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.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Shelley - Happy Birthday - R.I.P. (25 August 1992)

 Written by David Firth, one of four writers on this final series. This story feels like it could have been told much the same way in a fifties sitcom, with Ted pretending to be bedridden with a feigned slipped disc after no-one remembers his birthday. Contemporary detail comes from Shelley complaining about the Doctor's surgery having become a health centre with automated telephone booking and receptionists who type into their Wang personal computers when he's trying to speak to them. 

 Oddly, the one thing to make me laugh in this episode isn't even meant to be a joke, when Shelley snaps at Ted, "Will you stop mistaking me for a young person?" That's always an irritation of middle age, but not one often depicted - old people still thinking that you're young in some way, when you're acutely aware that you have nothing in common with the people who really are young.

Friday, 23 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Terry & June - Of Human Bondage (24 August 1987)

 I wonder if, over the course of its 106 episodes, Happy Ever After/ Terry & June ran through all of the seven basic plots? You would think that they all turn up at some stage. Terry & June has the potential to do six of them easily -
1. Cinderella/ The Hero Who Cannot Be Kept Down - Unrecognised virtue at last recognised.

2. Achilles - The Fatal Flaw.

3. Faust - The debt that must be paid, the fate that catches up with all of us sooner or later.

4. Tristan - that standard triangular plot of two women and one man, or two men and one woman.

5. Circe - The Spider and the Fly.

6. Romeo and Juliet - Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy either finds or does not find Girl: it doesn't matter which.

7. Orpheus - The Quest.

 Number six (Romeo and Juliet) is the only one that seems to be outside it's immediate scope, but perhaps there might be a suitable story about their children somewhere in Happy Ever After... I like the idea that it would be possible to teach a seven-week creative writing/ narrative course exclusively through episodes of Terry & June.

 This one is a Cinderella story (a magical transformation of circumstances) with a Premium Bond owned by the Medfords winning the month's top prize of £250,000 (which, even taking inflation into account - it would now be just under £700,000 - seems like a relatively sober figure in a post-Lottery climate. I see that the top prize Premium Bond is now one million pounds. Which has a pleasing ring of wealth to it, although being a millionaire isn't exactly what it once was.)

 The situation is certainly set up with alacrity - Terry gets bills in the post, complains about how they must tighten their belts, the phone rings with dramatic news. Two sources of dramatic interest stem from this. It's to be expected that this good fortune must then be undone in some way - as Terry keeps saying, the Medfords never win anything and their becoming notably well-off would change the mood of the programme. How is the fall from paradise going to happen? It keeps the viewer guessing, but when the reversal happens it's not particularly clever, although at least it's not completely implausible. John Kane has done some research into how Premium Bonds work - the disappointment is a variation of the story of the bankrobber coming out of prison, digging up their loot and discovering that it's no longer legal tender.  

 Of greater interest is how this illusory wealth would affect the Medfords. There's a scene where Terry and June are besieged by petitioners. June's friend Beattie brings her niece along in the hope of June bankrolling her fashion house. The vicar brings the church accountant along, hoping for a donation for a new organ and central heating for the church. A bouquet-bearing Sir Dennis offers Terry a seat on the Board, and some distant relatives led by an angry George A. Cooper demand a share of the family good fortune. This is frustratingly skimped on. We only get to see the first visitors (Beattie and her niece) in the living room, their offer dismissed with polite steel by June. From them on, we only see Terry and June greeting the petitioners in their hallway and shepherding them into the living room... Having gone to the effort of casting so many assorted characters, it's a shame that we don't then get to see them all crowding into the room and interacting with each other.

 I think that most of the problems that I've had with this last series could have been solved with more robust script editing. John Kane was a seasoned old comedy writer who knew what he was doing, but every episode seems to have a rather thrown away ending that should have been much stronger.

 The two leads are always seriously good, though, something that I didn't really appreciate watching them as a schoolboy. It must be the combined training of rep and constantly performing television comedy since the live days of the fifties that meant that they knew how to make the most of whatever the series asked them to do.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Astronauts - Going Home (23 August 1983)

 The final episode, broadcast on this day only in certain ITV regions, and at 11.35pm. An ignominious end for a series initially held in high hopes...
 You can see the promise in the situation, with the three astronauts preparing to return to earth, the scientist frightened of the dangerous process, and the Captain traumatised to learn that his wife has been having an affair at home. That promise is dramatic rather than comic, though, in a Moonbase 3 sort of way. Unfortunately, whenever the character and situation goes somewhere interesting, the programme remembers that it's a sitcom and quickly (if unamusingly) undercuts it.
 This isn't helped by canned (rather than recorded with a studio audience) laughter, a jarring feature in several ITV programmes of this period. Once you start to notice it you can hear it, in the way that the laughter suddenly starts and stops and the silences in between, and it sounds nothing like the organic responses of a real audience. It also has an unfortunate editorialising effect. Garden and Oddie's dialogue doesn't have much in the way of jokes, but it has got a comic rhythm which gets undercut by sudden bursts of loud laughter at exchanges which are only tangentially amusing in themselves. Then, once the scientist astronaut gets frightened and the evangelist pilot attempts to comfort her, you get a similar exchange like "God is your pilot/ I hope that he has a fully qualified license", received in an unnaturally sterile silence, because it was decided that laughter at a joke would be distracting during a serious bit.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Yanks Go Home - Bed Of Roses (22 August 1977)

 Written by Anthony Couch, a writer with only a handful of previous comedy credits to his name. There's not much in the way of actual jokes in this episode, but lots of scenes of the G.I.s making observations to each other about their perfumed laundry.

 This week, the pub is losing American custom to the W.V.S. canteen, where the ladies are laundering the G.I.s' clothes in exchange for nylons, candies, etc. There's a canteen set that I wouldn't have minded seeing more of and a few new characters only seen in this episode. Watching this series - which seems to have one new single-use set and two or three guest performers every episode - reminds me of being a child and buying one new set of Town Lego with my pocket money each weekend, a fireman or policeman, say. You eventually build up a whole town's population week by week. Unlike with the toys, though, you never get to see them all together.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Happy Ever After - Keeping Fit! (21 August 1974)

 Just four scenes in this all-studio episode. For a light domestic comedy, the dialogue-heavy nature of the exercise requires the viewers to bring quite a lot of imagination with them.
 The first scene is in the Fletchers' garden, of which we only see the porch. Two orange floral garden loungers, June sat on hers drinking tea, Terry fidgiting restlessly around his. We don't actually see the garden, buring a long stretch of dialogue about it and Terry and June's different understanding of what the space represents to each of them - for June a place to sit in, for Terry a source of constant work. From the mass of details about what's in the garden and what needs doing there, the attentive viewer builds up a cumulative picture of what this space must look like - the one bad that Terry hasn't done yet on the left, the compost heap in front of a flowering plant to the bottom right, etc. It requires maintaining attention to get the most out of this sort of dialogue.
 The third scene - the Fletchers in bed - also requires sustained imaginative concentration. In slightly unexpected territory for this programme, June imagines her possible life as a widow, with Terry becoming jealous of any future husbands, his wife teasing him about how he wouldn't be able to do anything about it. This scene doesn't really have any bearing upon the situation going on in the moment, and it shows a certain confidence in the ability of the performers to trust the audience to go along with it.
 I'm sobered to realise that Terry is supposed to be my age now, 45-46! He's having a midlife crisis, alternating between acute hypochondria and a short-lived keep-fit resolution. Both phases are ideal material for Terry Scott's abilities as a physical comic, attempting to walk when full of imaginary aches and pains (a stiff back, a stuck out dead arm and a leg with cramp), then making a great to-do of three press-ups and failing to touch his toes.
 The mynah bird flaps about in its little cage loudly, and looks highly agitated by the studio lights.

Monday, 19 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Doctor In Charge - Yellow Fever (20 August 1972)

I have a feeling Professor Loftus wants to speak to me about that patient sitting up in the middle of his operation.

What happened?

He took one look at his intestines and fainted.

 Another Graham Chapman script (with Bernard McKenna) and about as absurd as the Doctor comedies got, with a delegation of 28 representatives from the People's Republic of China visiting St Swithin's. A busy episode that packs an awful lot of gags into 25 minutes, largely visual jokes about herding multiple Mao-suited figures who go to places where they shouldn't, hide behind doors, etc. At one point the script even requires the Chinese to stand in line and fall like dominoes.
 Two modes of comedy intertwine - the absurd (culturally specific details of trying to integrate with Chinese customs) and the farcical (moving the delegates about). The two styles reach their best moment of synthesis in a scene when the delegates, in surgical masks and swabs, attend an operation. Dr Waring prepares for the surgery by reciting from the Little Red Book, before Dr Bingham enters with a Policeman - "Arrest these Chinamen!"

Sunday, 18 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Sez Les (19 August 1972)

 For such a bevvy of elegant ladies, the Les Girls dance troupe do get put through some indignities on Sez Les. In a visual sketch this is deliberate - Dawson as top hatted crooner with three dancers descending a misproportioned staircase behind him: when the stairs get larger the dancers have to clamber down and eventually use a stepladder. But when in this week's big roaring twenties number - Amii MacDonald singing 'Black Bottom' - the women get dressed as (Mickey) mice, the effect is... peculiar.

 Les Girls are put to more conventional use in the first number from today's big guest star, Roy Orbison. Roy hasn't had a hit since 1969 and is working from his back catalogue. He has updated his look for the seventies, though - still with the dark glasses of course, but replacing his familiar dark suits with a costume in thick white fabric. He performs 'Dream Baby' with Les Girls surrounding him from above, below, to the left and to the right, the dancers wearing either pink or orange tops and silver hot pants as they cavort to the music.

 The effect is jolly, but detracts from the song's more ethereal, spectral, qualities. At one point Orbison is seen to give an amused smile, a rare sight. For his second number, he performs 'Running Scared' alone at the foot of a huge white staircase. It's still an amazingly dramatic narrative song, but has been frustratingly truncated for this performance.

 Today's other musical guests, The Peddlers, have been placed in front of the audience. A veteran jazz/soul trio, they aren't really light entertainment crowd pleasers. The three hairy men are dressed in matching crocheted waistcoats, not an image that ever caught on. Singer Roy Phillips' voice is a rather vomity-sounding shriek (like Roger Chapman of Family) and their latest single 'Back Alley Jane', a churning locked-on groove largely performed on Hammond organ, is a bit too heavy for this show, as seen in the audience reaction.

 With so many musical guests, Les Dawson does end up a rather marginal figure in his own show. But he does get the best moment, in an elaborate filmed sequence after the end credits, as a marching Salvation Army drummer who takes a wrong turning and ends up unknowingly leading another march before returning to the back of his own band. For added contemporary relevance the march that he heads is a rabble of bra-burning women's libber

Saturday, 17 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Shelley - A Little Learning (18 August 1992)

 By Guy Jenkin this week, whose solo work is slightly coarser and less dextrous than his writing partner Andy Hamilton's scripts. Shelley is again a somewhat marginal figure in his own programme, largely there to make sardonic observations about Ted's plans, while David Ryall actually does stuff.
 Two interlocking storylines, Ted's prowess in pub quizzes and a private detective conducting surveillance operations from Ted's house. The greatest interest is derived from some bang-on specific 1990 details. Ted's nemesis in the pub quiz, a young Irishwoman, is wearing a tight satin bomber jacket with a very high waistband - a look that had a very limited shelf life. Meanwhile, the shifty detective - despite being middle-aged and too old for this sort of thing - is styled in a 'baggy' image with a mop-of-curls-shaved-at-the-sides hairstyle as if he was in The Milltown Brothers. Taking pride of place in his collection of expensive surveillance equipment is a Toshiba T1000 computer.

Friday, 16 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Terry & June - Bats In The Belfry (17 August 1987)

 A Sunday morning in Purley. Terry's boiled egg has exploded. I am interested to spot that the Medfords take the Sunday Telegraph (headline: "Labour tears at poll smear campaign"), although Terry admits that he only gets it for the comic strips and the easy crossword (both of which there would be more of in other papers, I would have thought). Watching Terry handling the Sunday Telegraph, I imagined him struggling with some complex report about the Iran-Contra affair or Geoffrey Wheatcroft piece about the fortunes of David Owen after Sunday lunch and quickly falling asleep. I would have imagined the Medfords taking the Mail On Sunday myself, although that paper (est. 1982) would still have been a bit newfangled in 1987.
 June is slow cooking a joint of beef - no one else appears to be invited to lunch. She asks Terry about getting one of those new microwaves, which Terry thinks is a hairstyle. They are still churchgoers, which makes sense considering what we can make out of their backgrounds. June's mother phones up, and Terry and June have to take her to hospital for her legs.
 In a sense, Terry & June would be a more interesting programme if fewer incidents occurred in it. Before long we're into the story proper, in which the Medfords become trapped in the church's belfry when Terry offers to mend the bell (a bell which doesn't look very metallic, incidentally). "He might have a heart attack going up all those stairs!", June exclaims, exactly what I was thinking at the time.
 The ending of this caper is rather muffed. Terry and June secure their release when they attract the attention of the police by throwing slates at their car, but we don't ever see them actually get rescued or interacting with the police (who only exist in a filmed insert). The situation peters out instead of reaching a memorable climax.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

A Comedy on This Day: Bless Me Father - A Mixed-Up Marriage (16 August 1981)

 Sitcom was an unusual form for these clerical stories to take. If you didn't know, and heard that a series of memoirs about the life of a novice Catholic curate in a suburban London parish 30 years ago were being adapted for television, you might assume that they would be a nostalgic family drama programme, perhaps along the lines of All Creatures Great & Small on Sunday evenings. But Peter de Rosa, the books' author, thought that his experiences would work well as a sitcom, and was trusted enough to be granted his wish. All 21 episodes are by De Rosa, who never wrote anything else for television, and the sense of an individual authorial voice speaking from experience was one of Bless Me Father's two great strengths (along with the casting, of course)
 This final episode certainly has enough material and conflict in it to sustain a 50 minute drama. It's the story of a mixed marriage between a Rabbi's son and a Catholic orphan girl, which both religions attempt to block (nice to see Cyril Shaps as the rabbi).
 The implications of the story are disheartening in places, with some unhappiness due for the couple whichever decision they make. Both the girl's parents were killed in the war we are told (in the kind of aside rarely heard in an LWT sitcom) and rejecting the chance of a loving marriage would break her heart again, but the couple face estrangement from both of their faiths if they do marry.
 Most viewers' sympathies would be towards the young couple marrying, and the script deftly plays with this, with the greatest laughs coming from the holy men's appalled reactions when the couple threaten to convert to Anglicanism. But it's to the script's credit that it doesn't skirt around the problems that the couple will face, and accomplishes a happy ending that's harmonious without being sentimental. And a marriage is a great way to end the series as a whole, too, part of a British literary and theatrical comic tradition that goes back centuries.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Yanks Go Home - The Game Of The Name (15 August 1977)

  Although Harry Kershaw's script has it's amusing features, there's an odd sense of not-quite-a-sitcom about this (WWII, G.I.s in the village) programme at points. It seems particularly acute in scenes in the pub, where the dialogue doesn't have much in the way of jokes per se. The effect is like watching Rovers Return scenes in Coronation Street with added audience laughter.

  The best parts come from this week's guest stars, Barbara Mitchell as local aristocrat Lady Gertrude and Patrick Troughton as her grizzled retainer, Lubbock. As we see a lot of this pair on their own - and several sets have been constructed for Lady Gertrude's cobwebbed stately home - it's as though they're the lead in someone else's show. Sadly, any spin-off would have been impossible as Barbara Mitchell died of cancer within a few months of broadcast, at only 48. Lady Gertrude's skewed interest in the soldiers (as a source of booze) and willingness to flatter them to get by is skillfully and distinctively performed - a fitting tribute to an actress who always added something empathetic and truthful to several sitcoms, especially The Larkins and For The Love Of Ada.

  Lady Gertrude is dressed throughout in a coat and heavy boots, even during the banquet that she holds for the G.I.s. Such privations and discomforts of wartime living are the most pleasing details in this episode, especially Lubbock's menu for the meagre feast; consomme (Bovril), poissons variese (sardines and tinned Alaska salmon), mediallions de boef corne (bully beef fritters), Boston baked beans gratin and pommes de terre Lubbock (chips), sago pudding.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Happy Ever After - The French Businessman (14 August 1974)

  If you grew up with Terry & June, it can sometimes be a mild culture shock coming to variant text Happy Ever After. The Fletchers seem (relatively) more sophisticated than the Medfords - perhaps the difference between living in Ealing Common in your early forties and living in Purley in your late fifties. The most surprising thing in this episode is when June consults the calendar in their kitchen and tells Terry, "That's our weekend in Glyndbourne", which sounds like an ambitious break to me. That would have made a good story in it's own right...

 Perhaps the middle-aged Terry's career means a bit more to him at this point than it did in Terry & June, where he's clearly fast approaching retirement. This week the Fletchers have to entertain a visiting French businessman to dinner. Jean Paul Bouchard turns out to be - 'ow you say? - charmant, telling Terry when introduced to June that, "You did not say you 'ave such a beautiful daughter!" A jealous Terry challenges the visitor to a tennis match. The filmed sequence feels a bit jarring after 25 minutes in the studio, with the jump to filmic comedy not helped by the Fletchers visiting the park on an exceptionally misty, grey day.

Monday, 12 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Doctor In Charge - Shut Up & Eat What You're Given (13 August 1972)

 There is no scene in any drama set at a mealtime that cannot be improved by making some reference to what the characters are eating. It's almost the only activity that can be shown on screen that everybody watching has an active interest in, and imagining the taste and texture of the food consumed encourages an easy empathetic understanding of something of what the characters are feeling at the moment.
 So an episode about hospital food was always going to be onto something of a winner, and this one does what you'd hope of it, with charred sausages flying off plates, etc. The doctors' canteen is a worryingly insanitary place, where dinner ladies cough all over the food and cooks reheat what gets left over in perpetuity. The only thing that it has going for it is that a three course meal costs 12 1/2p there, £1.69 in today's money.
 Two other sorts of food offset the unappetising canteen stodge. There is delicious food, such as the joint of beef and roast potatoes which Professor Loftus temps the dieting doctors with, and a fascinating replacement menu when the canteen offers alternative fare - asparagus soup, prawn cocktails, steaks and creme caramel. A three course meal of this calibre costs Doctor Waring £1.25 (£16.20 today).
 Some research has gone into the third cuisine, with Waring evangelising about trendy macrobiotics, and recruiting Collier into sharing his new diet with him. The food that they eat (millet spaghetti and seaweed) is harder to imagine the taste of. You get the feeling that Jonathan Lynn is presenting his research findings to the viewer here in a way that pre-empts his Yes Minister work, especially when Waring and Collier contract scurvy through Vitamin C deficiency, not an immediately obvious comedy consequence.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

A Comedy On This Day: Sez Les (12 August 1972)

 Thirties and forties revivals were going on at various times in 1970s culture, and Sez Les embraces these old styles and trends, with big band sounds from the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and Busby Berkley homages from resident dance troupe Les Girls. This is a welcome development from all of those trad jazz acts that cluttered up sixties comedy shows, and if anything this edition of Sez Les is stronger on music than on comedy, with three musical acts - plus the band and dance routines crammed into 40 minutes. A lot of imagination and craft has gone into the show.
 Daliah Lavi was an unfamiliar name to me, and would also have been so to most of the original audience. An Israeli actress and model, she also had a popular schlager singing career in Germany. She's given slightly subtler material to attempt to win the British public over with, singing a version of 'I'm Leavin'' with much emphasis on the "La la la la la la la la la la la la la" lines. It's acceptable enough, but it felt a hell of a lot more distinctive and freighted with personal meaning when Elvis did it the previous year.
 Daliah is wearing an ankle-length canary yellow dress with black trim, and a rather odd pattern, which from a distance looks like paw prints down her legs.
 Mac & Katie Kissoon still have a few years to wait for a UK hit, but 'Hey You Love' - in which the singers exchange promises of devotion before joining in a mutual declaration of "Hey! You Love! I'll never let you go!" - isn't bad (although the scansion of the chorus is distractingly similar to that of 'Rule Britannia'). Yorkshire Television really go for an innovative staging here. The singers' backs are to the audience, with the twelve Les Girls dancers on various platforms behind them, dressed in white bikinis and waving pink and orange cloaks in time to the music.   Some of the audience seem to be much more interested in the girls than the singers -

 Sandie Shaw was a pop veteran by 1972, but still only 25 years old. Her contract with Pye had just expired and her two very different slots here show an artist with many new possibilities ahead of her, but uncertain of what direction to take next. Performing of 'Happy Feet' (a song that goes back to the twenties) is a bid to demonstrate her versatility. In a sparkly period turban and scarf, and backed by the Les Girls dancers, the routine requires a little tap dancing from Sandie. She's game and her character carries it off, but placing her in front of professional dancers doing the same actions, does make you aware that movement wasn't where her primary talents lay.

 Her second performance is more what you'd expect from Sandie Shaw. Her interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot's recent hit 'If You Could Read My Mind' is very much of a piece with her terrific, lightly melancholic, 1969 album Reviewing The Situation and makes you wish that she could had carried on in that vein for a bit longer. Her outfit, however, must have looked unfortunate even at the time (Les Dawson jokes about her stealing Glenda Jackson's costume from Elizabeth R), and illustrates just how difficult it is to keep an image evolving in a long-running pop career without starting to look odd.