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