Don’t panic! Dad’s Army 2016 is actually alright

Dear fellow blog readers, I have a confession to make.

I have finally had a chance to see the new Dad’s Army film. In a world where all we hear about these days is of sitcom revivals and remakes, I have to admit due to the way the film has been perceived in the press ever since the reboot was announced.  I was neither outraged that they were remaking it, nor was I excited.

I went into the cinema trying to convince myself that I had an open mind about the film. It had a bloody fantastic cast, it was a comedy and it was set in the Second World War. So all in all it had the ingredients to be a film that would win me over. Still I was convinced it would complete and utter rubbish.

I had avoided the trailer mainly because I had told myself that the all star cast were just playing the characters exactly how they had been played in the classic TV series.

During the first five minutes of the film I was sure as sure that my preconceptions of the film were right. However I could not resist being won over to the little homage of the TV Show’s opening titles as the film found its way. I don’t want to say too much in case you haven’t seen it yet but it was a wonderful tribute and I think everyone was expecting those famous arrows and theme song to play across the silver screen.  

As daft as it sounds I actually didn’t think there would be much of a plot to this film. I was expecting the Walmington- on- Sea platoon to basically spend the whole hour and forty minutes blundering about in fields, which they did to begin with.

But there was actually a rather decent, albeit predictable plot (but hey that’s one of the reasons we love sitcoms right?). 

My favourite part of the film was the fact there was so much more scope and opportunities for the women of the programme. Again I wasn’t expecting Elizabeth Mainwaring to make an appearance as we had a repeat of the classic air raid shelter scene. But it was so lovely to actually have a face to put to the Captain’s wife. Felicity Montagu brought her to life splendidly.

 As a huge fan of Alison Steadman it was lovely to see her as Mrs Fox, she was fantastic as always. I am not a huge fan of Catherine Zeta Jones but she really did bring everything and more to the role of Rose Winters, and brought some much needed glamour to Walmington-on-Sea.  It was also nice to see a lot more of Dolly and Cissy Godfrey who had a rather nice little say in how the plot played out.

But and I think you all know where I am going, in terms of the female roles it was Sarah Lancashire as Mrs Pike who really stole the film. I am not a huge fan of the TV version of Mrs Pike I find her too annoying and insufferable but Sarah Lancashire gave her warmth and you really understood the love between her and Sergeant Wilson. She and Billy Nighy’s scenes really were something special. Who incidentally made Wilson a lot more likeable for me than an not as much of an arse as I can find him when I watch the TV series.

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So in my humble opinion, how did it compare with the TV series we all hold dear in our hearts? Well firstly I was rather impressed how the cast did not completely emulate what had gone before. While each character gave little nods to the familiar traits we all associate with them- they all brought something new too. I was most worries about how Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon would play Jones and Godfrey respectively as they are my favourite characters. But I was impressed as while we had the mutterings of “they don’t like it up ‘em” and “don’t panic” as well as tales of Godfrey’s sisters, we also had a bit more depth to the characters.

While we sort of knew exactly what we were going to get with wheeler dealer and loveable rouge Walker, Daniel Mays did it in the exact way one was expecting and it was brilliant. The same can be said of Blake Harrison who played Pike.  It was also lovely to see the remaining surviving cast Ian Lavender and Frank Williams popping up for little cameos too. 

So if you asked me do I think it was worth going to see Dad’s Army the film what would I say? I say go for it. Don’t panic as it still conveys strong elements of that wonderful programme and gave frequent nods to its predecessor but there is enough fresh material and an original story to make it enjoyable to new and old fans alike. With plenty of laughs along the way.

It is so worth going sitting through the whole thing just for the last few minutes which were just perfect.  In fact I am, as I write this persuading my mum to go and see it and let me go with her just for the last little bit as it made me feel like I was a fool ever to think there was no point in going to see this film!              

Dad's Army Tick

A new tale of a classic we all love

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Why my excitement for BBC’s Landmark Season is dwindling

Welcome readers, again this wasn’t going to be today’s intended topic but here we are. It seemed appropriate to return with a follow up to the last blogging instalment.

Last time I addressed those rumours that Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em could be returning as part of the BBC’s ‘Landmark Sitcom Season’ which is due to take pace next year. This was something I was very excited about. Now as the rumour net widens, that excitement appears to be fizzling out quicker than the spark in the fireworks you bought from Del Boy for Bonfire night.

This week we have been teased with many a tale of what Auntie is planning for this ‘landmark season,’ which is set to celebrate what historically the BBC has done best, situation comedy.

Over this period, one has read various stories of what we could be expecting. Some I have read with lukewarm reactions and the others, well let’s just say were greeted with a coldness not too dissimilar to how Patsy Stone describes Saffron Monsoon.

Let’s start with the lukewarm receptions for obvious reasons; Porridge. I read on twitter, via the radio times, that there is a plan to bring it back with Fletcher’s grandson doing time for computer hacking. Now a lot of people took to social media to ask the question, why fix something that isn’t broken? I do agree with this philosophy but this idea isn’t all that bad. It is basically Porridge for a new generation and we are bound to learn what happened to Norman Stanley Fletcher. My initial thought to this potential spin off was why when we have the original?  But as the week progressed I saw this as one of the better ideas, so long as they keep it fresh which is possible as it is bound to be updated for a modern day audience.

As the week went on the rumours got more and more disappointing, those of you who have read a few of my blogs or know me, will know that The Good Life holds a very special place in my heart and Keeping Up Appearances is another sitcom I am rather partial too. So when I saw these two little gems fall into the revival category I should have been as excited as when I read the Some Mothers rumours, but I wasn’t. While the idea of Hyacinth the prequel (as reported by the Telegraph) isn’t too bad, for me part of the beauty of Keeping Up Appearances was imagine what Hyacinth was like growing up and how she met Richard. I also get worried at the thought of anyone other than Patricia Rutledge playing her (memories of the stage version leap to the front of my mind).

Nothing has been said about the plans for The Good Life but with Penelope Keith and Felicity Kendal being the only ones with us I doubt they can do anything with it and I am not sure I would want them to. The Good Life for me is a little box of perfection, (apart from the odd continuity error in series two) it has no flaws that I can see. Bringing it back for half an hour, with Margo and Barbra sat on a sofa, say reminiscing about the good old days doesn’t cut it. Neither does a complete reboot, bringing it back with a new cast. As Penelope Keith has said, it probably wouldn’t work today, despite the show holding the test of time.  And there is no way I am standing for anyone other than Penelope Keith playing the greatest fictional character to have ever existed.

Like The Good Life and Keeping up Appearances, the other suggested shows to feature in this season all miss one key ingredient. Unfortunately, many of the stars which helped make these programmes the successes they originally were are no longer with us. How can you bring back Up Pompeii without Frankie Howerd? And Are You Being Served is missing a whole ray of its colourful characters that made the show stick in so many people’s minds.

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I don’t think The Good Life wouldn’t without half its original cast

While I love the idea of the occasional sitcom prequel I don’t think this is the best way to celebrate some of the best shows, which are currently tucked away in the BBC vaults, crying out to be shown again. I don’t shy away from the fact I don’t think the BBC makes sitcoms as they used to- for me the magic and the sparkle is no longer there and like we keep saying every time there is a prospect of a revival the magic of the original show is always in danger second time around.

So, for me the best way to celebrate these wonderful shows is to simply showcase them in all their original glory and let new audiences and generations discover them. And perhaps after that, if the BBC wishes throw in the odd making of drama, like what is speculated around Dad’s Army, (and hey, I am even game for a decently put together documentary all about the great British sitcom as defined by the BBC) then I will gladly accept that.

Though I will say this, I am still holding out a little flicker of hope for that Some Mothers does come back, out of all the rumours this is the only one which still has both its stars with us and in fine form, and if you ask me it has the most scope for a fresh stance compared with the other offering from the BBC. Personally, what could be a better way than to celebrate my favourite genre and shows than with the one which brought me to the Great British sitcom in the first place?

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Out of all the sitcom rumours Some Mothers is my favourite and only one I can see working

 

Why a Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em revival would be brilliant

Welcome to my blogging comeback. I have to admit this post wasn’t going to be my grand re-entrance but when I heard the news I am about to discuss I had to dust off the laptop.

So, as I am sure you sitcom enthusiasts will have heard there are rumours running wild this week that Frank and Betty Spencer (Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice) have been visiting dear old Auntie about the possibility of letting us back into their lives and seeing what they are up to four decades later. The rumours began after Michele Dotrice apparently ‘let slip’ in an interview with the Daily Mirror that she and Crawford are working together again next year. But of course in true showbiz fashion she can’t say too much. This then prompted the rumours of secret meetings at the BBC about bringing back this beloved sitcom.

I have to admit, while I am excited for the prospect of a possible return for the show that made me fall in love with sitcoms, I am somewhat sceptical about these rumours.

I’ve known for a while that my favourite fictional couple were openly looking for a new project to work on together, but they hadn’t been so keen on revisiting Betty and Frank.

However, I have another reason as to why I am so excited about the prospect of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em returning. The show that made my Sundays as a child has recently made its own comeback into my life. At a party recently, I was introduced to someone who turns  out is also a massive Some Mothers fan, not something you usually find at an 18th birthday party.  It is safe to say a friendship was quickly established and we have already spent hours re-watching, discussing and quoting Frank. So it is quite apt that this news has come a few weeks later and exactly one week after we both went into meltdown after Betty herself, Michele Dotrice tweeted us. So, naturally she is our favourite person right now.

As I and many others have mentioned before, there is usually an initial excitement when a sitcom comeback is announced, followed by bitter disappointment at the result. However, I actually think Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em could surpass the latter element.

While To The Manor Born, Still Open All hours and all the rivals before them had scope, plenty of room for character development and decent back stories to cover during the time they had been off air, they failed to deliver. Compared to Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em; the examples above appear to me rather boxy. You can’t really find out much about Granville’s unseen escapades unless they are mentioned over the shop counter in passing and then they are only two second anecdotes. He still has the same job in the same street with some of the same characters. Nothing has really changed. It’s the same with the De Veres, before their wedding anniversary we last saw Audrey and Richard tying the knot, they were relatively normal characters and we all knew what would happen to them once Audrey got her hands back on her beloved manor and accepted that times were changing and old money was a thing of the past. They would more than likely live a comfortable, happy life together and that’s really what happened.

The last time we saw Frank and Betty they were waiting to hear from Australia House about their attempted visa application so they could join Frank’s long lost granddad in the land down under. Of course, we all knew Frank wouldn’t be accepted after the shambles of an interview and the interviewer’s attempted suicide, but he had all his eggs in one basket, he had promised Jessica her third Christmas would be in Oz. What would they do next? Betty hated their new house and Frank still hadn’t passed his driving test.

A bright future for the Spencers?: I would love to know what Frank & Betty did next

A bright future for the Spencers?: I would love to know what Frank & Betty did next

What about Jessica? How did she turn out? Did she inherit her mother’s patience and her sensibility? Or did she end up as accident prone as her father and her namesake; her grandmother? Did she marry and make Frank and Betty grandparents? Was she more successful than her mother and father?

Personally, I think this is the most exciting aspect of the prospect of a comeback. We all know the amazing stunts Crawford did wouldn’t be allowed to be done today; my Gran was only saying so last night. So, what about if Frank handed down his beloved beret to the apple of his eye and Jessica became the new star of the show? We could see Frank and Betty dropping in and depending how she turned out saving their daughter from ‘harassments.’

That way we could have the physicality that made the original series so unique and very funny, without having to worry that Michael Crawford and his stunts were ‘looking tired and forced.’ Perhaps the BBC could let him do a few minor stunts? If his enthusiasm during his stint in the Wizard of OZ showed, he was still very much game for anything physical (Andrew Lloyd Webber missed out vetoing that one).

Having Jessica at the helm would also answer questions like did Frank and Betty have any more children? Did they have little Frank junior who grew up to be just like his dad? Did Frank ever manage to hold down a job and support his wife and child? How would he cope in a world of Twitter and technology? Did Frank ever manage to get his wife that fur coat he longed to buy her? Perhaps his tendencies to fall over and cause havoc made him a youtube star. Did Betty ever have enough of Frank’s failures and leave him like she claimed she might have to do in ‘Have a Break, Take a Husband?’ As well as exploring the character of Jessica Spencer and how her life turned out.

While of course, like its predecessors who have all made comebacks before, it does run the risk of losing a touch of its original magic, nothing can take away the brilliance of the original series. And with the stars of the show clearly still very good friends, I doubt their spark will have been extinguished.

So while the prospect of being offered the chance to (try and) keep up with the Spencers delights my eight year old self and the 21-year-old obsessive I have become, I am just happy at the thought that my original sitcom heroes appear to be working together again, and whatever that might be; “I’m excited Betty.”

Standing the test of time: Some Mothers has provided one with hours of laughs, i hope more are to come

Standing the test of time: Some Mothers has provided one with hours of laughs, i hope more are to come

See the original story published by ‘The Mirror’ here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/bbc-could-revive-sitcom-hero-6569131

The Mail claim Crawford and Dotrice are in talks with BBC bosses

The Mail claim Crawford and Dotrice are in talks with BBC bosses

In the audience of Still Open All Hours

I don’t know if you, dear reader remember or have followed my blog from the very beginning but my first ever blog post was about how a popular tabloid reported that there would be no full series following the one off special of Still Open All Hours we saw last Boxing Day.

Well here we are and not so long ago the Beeb commissioned a six part series and filming is well underway. What’s more is I was lucky enough to get to see the penultimate episode being filmed last Friday and I want to tell you all about it. Without giving much of the plot away I promise!

I know the beauty of a blog like this is I get to share and you get to experience one’s personal adventures but I will do my upmost not to make it sound too much like a dull ‘What I Did on my Holidays’ piece.

I am sure you understand this was a very exciting thing for a huge lover of the Great British sitcom, though my sister, being a huge fan of Sir David Jason was probably a lot more excited than myself.  It was also a very daunting one for me because, while I am not (that) stupid and as much as wish it was true I am well aware these sitcoms aren’t real. Even so, while I was queuing up outside Teddington Studios I was worried that by seeing the fifth episode of Still Open All Hours being filmed some of that sitcom magic would be lost to me forever.

Another thing that also worried me was while I am a fan of Roy Clarke and his work, I rarely find his material ‘laugh out loud hilarious’ and I would fail to do the vital thing the audience member is there for- to provide the laughter.

As Teddington is a long way from where I live (about a three hour drive), we set off early and were able to spend the morning and early afternoon walking along the canal and in the pub before we went to join the queue at half past three, which was nice-Teddington is rather a lovely part of London.

The lady on reception recommended lining up at half past four but as they allocate more tickets than seats and as we had come all this way we could not afford to miss the cut off.

I have been in a queue for a BBC recording before, so I expected the waiting time to drag out, especially in mid November but luckily for us it didn’t. Once our tickets were validated we were soon ushered into the old canteen where the next part of our wait began.

Tickets please: my ticket for the recording complete with the BBC authentication- a sticker!

Tickets please: my ticket for the recording complete with the BBC authentication- a sticker!

Lining up early paid off as we were on the second row right in the middle (we would have been on the front row if it wasn’t for some queue jumpers!) Walking into the studio it was then I realised how special this place really was.

Along the corridor were stills of some of the greatest sitcoms, comedy shows and entertainers who had all filmed here-everything from Morecambe and Wise to My Family.

It was in fact as you can probably predict the picture of Nicholas Lyndhurst and Dervla Kirwan in Goodnight Sweetheart that got me excited about where I was and what I was about to experience.

I really should have guessed it was a very special place when we were waiting outside because there were blue heritage plaques honouring the late great talents of the comedy world.

This is bound to sound really corny but when we were escorted to studio one and you saw the interior of the iconic Arkwright’s corner shop set out you really could feel the magic and the ghosts of sitcom past breezing past you. It really did make the hairs on the back of my next stand up on end.

Which makes it even more heartbreaking that soon these historic studios will be demolished to make way for new state of the art flats.

The Teddington laughter factory: where the magic of some of the countries greatest comedies was made

The Teddington laughter factory: where the magic of some of the countries greatest comedies was made

Having seen the Command Performance of The Good Life no end of times, I was fairly familiar with the setup of filming a situation comedy but I had no idea just how many people it took to create the half hour episode.  Even the fact the director (Dewi Humphreys) sits upstairs and watches the action from a monitor was something new to me.

The first person we were introduced to was the floor manager, Julie who welcomed us and explained what would happen during the evenings recording. She then passed us over to Bobby Bragg the warm up artist, who would guide us through the evening and make sure we didn’t loose interest. How could we though? Every aspect of the recording was fascinating.

I have to say Bobby was such a pro and is seriously as funny (if not funnier) as/than some of the stand up comics I have paid to see.  In fact on several occasions he had made us laugh so much when the crew were ready for another take the audience weren’t ready, it was really hard to suppress the laughter when he ‘thought out loud’ about how he wondered if Floor Manager Julie would want to participate in the break up of his marriage. I don’t think I have seen a comedian deliver jokes with the same cheeky chappy manner Bobby did.

Anyway back to Still Open All Hours- seen as that is why I assume you are here (I ssincerely hope it is anyway).

As I said earlier I really don’t want to give anything away about the episode, we were provided with a cast list and summary of the show and episode five, which gave the audience some context surrounding the episode, it doesn’t give much away so I feel it is safe to share with you fellow blog readers what it said:

“Episode 5- Granville has bought a job lot of bargain stock but needs a clever plan to sell it all and the visiting salesman gives him an idea. Meanwhile, Gastric has an interesting heirloom and Eric is not getting on with his wife so seeks emergency romantic help from young Leroy.”

It all started to feel very real when we spotted David Jason warming up through the shop window (the smile on my sister’s face at this point made my entire day) before we were formally introduced to the cast.

In the studio that night, along with Sir David Jason were:  James Baxter as Leroy, Maggie Ollerenshaw as Mavis, Brigit Forsyth as Madge, Johnny Vegas as Eric, Tim Healy as Gastric, Kulvinder Ghir as Cyril and Mark Williams as Salesman. While Lynda Barron and Stephanie Cole were also billed for that night’s episode they only featured on VT footage which was a bit of a shame, what with me being a 90’s child and brought up on Auntie Mabel (Lynda Barron) and her trusty dog Pippin, it would have been nice to see her in the flesh. I recall the same occurred in the Boxing Day special so it might be a sign of things to come. I hope not as I want to see them stepping foot into Arkwright’s corner shop once more.

Programme pretext: the synopsis and cast list we were given

Programme pretext: the synopsis and cast list we were given

Surprisingly, I laughed in all the right places and the jokes and all the lines were delivered brilliantly. So my worrying was all for nothing (story of my life).

However, due to the use of a lot of props and the scenes were described by Bobby as ‘technical’ there were more scene retakes than pickups. This of course meant that by the fourth take or so the joke was no longer as funny as the first time you heard it, so I felt my laughter became more feeble and forced.

Which thinking about it is how myself as a viewer sometimes judges the joke- through the live studio audience’s reaction to it. Completely forgetting unlike myself that probably isn’t the first time they have heard that particular gag.

Like when you go to the theatre or see a sitcom at home, I found that despite the cameras and the microphones that would sometimes obstruct my view (thank god for the big screens), it was like I was there sitting inside Arkwright’s corner shop, being part of the action and that felt fantastic!

Of course the studio audience was brought back to reality with a bump and a giggle when a member of the cast fluffed a line, forgot a line or corpsed. David Jason in particular handled this in the best possible sprits, the way he laughed with the audience or did something funny with the props at us before the take made us feel like a huge part of the show.

Comic legends Johnny Vegas, Tim Healy and Mark Williams also never failed to keep us entertained either and from what I saw of their slightly whacky characters, they are an asset to the programme, as is the character of Leroy who plays Granville’s son. James Baxter and David Jason had a great rapport both while the cameras were rolling and when they weren’t.

The filming lasted two and a quarter hours overall. After each take there were a couple of scenes that everyone felt would take forever to master as they never seemed to get them quite right for various reasons, but of course they did it and it was splendid. Like most sitcoms the opening scene was on film and the next scene was in the studio, and this sequence is repeated all the way through until the final VT shows the closing credits of the episode.

I will be sure to come back and report on the episode when it has been aired, I am looking forward to seeing what bits they use and how they put it all together.

Also I know this blog won’t have done my experience of seeing a real live sitcom being filmed (says a lot for a wannabe writer I know) but seriously if you get the opportunity to see a sitcom being filmed do- there is nothing quite like it and I promise you there will be barrels of fun and laughter!

So there is one question left to be answered- will the new series be any good?

You want my Answer?  From what I have seen so far of the Still Open All Hours series, I honestly think it will be a good un! Everone, cast and crew deserve a huge pat on the back and a traditional end of sitcom applause. Thank you for having me BBC, that is something else ticked off the bucket list!

I am already seeing what sitcom I can apply to see next!

Smiles all round: Still Open All Hours will be a success on mine and my sister's (pictured) watches

Smiles all round: Still Open All Hours will be a success on mine and my sister’s (pictured) watches

 

 

Getting On with the laughter

I honestly have no idea why on earth it took me until just recently to tune into Getting On.

I was well aware of it when it aired (2009- 2012) and it is co-written as well as starring Jo Brand- the second funniest person on the planet, in my opinion. Its other two main stars Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine also co-write the show. The first two series are directed by Peter Capaldi and he also starred in a handful of episodes.

Getting On: a first rate comedy

Getting On: a first rate comedy

Due to the anecdotes told to me by the majority of my mum’s side of the family, who work in the health care profession  in hospitals and with the elderly, Getting On is something which I can relate to.

The series opens with Sister Den Flixster (Joanna Scanlan) holding the hand of a dying patient, as she laughs at something amusing on her phone before Jo Brand’s character, Nurse Kim Wilde, bursts in announcing: “There’s a shit on a chair.”

Now to anyone who has been reading any of my previous blog entries, you will probably assume that this crude statement would cause me to groan with disgust and switch off. In fact you could not be anymore mistaken. Like with many of the ‘gags’ in this programme, I can think of them for only a second and I will be crying with laughter, no matter where I am.

In a world where political correctness in the workplace has gone mad, it seems only right that Nurse Wilde cannot “pick it up with a bit of tissue and flush it down the toilet” as she would have done 12 years ago before she returned to the practice. Instead she must fill out a ‘critical incident’ form and put caution tape around the deposit until the owner is identified before it can be taken up to the lab as part of Dr Moore’s ‘critical’ stool research.

What I thought was wonderful about this NHS ‘satire’ as the show is often described as, was the fact it was so close to reality when it comes to hospital care, uppity doctors, staff shortages and nurses being paid a pittance to be the dogsbody.  My aunty who is an Occupational Therapist apparently could not watch it as it was too familiar, a vast contrast to how hospitals are usually portrayed on television.

Reality check: Getting On is described as being a real portrayal of the NHS

Reality check: Getting On is described as being a real portrayal of the NHS

This ‘dark’ reality of course comes first hand from Brand’s own experiences working as a psychiatric nurse before her comedy heyday. This is married very beautifully with the poignant portrayal of life.

The concept of Getting On is simple, this ‘mockumentry’ if you like, follows the staff and patients on ward B4 (and later K2 when the staff move to a shiny new hospital in series three) during several shifts.

The running of the hospital appears to be a bit of a shambles as demanding and patronising Dr Moore (Pepperdine) cannot see how her self-indulgent ways have prohibited her to have any kind of people skills. She often is the last to know what condition her patients are in and will get Sister Flixter to do the minor things she should be doing. Subsequently Sister Flixster passes these chores onto Nurse Wlide.

In the first episode the major challenge faced on ward B4 is dealing with getting to the bottom of who the newly admitted elderly woman is and why she was admitted- the only flaw is, she doesn’t speak any English and nobody knows what language she is speaking. They quickly diagnose her as confused as they can’t understand her. “It is very confusing to tell whether she is confused because we haven’t got the language” explains Sister Flixster.  Luckily for them, a man from ‘Language Line’ will pop in and assist.

However, like with all good plans comes bad news, the man can’t come until tomorrow. Sister Den has a brainwave and will repeat what the lady is saying to Nurse Wilde, who is on the phone to Language Line. As you have probably guessed, this results in what is quite possibly the most hilarious round of Chinese Whispers you have ever seen: “Goligaligedima, adga mortichi,” which of course ‘doesn’t mean anything.”

As well as the three leading ladies Ricky Grover makes up the cast as Matron Hilary Loftus whom Sister Flixster immediately takes a shine to. The scene in Matron’s office is especially funny as Sister uses the excuse of having a bad year due to her husband running off (“I’d only known him a couple of weeks before getting married”) after getting her to sign an agreement for a £15,000 loan, taking the Berlingo and the dog with him, for not filling out her Form A.

She then suggests they go to ‘Fingers’ a wine bar, to fill it in, “There is a nice quiet bit at the back”. This results in television’s most disastrous ‘will they won’t they’ relationship, which plays out throughout the programme’s three series run.

One of the things that makes it such a catastrophic relationship comes to the surface after Matron Loftus issues a formal complaint against Nurse Wilde after her joke of calling him “a fat Nance” backfires. Despite it all being put into “ weird NHS Language to make it sound much worse than it really was,” a question mark is left hanging over Matron’s sexuality throughout the series.

A lot of tension: the peculiarly funny relationship of sister and matron

A lot of tension: the peculiarly funny relationship of sister and matron

For me it is Jo Brand who makes this show. Despite being at the very bottom of the pecking order, it is her character that is the only one to come across as genuinely caring about the people she is looking after.

Her quick wit and sarcasm, along with sloping off to the toilet to have a crafty cigarette has the audience crying with laughter- literally. I read somewhere that not being an actor didn’t faze her that much because she wanted to play it as real as she could and having been a nurse she was able to do that with ease.

There is nothing bad I can say about this observant comedy. It really does take talent to create something that will make you laugh whist you are in despair that this is probably what is happening in NHS hospitals up and down the country as you are watching, I feel the balance of comedy and disbelief is done splendidly and therefore, I cannot recommend this sitcom highly enough.

Caring Kim: Jo Brand plays Kim perfectly

Caring Kim: Jo Brand plays Kim perfectly

Double Income….. No TV Series Yet?

Hello and good day to you, fellow blog readers. This week I would like to borrow your imaginations as this week I have chosen to review a sitcom that was written and broadcast for BBC Radio 4.

Double Income No Kids Yet, was written by David Spicer, originally aired from 2001-2003 and ran for three series, six episodes in each. It stared Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Elizabeth Carling as the childless couple Dan and Lucy.

The series revolves around the couple’s life and how they survive as the only childless couple in a world full of parents. Often the couple have to defend their choice to not have kids to their friends, in between sorting out their friends and relatives problems, leaving next to no time or themselves.

I first came across this sitcom last year when I had some time to kill, and caught the repeat of the first few episodes of series two. I quickly picked up the situation and the characters involved but unfortunately I forgot to keep tuning in and I never saw how the programme evolved.

I made a vow that I must invest in the download should that be possible, but you know what it’s like, Acorn media send you their catalogue and before you know it that month’s wages have gone on boxsets of sitcoms you swore to buy five years ago. Well anyway, I finally downloaded series one through to three and they were worth the wait.

Despite not being able to see the chemistry Tennant and Carling clearly had, you could sense it with your ears. The pair seemed to work really well together and were able to rapidly bounce wit and sarcasm off each other, resulting in listeners believing that they were a married couple.

What I really liked about the sitcom was how relatable it was to modern society despite being over a decade old (you have to excuse the internet dial up tone, heard in one episode), dealing with issues many 35 year old childless couples would deal with. As well as work issues such as how close do you get to your co workers?  I guess the magic that prevents this situation comedy form being outdated is the fact that there are still the same issues and questions surrounding women putting their careers first and having children later on in life, or not at all. (Not to mention as you don’t have costumes and sets on radio, there is no risk of that material pushing it towards the ‘out of date’ sign.)

While a lot of television comedy deals with physical comedy to ensure its big laughs, that is impossible with radio, so David Spicer opts for a more dry and witty sense of humour with his sitcom. Now, I am not a huge fan of dry wit but I have to say this works beautifully for Double Income No Kids Yet.  While most of the humour is lovely and subtle throughout there are the occasional laugh out loud moments too.

Double Income No Kids Yet stars David Tennant and Elizabeth Carling as the leads

Double Income No Kids Yet stars David Tennant and Elizabeth Carling as the leads

Series one introduces the changes to Dan and Lucy’s world as their oldest friends Andy (who along with Lucy and Dan all met at university) and his wife Katie reveal that they are having a baby. Thus, meaning that Lucy and Dan really are the only couple out of their circle of friends without children.

The continuing storyline of Katie’s pregnancy highlights the detachment Lucy and Dan are suffering from when it comes to the people in their lives.

We are also introduced to the fact that because Dan and Lucy don’t have any children of their own, they are assigned unwillingly the responsibilities of their siblings, nephews, nieces and friends, as well as colleagues. Characters often comment through each series what good parents they would make. Clearly the chaos surrounding other people’s issues relating to their offspring is enough to put Dan and Lucy wanting their own.

I found in the first series the funniest elements came from Katie thinking she’s in labour and the difficulties in naming their baby daughter. My favourite joke came from the ever witty Lucy who responded to Katie’s name choices of Rose, Daisy and Lilly by responding “ask Gardener’s Question Time.”  It was round this point where Lucy became my favourite character in the show due to sense of humour.

The conclusion of the first series was very strong and like any good comedy it had dramatic elements too, when Lucy thinks she’s pregnant. Their whole attitude to parenting; “we will be spending a lot of time at Centre Parcs” and pregnancy “what do you do with that lolly stick?” “Stick it under your tongue”, were typical of a couple who had decided long ago she was never going to have children, which made her lines even more amusing. The series ends on sort of a cliff-hanger, depending on which way you took Lucy’s line: “I think we are going to be okay?” meant that either they were going to be as they were and there would be another series (which is the way I think most would see it as) but the uncertainly in Lucy’s voice as she says it could suggest otherwise.

What was nice about the second series was that it sort of comes around in full circle; it develops past the new baby storylines to come back to it, when in the final episode Andy and Katie announce that they are going to be having another baby.  In the meantime, however, we are introduced to more characters and more storylines as Dan and Lucy attempt to mix with other non parent couples, despite not really liking them. We are introduced to Steve and Linda, a very boastful and unlikable couple who host a dinner party, where Dan and Lucy attempt to meet new people. As you would expect in sitcom land the consequences are disastrous, especially when Lucy and Dan attempt to thrown one of their own. Leaving them yet again feeling isolated as they don’t like the people who interact in the ‘grown up world’ but are left out in the cold with their friends who have children.

On the whole, the storylines get better in the second series and the show really does start to come into its own. While the actors playing Lucy, Dan, Andy (Tony Gardener) all stay the same, Samantha Spiro, lends her voice to Katie, replacing Meera Syal. While as we have previously briefly discussed recasts in sitcom can prove to be a very tricky business, I barley even noticed the change (I guess it is less obvious than on telly) so it made no difference whatsoever.

Series three now, and once again we have a new Katie, this time voiced by Auntie Val herself, Tracy-Ann Oberman. I preferred Oberman as Katie, I thought she suited the role slightly better and maybe I am biased as she was in a recent episode of my favourite Drama New Tricks and was brilliant (it may also because I prefer her as an actress anyway.) Again it doesn’t make much difference and is hardly noticeable.

In the final series of the sitcom, you can feel the dynamic of the show really start to change as Dan and Lucy begin to question if they should in fact consider having children as a part of their life. Of course some things never change as they are still playing agony aunt and uncle to their friends and family, hardly having a chance to reflect on what they really want out of life.

As the series goes on it expands in depth and without spoiling anything it gets emotional (tears really are needed).  Every actor involved in the heartbreaking storyline was terrific, especially David Tennant, who made me cry. The issues are really well crafted and beautifully handled.

Like all good comedy that reflects real life the juxtaposition of seriousness, tragedy and comedy. This was done by re introducing the ‘delightful’ Steve and Linda. Who force the couple to get back in touch with their witty sides. Of course all good things must come to an end, and the same can be said of this delightful sitcom. While it doesn’t end on a definite high, the situation improves and leaves us smiling once more.

In a way I would have liked to have seen this played out on our screens as it really would have made a great television programme. But then again, if it was between that or a fourth series or even just a one off episode to catch up with the couple who I really took a shine to, then it’s the latter every time!

A really enjoyable series dealing with every day contemporary issues

A really enjoyable series dealing with every day contemporary issues

 

Sitcoms of War- the ultimate antidepressant?

Hello! Goodness gracious me it has been a long time hasn’t it?  I guess you can blame the extremely long summer for my lack of posts. Well no, that’s not true; I can’t pretend I have been sat on the sofa for about 4 months abusing my sitcom boxsets because I have been working hard too. Which means I haven’t really had much inspiration for a sitcom related blog- I have had plenty of inspiration for a sitcom, however, but that’s a whole other story.  I also apologise if I am a little rusty at this, I do hope you will forgive me!

Anyway I guess there is no time like the present to introduce this week’s blog topic- war and why it is important when it comes to entertaining.

As you know, I have a soft spot for Goodnight Sweetheart and since I have been reunited with my Blackadder boxset and been drawn to Gold’s showings of ‘Allo ‘Allo, I began questioning why so many of Britain’s most popular sitcoms are set in some of the least funniest circumstances. Actually, I tell a lie, this topic actually crossed my mind when I took a trip to the Dad’s Army museum in Thetford last month. (It is a very interesting attraction which I would highly recommend!)

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My sister and I at Thetford’s Dad’s Army museum

There is a really simple explanation as to why programmes like It Aint Half Hot Mum, Dad’s Army, Blackadder Goes Fourth and even Sky 1’s recent sitcom Chickens work so well. It doesn’t take a genius to see that genre is not only there to entertain it’s audiences but to act as an antidepressant. I personally feel that situation comedies have a purpose to ensure that for half an hour the viewer forgets any worries, sorrows or uncertainties life is throwing them at that moment, by presenting the audience with a set of characters and situations which are far worse than their own.

When I ever feel down I immediately draw comparisons with characters belonging to my favourite sitcoms. People are also reminded by peers when they are feeling a little low that we should count our blessings and be thankful we aren’t out on the frontline of some brutal battle, fighting for our lives.

Maybe that’s what the writers of these mentioned sitcoms thought, by creating tragic, down trodden, humble characters and happening to place them in the first world war or the second one, surly this way they are creating the ultimate tonic for those who are in need of a little cheering up? After all, they do say laughter is the best medicine.

Take René Artois, from ‘Allo’Allo, for example. What we have here is an adulterer, who happens to be stuck in a loveless marriage but is too much of a coward to do anything about it. Now introduce the fact he is struggling to run a cafe in a small town which also happens to be occupied by Nazis. He is torn between keeping his livelihood, his life and helping the allies and French Resistance. He now becomes sympathetic despite his cowardly qualities, but that alone, of course is not funny. That’s why we need the element of farce that this show is remembered for. No matter what we are going through we can’t help but laugh at the extreme, over the top antics, René gets caught up in. Whether he has faked his own death and now has to pretend to be his identical twin brother with the same name or, he is hiding British airmen in his cellar, or The Fallen Madonna for the German Officers, the audience knows that their own life isn’t as bad as this- despite it being fiction.

Ooh Rene: The cafe owner is always in a predicament

Ooh Rene: The cafe owner is always in a predicament

We can draw some comparisons with the trials and tribulations of Captain Edmund Blackadder, in the fourth and final series of the historic sitcom. Edmund, rather like René is the straight man, surrounded by all walks of life, most of which are depicted to be stupider and more crazy than the protagonist. The main comparison I would like to illustrate is cowardliness, like Mr Artois, Captain Blackadder is desperate to do whatever he can to get out of the situation he is in, for example putting pencils up his nose and wearing underpants, in a desperate bid to go home,in the final episode.

Captain Blackadder couldn't get out of his situation

Captain Blackadder couldn’t get out of his situation

Personally, I believe that while we do admire the main characters in all war related sitcoms (maybe not all of you will agree when it comes to Gary Sparrow, I personally think while he is a coward we can admire him even more so as he is ‘one of us’, having come from our time and not the past) as we ourselves could not picture us in their situations, it is vital that these protagonists are seen as a little bit cowardly, otherwise they wouldn’t be believable.

Also, I think by having characters, like Private Pike, in Dad’s Army and Beaumont in It Aint Half Hot Mum, who are somewhat wary of their situations, and a little scared or cowardly is a good thing for the audience’s morale. Because as you are watching, you admire the sitcom characters who are dealing with war because no matter how grave the consequences are, no matter how many times they step out into uncertainty, they accept that this is what they have to do and they get on with it. This then subconsciously comforts the viewer into knowing that no matter what they have to face, that running away from the problem is inevitably impossible and by seeing their favourite characters getting through it,  you are reassured that everything is going to be alright.

If the likes of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, the staff at Café René,  the performers in the base’s Concert Party, Captain Blackadder’s platoon and Gary Sparrow’s friends in 1940’s Whitechapel can do their best, going through events far worse than your own, then it is worth a shot and turning off the telly and getting up and fighting whatever the day wants to throw at you.

If wartime sitcom characters can get through it- you can!

If wartime sitcom characters can get through it- you can!

Gwen Taylor: the queen of Duty Free

Popular sitcoms have often been transferred to the stage many years after their initial TV run. Their situations and actors are often adapted for the theatre. Despite the many that the critics brand ‘a great success’- I’m thinking Rising Damp and ‘Allo ‘Allo, just to name a couple, I am very reluctant to go and see a production of my favourite sitcoms anywhere else. The only reason I saw Roy Clarke’s Keeping Up Appearances stage adaptation was because it was my friend’s birthday (it was of course very good).

 
I seem to convince myself that they won’t work on stage, which, let’s be honest is stupid as sitcoms are often very theatrical, with their over-the-topness, and are generally full of farce. However, this is not the pressing issue I have when it comes to deciding to book a ticket for a sitcom on the stage; it is the fact that generally it is not the same actors playing our favourite characters. I have no doubts at all that they will do a fantastic job and make the characters their own but it isn’t the same. Saying that, I bet if they virtually mirrored the original actor’s portrayal I would moan- so I really am hard to please when it comes to this subject.

 
So when the news broke out that Eric Chappell was going to resurrect his sun-set sitcom Duty Free for stage and that three out of the four original cast would star in it, one couldn’t help but see if it was playing at a playhouse near me.

 
And it was, the Lyceum at Sheffield were housing it for a week and what with being able to grab two front row seats for Saturday’s matinee, so that I wouldn’t have to book the day off work, I couldn’t resist but to spend more of my student loan on nothing to do with uni.

I saw Last of the Duty Free and Sheffield's Lyceum

I saw Last of the Duty Free and Sheffield’s Lyceum

Of course, I am familiar with Duty Free and love the concept, I have to hold my hands up and say I have yet to see every episode and in order. I was going to order the boxset before I saw the play for reference but I forgot. The fact that I don’t know every episode inside out, word-for-word was probably a swaying matter when it came to booking the tickets, I asked my mum who had never even heard of the show if she would like to accompany me as she too enjoys comedies and it a keen theatre goer.
This of course got me thinking would it appeal more to her as she had never seen the show? Would she enjoy it more than myself because she was going into the stalls completely open minded?

 
By the time it came to Sheffield Last of the Duty Free had already had ventured a fair bit across the country and had received mixed reviews-most lukewarm like the Marbella sea, where the show is set. Of course I never let a review sway my opinion and not every critic had even seen the show when it was on ITV orginially airing from 1984-86. I did have faith in the production because it was penned by Eric Chappell himself and had already done (so I am told) a marvellous job in transferring his other show Rising Damp to the stage.

 
I saw the show on the 21st of June and as it was a glorious day I was all ready for a couple of hours in Marbella seeing how life was treating David, Amy, Linda and Robert. The set was spectacular (I am always won over by a fantastic set); it really was as if we were all at a holiday resort. So the first thirty seconds I thought we could be onto a winner.

 

The first character was the hopeless tired waiter, Carlos (Graham Elwelll who had taken over the role from the late Carlos Douglas), quickly followed by David, played by legend Keith Barron. His character was waiting for an old flame going by the name of Linda (as Joanna Van Gyseghem was unavailable Carol Royle accepted the role).
David and Linda had arranged a reunion at the very hotel they met thirty years ago, when they began their ‘fling’, of course neither of their spouses know the real reasons for their trips aboard. At first I wasn’t sure about it, I wasn’t sure of Royle’s take on Linda, it was quite wooden and uneasy, bordering on being too over-the-top, while there was chemistry between her and Barron it was awkward- though if you are meeting someone you tried to have an affair with several decades later you are bound to be a bit edgy.

 
Ten minutes in and the fate of this show was sealed. It came of course in the fabulous form of Gwen Taylor (playing Amy), now I am a big fan of Taylor’s works, she has that talent of putting someone down while she has a glint in her eye. The chemistry between her and Barron who plays her on-screen/stage husband David seems to have grown since the show ended. The banter and put downs bouncing between the two were hilarious to watch, they seemed so natural and you really did believe that was how Amy and David would end up as they got older. However, some of the comebacks were a little dated, which I understand some reviewers didn’t like. I for one thought they were fine; they went with the original show and most probably the holiday resort. I was expecting some corny, dated jokes as they go with sitcoms and for me not only give a nostalgic nod to the original series but act as a comfort blanket for all situation comedies. There was a joke that I recognised from an early series of My Family about being left out to die with the rubbish and the punch line being about the laws on fly tipping (I’m sure the joke is older than My Family). But even so the way Gwen Taylor delivered it made me laugh just as much as when I heard the delightful Zoë Wanamaker tell it.

 
Speaking of My Family, the build up to Robert’s entrance was very comical what with the description of him suffering from anger issues ever since he found out about David and his wife Linda’s ‘fling, this was pulled off by Neil Stacy brilliantly but I couldn’t help but notice jut how much he looks like Robert Lindsay these days. (Are they related do you know? If you do answers on a post card please!)

We're all going on a summer holiday: the cast all seemed to gel well

We’re all going on a summer holiday: the cast all seemed to gel well

I don’t want to give anything away if any of you dear readers are going to see the play, so don’t worry no spoilers here. I think the introduction to the honeymoon couple Jeremy, played by James Barron (yes he is Keith’s son) and Clare (Maxine Gregory) were great when it come to adding a bit of farce into the mix, however, those familiar with the series will draw a few parallels between this and the episode in series two entitled ‘couples’ (episode three I believe).

 
Despite that I really enjoyed the storyline and the newlyweds acted brilliantly. I did laugh rather a lot and my mother, even louder.

 
I soon got used to the way Royle was playing Linda and found her to be a good replacement for Van Gyseghem and slotted in really well, gelling with the rest of the cast. I thought Elwell as Carlos was brilliant, and with minimal dialogue he had the hard task of telling the story through his facial expressions which had hilarious consequences.

 

I think the laughs peaked at the end of act one as various nods to the television programme were made and Amy’s put downs to David got sharper and much more witter.

 
Two things that really made me laugh that probably should have- you wouldn’t have even noticed them if you weren’t sitting on the front row were the cakes used for Amy’s ‘cream-cake gate’ round two, were mostly made of sponge and the best one was Keith Barron seemed favour elastic bands to shoelaces when tying up his Converse.

 
What made the show work wonderfully, for me was the fact the four main characters were not together until right at the end leading towards an ultimate showdown, what was also clever was despite the show sounding like it was there to tie up the loose ends left by the television programme it depended which way you saw it, as to whether that was the last time we will see them. (Sheffield theatres changed the advertisement on their website from Last of the Duty Free to Duty Free Live, so I could be easily reading into too much.) I think all the old and all the new elements of this production worked wonderfully, it was the perfect summer escape for someone not holidaying this year, it made both me and my mum roar with laughter and left us wanting to squeeze every last from possible out of the Duty Free, but for me I doubt this would have been possible without the wonderful Gwen Taylor. Though you could tell Keith Barron was the driver of the cast shouting at them to bow at the end, he even yelled it looking in our direction come the encore!

 
So next time I see a stage adaption of a British sitcom I won’t be so quick to dismiss it and all I have left to say about Duty Free is if you still have chance to see it, see if you can, it is worth it- well I thought so and of course, purchase of the boxset is imminent!

Best seats in the house: my ticket and programme from Saturday's show

Best seats in the house: my ticket and programme from Saturday’s show

 

Observational and relatable comedy at its best- a tribute to Bob Larbey

The beginning of last month a whole was left in the world of sitcom, Bob Larbey, who co-wrote many of Britain’s best loved situation comedies died at the age of 79. Of course tributes came rushing in honouring the man who co-wrote and co-created those fine gems such as Please Sir! Ever Decreasing Circles and my own personal favourite sitcom, the Good Life.

Of course, I could take this opportunity to bang on about how much I adore the Good Life (Good Neighbours to our American cousins) and how happy it always makes me feel whenever I feel the lowest and can’t bear to force out even the tiniest of smiles. I could say how even when I feel my smile cannot get any bigger, thirty seconds into watching the self-sufficiency sitcom, an enormous smile is painted across the whole of my face. There I’ve said it. Thank you sir for giving us all these wonderful comedies, especially the Good Life and never seeing me without a smile.

 

I thought I would instead spend the time away from my exams and endless revision exploring the underrated gems Esmonde and Larbey gave us, some of which have recently been repeated such as Brush Strokes on the Drama Channel. Then my good friends at the Sitcom Club reminded me of Mr. Larbey’ solo sitcom; A Fine Romance.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it or gotten a chance to see this charming programme starring husband and wife team Dame Judi Dench and Michael Williams (who Larbey insisted on for the roles), it ran from 1981-1984 and lasted for four series. The focus was on Laura (Dench), a translator who is somewhat envious of her sister’s ‘happily ever after’ style marriage. The first episode sees Laura being set up by her sister, Helen (Susan Penhaligon) and brother-in-law Phil (Richard Warwick) at a party to Mike (Williams). The series follows Laura and Mike’s relationship try and get off the ground as it finds it feet.

Just like any Larbey (with or without Esmonde) comedy, A Fine Romance boasts three dimensional characters that are charming at times, prone to flying off the handle (I’m thinking more of Laura here), not afraid to show their emotion when things don’t go to plan and pumped with an infectious joy when the occasion calls for it.

Relatable: Fine Romance touches on subjects we all understand

Relatable: Fine Romance boasts real, three dimensional characters

 

As this is a tribute to the wonderful gentleman that penned a show that I find very underrated and comforting I shan’t be undergoing an episode-by-episode guide, I will leave you wonderful blog readers to go and check it out for yourself (it’s on DVD thanks to Network, as well as the entire series on youtube). No, instead I am going use this blog space to celebrate the man who had this wonderful talent of making his characters jump off the script and onto are screens in a way that budding sitcom writers could only dream of doing. Yes of course the wonderful cast do deserve recognition for their flawless part in bringing the characters to life, but of course how could they do it without the carefully crafted characters Larbey provides?

A Fine Romance does touch on widely debated topics that are personal to us all, such as ageism, jealousy, trying for a baby, the stresses of being pregnant and subsequently a parent, the fear of the unknown and trying something new and of course love. But it is the small day-to-day interactions we human beings encounter that make Bob Larbey a worthy contender for the title of ‘Sitcom King.’

It’s the way he has clearly and cleverly observed how we act when we meet someone new or have something important to tell loved ones, or how we try and figure out what we want out of life and how we plan to go about getting it. My favourite example comes right from the start of Mike and Laura’s journey, when they meet. Here Larbey insightfully scripts the perfect awkward introduction of the two main characters, where after the ‘hellos’ are said they struggle to make conversation without their matchmakers Helen and Phil. Being “quite nervous, short and shy” as Laura puts it, when describing them both is something we can all relate to in uncomfortable situations, especially when new people are involved. The same reluctance of talking to the person you have been set up with, out of sheer protest is how Larbey ensures the laughs, the stand-offish attitude driven by Laura and the honesty of Mike struggling to strike up a conversation, provides a relatable laugh, which is topped off with the wit Larbey throws in for good measure: “Well there is always sex….. To talk about I mean, that’s always common ground.”

Like many enjoyable sitcoms there is always that age old debate as to when to draw it to a close and tie up loose ends. For me, while it really isn’t enough, I think four series is a good place to leave a sitcom (of course there are exceptions to the rules) as you don’t want to run the risk of it going on too long and it not being the show it was. Personally, it is best to leave while it is on top. And by the time A Fine Romance came to a close it left me hungry for more. Like I said this blog is spoiler free but what makes this charming sitcom endearing is the nostalgia it brings, especially when being viewed now, of a good old fashioned romance and courtship. The programme doesn’t run in a straight line, it isn’t like a fairy story where they meet, fall in love, have a big lavish wedding and 12 kids and live happily ever after. Like I said it oozes with realism, highlighting the ups and downs, the backwards and forwards one may experience when in love and accommodating everyone from family to your lover.

What makes it even more endearing is the fact even at the very end of the last episode there is still a sense of ‘will they, wont they’ be able have the ‘fairytale’ romance Laura secretly craves, leaving you hungry for more.

 

Top of its game: the series ended with you hungry for more

Top of its game: the series ended with you hungry for more

So once again Bob Larbey did it again, being the master of observation he has given the world some of the best sitcoms going, and this underrated gem which really is a joy to watch is one of them. The not so secret to his success is the realism he brings to the table and his characters, of course they can be over the top in their reactions at times, but even that is relatable to audiences, it is something that helps keep us sane and he knew it. He knew what makes us tick and that we need to have a good laugh at ourselves every now and again, which is why he created (and co-created) these wonderful characters. So if you know or are a Laura, Margo Leadbetter, a Jacko from Brush Stokes or even a Martin Bryce, it’s okay because they are (in some cases deep down) every bit as human and relatable as you. He also knew that the great British public is a sucker for a bit of a romance, especially if there is any inkling of a doubt they won’t finally get together.

He also knew how to write the ‘comfort food’ of comedy as all of his solo and joint projects are something you can watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, as a distraction from the hassle life is currently throwing at you or when you just need a laugh. Stick something with Larbey’s name in the title and you are guaranteed to be feeling warm on the inside in no time.

So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I hope you will join me in saying a huge thank you to the one and only Mr. Bob Larbey for everything he has given to the sitcom universe. Thank sir, and may you rest in peace.

 

 

Barbara: is ITV’s sucess as good as I remember?

Hello fellow blog readers, once again I sincerely apologise for your lack of sitcom blogs for a few weeks. It’s been hell with revision and exams over this way. While I have desperately yearned for a break, what I wouldn’t have given to have been able to sit in bed watching a series (or seven) as blog ‘research’ for you wonderful people. But sitcoms to me are like what Pringles are like to foodies at a party. One (episode) really isn’t enough. Don’t worry though I haven’t forgotten that Bob Larbey tribute I promised, I have something worked out for that. But “bare with, bare with” as Miranda’s school chum Tilly would say, while I finish off my exams this month then it will be business as usual, with a blog update each week. If all goes to plan.

 
So without further ado, lets us kick off this week’s blog by explaining how it came about. To celebrate being able to score front row tickets to see The Last of the Duty Free next month (yes, I will be sure to be blogging about that one) and being reminded of a conversation with one of my best friends, proving I wasn’t making this week’s featured sitcom up, I am going to be re-living one of my favourite sitcoms as a child, Barbara.
Barbara starred Gwen Taylor as the title role and first aired as a pilot episode in 1995. The programme was commissioned in 1999 and ran until 2003, being one of ITV’s most popular sitcom today (I think I read somewhere it is now classed as second after Benidorm). It was written by a team of writers; Mark Bussell, Rob Clark, Ramsay Gilderdale, Graham Mark Walker and Justin Sbresni.

 
Now, until I began re-watching this series for you wonderful people I had forgotten pretty much everything about this show other than it was on channel 3 as I knew ITV1 as back then, Barbara was married to a daft man called Ted, who I found the funniest and the whole show was very funny indeed. Oh and Sherrie Hewson was in it too. I guess the purpose of today’s blog is to see if Barbara has stood the test of time for me and if it was as good I remember. As a child of the mid nineties I guess this is the first ‘proper’ sitcom I watched as it went out each week (certainly on ITV).

 

Childhood favourite: One of my favourite ITV sitcoms growing up

Childhood favourite: One of my favourite ITV sitcoms growing up

Barbara is about a blunt, no-nonsense matriarch at the heart of a mad, often dysfunctional family, a formula for a winning sitcom, I hear some of you say. She has been married to cab driver Ted Liversidge (Sam Kelly) for 35 years, she has to put up with bumbling son-in-law Martin (Mark Benton), is often driven to destruction by grown up children Linda (Elizabeth Carling) and Neil (Benedict Sandiford), not to mention Ted’s mother Queenie (Jean Alexander) . And then there is Barbara’s overdramatic sister Jean (Sherrie Hewson) who will do everything she can to stop getting older in her appearance. Not to mention trying her best to hold down a job as a receptionist at the local health centre where the patients there are a nightmare.

 
So, just like when watching a sitcom you have never seen before it is always a good idea to start at the beginning. While series one is never the best it is always a great place to start when getting to know the characters that aim to entertain you. And it was just the same when watching Barbara again.

 
While it does take a few episodes to get back into the series (episode three, ‘Amour’ to be precise) I did find it enjoyable. (Albeit not as much as when I was young). While watching series one a few things stuck out for me, Ted is still the funniest character in the show despite it being all about his good lady wife. By allowing Barbara to be the straight woman, we sense she is an ordinary woman stuck in the middle of this mad family. I always found Barbara quite aggressive watching it as a child but now as I have gotten older and more worldly-wise I rather like her and the way she deals with those people who make her life difficult. My favourite being calling up the builders merchants in the early hours of the morning, impersonating the noisy builders who have been waking her up each morning, to see how they like it.

 
While some of Barbara’s antics and the way she voices her opinions can be seen as too blunt, extreme or uncalled for, I think they are funny and make her more likeable as a character as these things, such as the annoying son-in-law, annoying colleagues and pizza being delivered six hours late, are all things we have to deal with but not all of us have the guts to tackle them head on like our Barb. For me that is why I find the lead admirable as there is no way I could ever be able to tell someone who annoys the hell out of me just what I really think.

Testing times: Barbara's patience was constantly tested by the family

Testing times: Barbara’s patience was constantly tested by the family

By the time I moved on to series two I was glad the show had picked up and was more like the show I loved and remembered. I think part of the reason why I held it so dear was due to the elements of slapstick comedy fed into the show. Luckily for the more grown up, mature Gee there was a good healthy balance of the slapstick and witty dialogue and one-liners.

 
My favourite episode of series two has to be ‘Mum’ as it showcases both Barbra and Ted at their best as well as a smashing guest appearance from the late Jean Alexander. Hapless Ted manages to get himself involved in an armed robbery at a petrol station and what’s more he somehow manages to be the getaway driver, not that he notices even when the CCTV footage is released on the news; “Oh look, he looks a bit like me.” While Barbara is left to deal with the mother-in-law from hell, making sure she knows just how she makes Barbara feel. Before being accused of “throwing a freezer” at Ted’s mother. While she is rude to the old lady who has run away from her care home, because of the sheer clichéd mother-in-law from hell act (and that fact she has put several people in hospital due to biting them) we don’t feel like she has done anything too out of the ordinary.

 
However, during the episode “Tyres” the audience may be divided in opinion over the extremes of Barbara’s actions caused by her agro. In this episode she is given notice from her job due to complaints from the patients at the surgery as she doesn’t always treat them with the care and respect one expects when visiting the doctors on a delicate matter. She also slashes the tyres of someone who annoys her. But to her horror she actually has slashed the tyres of a wheel chair bound man who needs to get to work in Glasgow. Of course she isn’t completely heartless and she does have a conscience as she quickly offers hers and Ted’s services to help out. As well as eventually apologising to her work after being unable to get a new job after walking out on receiving her warning.

We are family: Barbara loved her dysfunctional family deep down

We are family: Barbara loved her dysfunctional family deep down

By the time the third and final series was produced it had become so popular that ITV extended the series to 12 episodes instead of six (though they spit the series in two.) This is the series I remember from my childhood, as I re-watched it bits of episodes that I had locked away inside my brain pushed its way to the front and were just as funny as I remember, particularly the antics of Ted and Barb’s sister Jean and her constant quest for appearing to look younger than she is.

 
The very final episode is a strange one; it is called “Who Shot Barbara?” And begins with Ms Taylor’s character in a coma with Ted telling the family she’s been shot. The story of how she came to be shot is told through flashbacks where as usual Barbara is letting everyone know what she thinks of them, as well as falling out with the majority of the family, she argues with Ted over a hypothetical situation if they hadn’t even met. She ruins Linda’s £300 dress she was planning on wearing for Martin’s award ceremony and her kitchen, as well as being the cause of Neil’s latest relationship to fail. While Linda ‘could kill her’ Neil tells his dad “We’ve got to do something she is ruining all our lives.” While it is funny for the audience to watch Barbara Liversidge do what it takes to get her own way, the consequences this has on her family makes you side with them for a change as this time she has taken it too far (of course not all audience members want to see her fighting for her life after being shot).

 
The series ends on an unresolved cliffhanger with the matriarch being shot in the bum by an air rifle in her own home, suggesting that one of her nearest and dearest did it. While this method of wrapping up a well-loved sitcom is not always the most favoured by audience members it does allow them to draw their own conclusions as to who shot Barbara and if she pulled through (I assume she did, but still have no idea who shot her).

 
So did I enjoy watching one of ITV’s best sitcom’s second time around? I really did even if it wasn’t as side-splittingly funny as I remember it, the slapstick, witty banter, bizarre, insane characters and often dark humour, long with the fantastic rapport of all cast members are probably the reasons why it is regarded as one of ITV’s sitcom success stories.

Boxset: the complete series has been released by Network DVD

Boxset: the complete series has been released by Network DVD