Thursday, 31 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Victoria Wood As Seen On TV (1 February 1985)

 A series with a very distinctive visual style. All those thick-bordered freeze-framed images flipping around at the end of sketches, the blue-and-pink colour scheme, Claymation credits and that set made it look quite distinct from other sketch shows at the time. These days it looks of its time, but its a visual register that still comes over as unorthodox, and hard to read at times. Especially during the song ('Go Away'), which flicks between Wood at the piano and bits of her interpreting it in character on a separate set and back to Wood at the piano with two saxophonists in silhouette in the foreground. It takes me a while to register that this isn't some sort of pastiche, but done in earnest in a Marti Caine-style LE idiom. It looks just as odd as Acorn Antiques.

 Watching the initial stand-up (not fitting into clothes) followed by a gynaecological two line Doctor's surgery sketch between Wood and Duncan Preston, followed by a gruesome sketch at a cosmetic surgery clinic brings home how much of this comedy is about - and comes back to - the body. In Wood's humour the body is something that you're never in complete control of, a cause of embarrassment couched in euphemisms whenever you try to talk about it. This bodily humour isn't often gross-out comedy, so it comes over as quite palatable, but there's something quietly radical about it.

 I always find the filmed documentaries in these shows to be the funniest bits. This week's one is On Campus. Its one of several works by graduates of the University of Birmingham that refer to a dystopian tower looming over a campus...

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Mistress (31 January 1985)

 This is rather unsatisfactory, and exposes all of the problems with Carla Lane's writing that are usually more latent in other works. Characters continually stop to pontificate and philosophise at the expense of whatever dramatic situation is supposed to be going on, and I think, "No-one would actually talk like this, ever". Even the bits that are funny don't quite ring true. It starts with Felicity Kendall burning an elaborate meal a la Butterflies, but it’s hard to understand how she wouldn't have noticed or smelled the smoke. Because she takes a wire tray out of the oven and places it directly onto a work surface, she must have already turned all of the heating off some time earlier without noticing any smoke or that the food is burnt.

 Later on there's supposed to be some business when Maxine fails to uncork an obstinate bottle of wine, but Felicity Kendall abandons the bottle with such unseemly haste that its another moment that makes her look feeble, rather than defeated by circumstances.

 This was not Gareth Gwenlan's finest half hour as a director.

 I could do with more explanation of the economics of the characters' situation. Maxine has an impressive home for a single florist, so presumably must have come into money at some point... Jenny McCracken as her assistant is wearing a (very precisely mid-80s) Laura Ashley-style outfit in grey with a tight waistline and a lot of fabric around the shoulders that doesn't do her any favours.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: In Loving Memory - Cash and Carry (30 January 1984)

 There's a fine line between gentle comedy and simply not being funny, and I'm not sure that this episode falls on the right side of it. The plot in itself is quite interesting, though - undertakers who have been diddled by a customer on her deathbed try to make sense of her legacy - and could make a diverting half-hour play if unencumbered by comedy performances. Still, the generous amount of OB footage on those intensely steep streets is always worth watching - the type of location that makes me start to idly daydream about walking around the place.

Monday, 28 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Ever Decreasing Circles - The New Neighbour (29 January 1984)

 I remember watching this first episode when I was eleven, knew that I liked The Good Life, and not getting much from it... It took a couple of series for me to grow up enough to realise where the comedy was.

 That said, the immediate characterisation of Martin is pretty extreme. His pettiness and fussiness is very funny, but it’s hard for a viewer to initially find any reason to find him sympathetic. Even his good points are effectively undercut - rather than taking Anne to the cinema he dutifully goes all the way to Brighton to buy the old lady a particular crochet hook, but then we learn that she doesn't particularly want it anyway. There's a rare early moment of Paul actively scoring a point off Martin ("Why don't you write 'Folder' on your folder, too, so that you know what it is?"), coming over as a bit rattled, rather than being consciously nice to him whatever Martin does.
 I have a theory that this first episode was originally two scripts, now welded together as one. The plot in the second half (the Close's demonstration against the lorry driver who inconsiderately parks there) seems to come completely out of nowhere and then dominates the rest of the episode without having really been led up to in any way. (Episode 3 of Colin's Sandwich is another occasion where I think this happens)

Sunday, 27 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Comic Strip Presents - Gino - Full Story and Pics (28 January 1984)

 Oh great, this is one of my favourites, and I can't have seen it since this DVD came out in 2005. A road movie about a young man on the run, it looks and feels more like a Euston Films Armchair Cinema than a comedy. Its greatly helped by Keith Allen's performance as Gino. Despite Allen's hell raising reputation he was perhaps the best of the Comic Strip team at quiet muted acting. He's very good at holding the viewer's attention and understanding over the long stretches of the film where Gino has little dialogue and responds instinctively to events, keeping inconspicuous while looking over his shoulder for how to get out of peril.

 What Allen does is funny because we emphasise with his situation, whereas the people whom he encounters on the run and who block his path have their outlandish and grotesque sides. They're all well-drawn cameo characters, making good use of what the performers can do, both the team members and guest actors like Lionel Jeffries. Adrian Edmundson's intense playwright ("Do you like plays for young people?") feels like the sort of condescending adult who I might have met in London Youth Theatres in the early nineties.

 Gino (Allen) hides under a table in the playwright's living room when he sees the police in the front garden. Oblivious to the danger, the playwright (Edmundson) starts to read his script to his captive:
"This is a good bit - This guy is about your age and he meets a sailor at the pub. He says, 'I bet she's good at it!', nodding to the girl at the bar. 'Sailor: Not me, mate, I'm queer! What d'you see in girls? I don't know' - it's supposed to be north country, I can't do the accent..."
 One of my favourite comedy scenes, that. One thing that makes it sing is how Adrian Edmundson's intonation perfectly captures the speech patterns of a London man of the left who would have been born in about 1940.

 Alanah Pellay's camp performer who needs get to Capital Radio in half an hour in Gino's stolen cab is a sympathetic character. I always find the rather caring way that the two men respond to each other quite touching (Gino does get Pellay to the studio, Pellay notices Gino's cuts and is solicitous). There's nothing sympathetic about the Rik Mayall character, though - perhaps the most convincingly repellent part that he ever played - and in just a few well-judged shots and lines Dawn French conveys the hell of their marriage very well.

  There's a terrific sense of actual place in this film, from the warren of suburban roads where Gino tries to escape on foot, to the recognisable but now-changed 1983 Central London seen through the Taxi windows, to the blank Essex beach and countryside sped through by Robbie Coltrane's wrecked drunken driver. The combination of place, immediately involving situation, well-considered characterisation and understanding of what special qualities every performer could bring to the production always make this one a pleasure to watch.

A Comedy On This Day: The Squirrels - The Cover Up (27 January 1977)

 Here's a novelty - a sitcom script by Alan Hackney, creator and co-author of I'm All Right Jack (and author of the original novel of Private's Progress). You can see a few of his distinctive individual touches from time to time in this episode, I think, in the details of the endless freebies and perks promised at the Highland conference and the scam selling off damaged matting. But most of all in this week's original character - a guest turn for Benjamin Whitrow as Northwood-Black, a smooth asset-stripper from the company board. He's an insanely assured person, darkly rhapsodising about the brutality of nature and the violence of cacti, who works well as both archetypal Machiavellian management figure and distinctive character in his own right.
 Alan David was sat a few seats away from me when I saw The Birthday Party in the Pinter Theatre last year. He was with his daughter, I imagine. Once I'd worked out who he was, I did toy with the idea of telling him, "I enjoyed your performance in The Squirrels" - something he's unlikely to have heard for 40 years - but he left before me. Top that, celebrity spotters!

Friday, 25 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Benny Hill Show (26 January 1977)

 - and one of his lesser ones, I'd say, although the up-to-the-minute 1976 TV Awards parody format has a surface appeal for television historians (The New Avengers, Mastermind, I Claudius, The Bionic Man, etc.). Hill's many American fans may have needed footnotes to fully appreciate the significance of his versions of Dickie Davies, Magnus Magnusson, Pam Ayres and the Cadbury's Smash Martians.

 Was this the only variety show ever that started with the song?

 Even speaking as somewhat of a connoisseur of this type of thing, I have never come across guest artistes Reflections before. (Discogs have no details of their having released any records, despite their TV exposure.) They are a 2M 2F MOR group along the lines of a hipper Brotherhood of Man. Their spirited interpretation/ Teddington arrangement of 'Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher And Higher' (an ambitious song to attempt to cover!) is marred by some of the worst CSO that I've ever seen, with the girls' sparkling silver jackets disappearing into the backdrop like a Light Entertainment version of Doctor Who's Vardans.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Sez Les (25 January 1974)

 Les Dawson only gets a half-hour series this time round, with a lot of very short sketches and one-liners crammed in. They don't outstay their welcome, but few leave much of an impression. The most interesting sketches are the two-handers between Dawson and special guest John Cleese (WW1 batman and officer, patient and Doctor), which play Cleese's natural authority, reserve and suppressed insanity off against Dawson's Northernness and greater worldliness. In the Doctor sketch you can feel the two comedians start to get a feel of each others' performance style and start to experiment with their pausing and responses, taking the comedy in an interesting new direction.

 The singing and dancing is the most exciting part of this edition. Lulu performs an abridged 'Man Who Sold the World' dressed in a white trouser and shirt/ black waistcoat ensemble, with a white fedora with sparkly black headband. She performs the song as a character piece, setting her face in Bowie's 'gazely stare', with her arms pressed to her sides and shuffling about - its disconcerting to see her not smiling and moving about.

 The choreography is yet more odd. The Irving Davies Dancers, a male/ female troupe dressed in white neutral clothing, do an interpretive science-fiction routine this week. To a soundtrack of Tristram Carey-type bleeps, the dancers form together to become a waggling organic gestalt (orange filter), and then break away to become a crowd of displaced, lobotomised individuals (white lighting). The music then changes to a romantic theme, the dancers form a circle around a male-female couple, the lighting turns magenta, and the couple dance together in swooping movements while being blown about by a wind machine. The music and lighting then revert their previous electronic/ orange-white settings and the dancers become a crowd once again. It’s an ambitious idea, and one entirely to be applauded.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: It Ain't Half Hot Mum - A Star Is Born (24 January 1974)

 One of the two episodes that only survive as Australian off-air recordings, in all their fuzzy Channel 7-idented glory. There's an unfortunate 'Granada Plus' quality in trying to follow the story when you watch this, with scenes seemingly stopping a couple of lines early and starting a couple of lines late.

 Perry and Croft experiment with different dramatic devices by having Sergeant Major Williams articulate his unspoken thoughts in voice-over in one scene. It works rather well, making good use of the late Windsor Davies' ability to convey poorly disguised deviousness in his close-up facial expressions and Captain Ashwood's obviously-malleable twittiness.

 It's not a technique that they often used - There's a Dad's Army sequence where the platoon write to an MP, when as they write letters it's narrated in voice over. Fraser's bit is very similar, where his facial expression sells the scene of his deviousness and self-interest. And John Laurie had the sort of face to pull it off.

 I would imagine that it would have been played in from tape or pre-recorded earlier the same day. It's not that technically difficult to do; it would also help the actor if they could hear it as he was performing. The audience laugh at the right points so it must have been shown to them on the monitor or on set, I suspect live. Colin's Sandwich in the late eighties demonstrated the wonderful comic mileage that could be got from the technique.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Please Sir! - Please Give Generously (23 January 1972)

 Fenn Street School mismanages the proceeds of a charity walk. Another episode from the dog-end of the series, with unfamiliar new characters and pupils.
 I suppose that one thing that can be said for substitute writers Geoff Rowley and Andy Baker is that structurally their episodes do feel a bit different from how the series used to be. For a sitcom with a large cast, everybody gets something to do as they get integrated into a large caper plot (a theft, this week) - the highly strung new schoolmistress faints, Potter argues with some Irish navvies and puts a ladder through a window, etc. None of it is particularly well realised, but the amount of activity is impressive. It felt like a very busy 25 minutes!
 The only thing that actually made me laugh, though, was the Headmaster crowing about having found a bargain cheap safe for the school, because the lock doesn't work.

Monday, 21 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Six Dates With Barker - 1970: The Odd Job (22 January 1971)

  Appropriately for a production made during the ITV colour strike, it’s a black comedy. Suburban middle-class clerk Arthur (Barker) wants to kill himself when his wife walks out, can't face it himself and so hires eccentric handyman Clive (David Jason) to kill him. Then he changes his mind...

 This is a good example of how the two modes of production (studio and film) dovetailed together in a comedy, with interior and exterior sequences having a different feel and inspiring a different sort of laughter. The studio scenes in the flat work within a classic farce tradition while the pleasures of the long filmed chase sequence are more whimsical, the expansiveness and incongruity with which the suburban roads become the site of a wild west stakeout. I was most amused by a well-worked special effect/prop, when some shredded wheat dissolves once milk poisoned with hydrochloric acid is poured over them.

A Comedy On This Day: The Liver Birds - Housekeeping (21 January 1971)

 This particular episode didn't inspire much laughter in me, but the density of detail in the costumes and properties was consistently interesting to watch. It feels like a document from a very precise point in time, when sixties fashions and styles have trickled down to everyone and nothing that we recognise as being of the 1970s has yet started. Sandra's boyfriend is wearing a collared red woollen top with a tie. Was that ever really a thing?

It’s perhaps accentuated by being a story about the girls attempting to sell an antique commode, but there's a lot of old stuff on screen. The episode even begins with the flatmates going through their accounts, in what must be one of the last 'present day' scenes on British television to deal with pre-decimal currency. There's then a filmed sequence in Liverpool City Centre where most of the members of the public up and about that early are pensioners, who would have been children in Edwardian times.

 I'm not sure that I've ever seen any sitcom scene at an auction where characters' gestures and expressions didn't mean that they end up unwittingly bidding for items. There's some unfortunate business with props of the porcelain po of the commode, which needed some more work - when one breaks we don't really see it smash or quite register that it has broken, while the replacement looks more like papier mache than porcelain. Perhaps a combination of the lack of a replacement and limited studio time? Its frustrating, in an episode that otherwise looks so detailed and right, that its the one prop that matters which hinders the programme.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Likely Lads - The Suitor (20 January 1965)

 The recently confirmed return of two lost 1965 Likely Lads episodes and their imminent DVD release (in tandem with a 1967 episode of Til Death Us Do Part) is a happy archive television news story. Although less familiar than Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, what survives of the original sixties series always repays repeated viewing - and we are soon to have two 'new' episodes to enjoy.

 In the episode broadcast 54 years ago today, Terry disapproves of his sister going out with an Italian ladies' hairdresser, so attempts to set up Bob with Audrey while he takes Mario to the pub. This one has always struck me of the weakest of the surviving Likely Lads episodes, mainly because I don't believe in the premise. Terry seems to be going to an awful lot of trouble to prevent something that doesn't affect him very much, instead of just going to the match like he planned.

 One of the great (if tangential) qualities of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads for me is how it shows how friendships between men and women operate - Terry and Audrey, Terry and Thelma. The funniest section of this episode is also the most emotionally interesting - watching an reluctant Bob set his cap at Audrey and the progression of her reactions from being surprised, to being touched, to being cross when she realises that its one of her brother's ruses, to making fun of Bob's unconvincing efforts.

 This episode is organised around a constant flow of food and drink; Back home on a Friday night to fish and chips, bread and butter, a pot of tea and an enormous jar of pickled onions; then brown ale, crisps and a pie in the pub before the match; a family afternoon pot of tea with fruitcake and scones; more brown ale in the pub! It all makes watching it a more sensory imaginative experience.

 In the fictional match that Bob attends at St James Park, Newcastle United win 4-1. In real life, Newcastle beat Cardiff City 2-0 in the old Second Division on 23 January 1965, on their way to the championship.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Marriage Lines - And Baby Makes Three (19 January 1965)

 Peculiar comic priorities this week. With Kate having delivered their baby daughter in hospital, George awakes hung-over in his friend's flat. Resulting in an enormous amount of convoluted farcical business with concocting and maintaining excuses, at the expense of the much more interesting matter in hand of a new baby and the parents' reactions to her.

 It perks up once George eventually arrives at the maternity ward, patrolled by an archetypal battle-axe Matron. Even though the actor himself was much-loved, Richard Briers' characters were usually unsympathetically selfish types, and much the funniest thing in this episode is George's poorly-disguised reactions to his new daughter: "She's not going to make that noise every night, is she?" "Why has she got blue hands? And a pointed head? And a chapped face? Oh yes, darling, she's beautiful!"

Friday, 18 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Arthur Haynes Show (18 January 1964)

 Johnny Speight could always have done with a rigorous script editor, and both long sketches do ramble on a bit without much of a punch line this week. The first one - Haynes visits the Ministry of Defence - includes jokes about Alec Douglas Home for of-the-moment period specificity and scarcity value. It’s easy to hear Alf Garnett speaking Hayne's ill-informed theories ("Joe Stalin was the best spy America ever 'ad!"). The second one - the tramp and Irish cause mayhem in the waiting room of Harley Street psychiatrist Dr Nicholas Parsons - has a bit more legs, but the pair's speculations as the mental illnesses of the mute elegant ladies who surround them does start to leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth after a while.
 'Bobby's Girl' one hit wonder Susan Maughan performs her latest non-hit 'Hey Lover'. She's a perky girl and gives an animated reading direct to camera in medium close-up for most of the song. Not much thought has gone into directing this performance. Frustratingly, the ITC overseas print cuts out the week's other musical guests The Searchers, who must surely have been the best thing on it.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Steptoe & Son - The Stepmother (17 January 1963)

 Earlier Steptoe stories do tend to concentrate on the essence of their situation more often - How can Harold ever break away and does he even, in his heart, want to? Albert becoming engaged causes the potential break in this one. It’s an enjoyable reversal of the usual situation to watch Albert with his fiancée, spruced-up and acting with greater reserves of gallantry and consideration than we're used to seeing.
 The balance of sympathy is fascinating, with Harold generally coming across as the more unreasonable party, waiting for Albert to return home like a nagging mother, incredulous that a 65-year old would want to get married, calling up the dimly-remembered (and rarely-mentioned) figure of Mother Steptoe as some kind of saint. But what is at stake for him is also significant - Albert and Emma plan to move to Cornwall, leaving him alone, homeless and having to start up again. And what are Emma's intentions? The swift way that this all gets resolved - in one scene with several reversals of the situation and each character's understanding of where they stand with each other - is implausible, but the quality of the writing makes it all psychologically true and engaging. And, as always, the father and son are back to the usual status quo by the end of the episode.

  A 1963 viewer could then immediately turn over to ITV to see what Galton & Simpson were missing out on in Hancock. Their old muse wasn't in a very good way, and his new writers had come up with a long routine for him (Hancock as a film actor endlessly cocking up his scene) that harked back to older, les sophisticated comic traditions. Its not a comedy of the same calibre, and is most interesting when Denholm Elliott turns up as a new wave film director. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Next Of Kin - The Puppy (16 January 1996)

 This is rather good, but - despite its excellent pedigree - isn't exactly laugh-out-loud. The series' premise (when the estranged parents' son dies they have to take custody of the three grandchildren) would have as much promise as a drama, although the grim nature of the situation might prove overpoweringly unhappy. The best moments of this episode are dramatic ones of Maggie Prentice talking to herself and remembering her son, rather than anything especially comic.

 Even by the standards of the comfortable sitcom, the Prentices have got a massive house. The interior sets have been very well designed and dressed, like a show home. They've even got ceilings! In this episode the Prentices have a garden party, so we see more of it from the outside.

 Its a shame that the lovely black Labrador pup couldn't have become a regular character, although she does naturally become the focus of attention and the most cheerful thing in the programme.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: One Foot In The Grave - Rearranging The Dust (15 January 1995)

 The five single-location, self-contained, OFITG episodes (Victor and Margaret in bed, the traffic jam, Victor home alone, waiting in the solicitor's office - this one - and the power cut) are amongst the very highest order of sitcom creation, I think. They're the type of thing that should probably be only attempted once programme-makers know that they're on to something special in a series - when the audience has something invested in the characters, and the writer knows what the lead actors are capable of.

  This episode is far from low-key or downbeat. In fact, it’s packed with incident! Just small discomforts and humiliations, that help the viewer to accept the more off-centre oddities that eventually occur - the complications arising from Victor starting an argument with the dog owner outside, or the peculiar habits of Mr Protheroe.
 A few reflections -
 No opening credits this week.
  It’s a wholly naturalist, seemingly unexceptional set - until you notice that a print of Munch's 'The Scream' is on the wall. There's also a peculiar high window that isn't drawn attention to... but you keep it subconsciously in mind when Victor starts to tap the hollow wall under it... and you only register how the rooms must be connected later on, in another humiliation for Victor.

 I've always thought that (early in the episode) Victor dusting the barometer, it crashing to the floor and breaking, and Margaret telling him to leave it, was a brilliant moment. Not only for the gag, but also for the shock value - it really wasn't his fault, he was trying to help - and how it isn't referred to again (and we never see it). But most of us would feel terribly anxious if we broke something valuable in a waiting room when no one else was there, and it sets up an awkward mood.

 I vividly remember watching this one at the time - on my own on a little black and white portable in my Halls of Residence room, on a Sunday evening at the end of a doubtless eventless January campus weekend. Also thinking about my parents, because I'd watched the first three episodes of this series together with them back at home during the Christmas holidays, and I knew that they would particularly enjoy this one.

 An almost unique TV comedy appearance for Antony Sher as Mr Protheroe.

 The two almost identically dressed women, who enter and leave the waiting room together, are a great creation, registering as something curious and unexplained, without being outlandish.

 Margaret doesn't seem to have much to do in this episode while Victor fiddles about and complains, but you do register what she's feeling and how she's responding at any given moment. Sometimes she barely reacts and stays concentrated on her magazine, sometimes looks up but elects not to speak, making the moments when she does snap in exasperation more convincing. It’s in the writing (and Annette Crosbie is a great actress) but it’s also the product of proper rehearsal.

 Maragret's complaint "Its worse than taking a toddler out. I should have you in reins!" puts a mother-child relationship in the viewer's mind, which we then see when she starts to clean Victor up, or tells him to behave himself.

 And then the ending - when we learn how the couple first met, 37 years ago - belongs to Margaret, and you understand why she's starting to speak about it at this moment. Partly because she's annoyed with him and to shut him up, partly because they're trapped together in a disconcerting environment for a long and indeterminate stretch of time - but also, as her story goes on, to be kind to him. These moments, when we learn something of the Meldrews' past are rare, and always fascinating.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: The Brittas Empire - That Creeping Feeling (14 January 1993)

 The Brittas Empire feels like a progression for the mainstream BBC1 sitcom. There's something (early nineties) contemporary about the series' structure, characterisation, tone and milieu, but achieved in a way that might excite, rather than antagonise, a large mainstream audience.

 The pace of it zips along, with more scenes in more locations than was usual. Sometimes this can be a bit counterproductive, when a funny idea with a lot of mileage - such as Brittas holding an antenatal class - is cut down to a few amusing vignettes when it could have been a memorable longer scene. The location is the type of place where sitcoms hadn't been set before. The leisure centre being a recently built building (those heavy fire doors) of a type that viewers would have been likely to have been in more often than they'd seen onscreen.

 There's a terrific prop tarantula in this episode, crawling about the place unseen by the staff, which gives the episode a nice tactile quality.

A Comedy On This Day: Only Fools & Horses - Stage Fright (13 January 1991)

 Oddly, I haven't seen any of this late series since it was first broadcast. The gap of 28 years helped today - I could remember that the pay-off was funny, but couldn't remember what it actually was! I'm much more responsive to the supper-club cabaret setting of this episode than I was when I last saw it at 18. These days, even though it's a joke, the Engelbert/Tom Jones act of 'Tony Angelino, The Singing Dustman' is just the sort of thing that I know I'd really enjoy. This one appearance must be the one thing that Philip Pope is best known for, not Who Dares Wins or writing 'The Chicken Song'.

 I recollect this second series of 50-minute episodes as feeling less successful than the 1989 one. I remember watching them with my mother, and her complaining that, "this programme is much better when they're being funny, rather than all this business with their wives".

Saturday, 12 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Home To Roost - High Noon (12 January 1990)

 There are a handful of pretty good episodes scattered throughout the run of Home To Roost, thanks to either Eric Chappell's instinctive skill in setting up diverting situations, an interesting guest, or both. I can't say that this is one of them, though, even with Ray Winstone as a menacing boxer friend of Matthew's.

 It doesn't feel very distinctive, and would have been done just the same in 1975. Save for the costume of Sara Crowe (Matthew's love interest this episode), which is bang-on accurate what London girls were wearing circa 1987-90 - a low cut tight-zipped jacket, denim cut-offs over tights. A disconcerting period detail if you were around at the time. I'm also intrigued to spot, among the CND and Rastafarian posters that dress the set of Matthew's bedroom, a large model police box/ TARDIS. I wonder how he came to have that? It would have been as interesting a story as this one.

Friday, 11 January 2019

A Comedy On This Day: May To December - I Remember It Well (11 January 1990)

 Over thirty years ago, when I was starting to develop a bit more critical acumen, I remember hearing this exchange in some otherwise wholly forgettable sitcom:
A. I'm being sent to Coventry!
B. Oh, I've always wanted to go there.
A. No - I mean that I'm being ostracized!
B. Does that mean that we won't be able to have any children?
 Which struck me at the time as being archetypal formulaic 'comedy' dialogue, which requires a 'funny' misunderstanding line-by-line. When you're not that engaged with what's going on - and the misunderstandings are more there for the sake of constant comic rhythm than to be actually funny - it can have a clunking, creaking, effect upon the viewer. 
 This episode starts off with one such moment, when the spinster solicitor informs the bimbo receptionist that "custody only applies in cases involving minors" and the receptionist replies, "But my Uncle Albert weren't a miner, 'e was a plumber!" It sets a regrettable marker of low quality - priming you to expect little - that takes a long time to lift.
 Which is unfortunate, because the emotional beats of this episode do go on to be genuinely interesting. The central scene (the 26-year old girlfriend introducing her 54-year old boyfriend to her parents) is achieved through techniques - fades to cover ellipses in time, a large close-up of the one silent person at the meal - that feel more like a drama than a sitcom. The episode also looks at the age gap from an interesting angle, looking at how the older man carries decades more experiences and references than his partner, and showing how that can be a burden.