happen in something that could be described as a fully-realised routine, let alone sketch. The sheer likability and silliness of the stars carries the material.

 An underwhelming pair of musical guests this week. Drumming bandleader Eric Delaney was one of those musicians who put on a show by moving about the stage, but even with him capering from one drumkit to another it's hard to maintain much interest. The Mike Sammes Singers were the vocal harmony group for hire in the 1960s (the Trunk Records Music For Biscuits compilation of their advertising jingles is a strangely compelling listen) but I'd never actually seen them before. I didn't realise that there were only six of them! I'd always imagined a big choir. The three men and three women perform a "boop be doop boop boop" interpretation of 'Pick Yourself Up', counting time and swapping chairs.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

A Comedy On These Days: Outnumbered - The School Run/ The Special Bowl/ The City Farm (28/29/30 August 2007)

 A comedy on these days... It's been serendipitous that the first episodes of this came up first, and instructive to replicate the original pattern of transmission. You might think that stripping three episodes over three consecutive nights on BBC1 would be running something of a risk, but it actually works really well, achieving something like optimum viewing conditions.
 Seeing this as three daily episodes means that the parts are close enough together for the viewer to retain all the information, but also spaced enough apart to build up some reflection about what you've seen and anticipation as to how the story might progress. There are a lot of strands in this programme, which get built up gradually, and the series sensibly introduces one new major family member per episode in parts two and three (Sue's sister and father).
 A strange thing about the cumulative effect of watching is that (even though I was enjoying it) I hardly laughed at all in the first episode, but was laughing a lot by episode three. This might be because the first episode, which establishes the family and what sort of programme this is through showing a workday morning spent rounding up the children and getting them to school, is intensely stressful to watch. The continual effort of having to keep track of multiple children, and constant distraction from any grown-up concerns that you have to deal with is one of the most effortful common experiences, and the style of the episode conveys this busyness through a very short average shot length that I found exhausting to watch.
 By episode three things have calmed down a little, and the rivalry between the two sisters and managing the doddering father creates a different type of tension on top of the parenting. David Ryall is one of those actors whose performances I saw I often find myself thinking back upon - the first role I saw him play was God (!) in a thinly-attended Katie Mitchell production of The Mysteries at the Barbican Pit, the last one as Feste in Twelfth Night in what I think was his last stage performance. He always seemed to exude a distinctive sense of morose authority, also seen here in the part of the grandfather, even through a haze of dementia.

Monday, 26 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Doctor In Charge - The Taming Of The Wolf (August 27 1972)

 This episode is almost precisely the sort of thing that first comes to mind when you think of the Doctor series - young doctors chasing younger nurses. Or in this case, a new intake of young phsyiotherapists...

 Chief among whom (indeed the only one with any lines) is Deborah Watling as Emma Livingstone, a doe-eyed ingenue. Watching her in action here gives you a good idea of what she must have been like in all of those touring farces. She's given very little to work with in Garden & Oddie's script, being more of a figure for Robin Nedwell to react to than much of a distinct character in her own right. Despite Professor Lomas' description of Dr Waring as "in training for a future as a dirty old man", Emma brings out Waring's previously unseen gallant and chaste side, rhapsodising about holding her hand and taking her to a Cliff Richard concert. Which doesn't go down well with anyone.

 All of the best things in this episode are physical, rather than verbal. First Emma giving Dr Waring a massage, out of which which Robin Nedwell gets laughs from the anticipated sensual experience turning out to be a source of acute physical pain. Then there's a doctor's ball with two dance routines. Against his will, Dr Waring is forced into dancing a jive routine with Helen Fraser's Dr Bingham - something that's particularly interesting to watch as Nedwell has to convey reluctance while simultaneously dancing very well, performing elaborate lifts and spins on Fraser. And then - from out of nowhere, really - Deborah Watling dances the Charleston, really well, with Richard O'Sullivan. It seems implausible that this would ever happen at a 1972 medical students' ball, but it is fun to see two very familiar performers enjoying themselves and showing off their agility in this famously silly dance.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: For The Love Of Ada - Ada & Walter Are Haunted (26 August 1971)

 This first episode of the final series certainly moves For The Love Of Ada into unexpected territory, as Walter and Ada discover that they share their new home with a ghost.

 The new home is the cemetery lodge, and Thames' designers have done a good job in conveying the historical character of this building, furnishing it with interesting-looking, chests, carved wooden chairs, brasses and Victorian portraits on the wall and the like. The haunting is dealt with in quite a sober way for a comedy, with Ada treating the matter practically ("Does this mean our rates will go up?") and cheerfully, sitting up for the night in the hope of meeting the ghost.

 When it looks like an apparition might be happening, the programme goes into a completely different register, with suspenseful incidental music, a close up of a slowly turning door handle and the camera panning through the room before returning to the handle. It isn't a spectre at the door, of course, but the ghost is given further attention, with Walter and Ada conducting some offscreen research about the history of the lodge and the ghost's identity. Its established in a few lines of dialogue that they've taken action to honour the ghost's wishes, and then in a detail in the final scene the viewer is led to believe that the ghost has been a real presence.

 This is subtly done for a Powell & Driver script, and is really only a subplot for the usual domestic concerns. But it's a really good way of establishing that Walter and Ada have moved into a new home, encouraging the viewer to understand on a subliminal level that the lodge a different sort of environment to what we've seen before.