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

 

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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

How honours for seventies sitcom stars show the importance of their shows today

On Friday (7 March), the actors who play my two favourite sitcom, okay fictional characters, (and two of my favourite stars) were recognised by the queen not only for their long and versatile involvement and contribution to the British entertainment industry but also for their dedicated charity work.
I am of course talking about the newly appointed Dame Penelope Keith and Michael Crawford CBE.

Favourite sitcom stars received honours on Friday

Favourite sitcom stars received honours on Friday

As they play my two favourite fictional characters of all time, Margo Leadbetter and Frank Spencer I couldn’t really resist blogging my excitement about this. I remember when the New Year’s honour’s list was announced; my dad came into my room and told me about the awards Ms. Keith and Mr. Crawford had been given, I actually squealed somewhat. I know, it is hard to believe I am 19, I should be squealing at the latest teenage popband craze and their announcement of a new tour. Not the fact the queen is honouring two actors in their early 70’s (How good do they both look on it though?).
As always when writing a blog entry I try to look for an angle to focus on instead of just broadly discussing a particular sitcom or actor. I think it is the journalism student within me.  It would be so easy just the reiterate in my own words what the papers have published in the last two days regarding this event but let’s face it that would be boring. I’ll be honest with you; it wasn’t until I actually begin this spur of the moment article that I found an angle.
And that is this, all the coverage online, on TV and in the papers have begun their reports with words to the effect of ‘Queen honours Margo (it was so nice to see since the honours list was announced the Daily Mail has learnt to spell Margo correctly, omitting the ‘t’, a real pet peeve of mine when it is left in) and Frank Spencer’. Of course we all know it isn’t really those wonderful characters receiving such prestigious titles but it goes to show even now some 35-40 years later the country still remembers rather fondly those characters. For me, it shows that 1970’s sitcoms still are just as important and popular today, what with endless repeats on the BBC and GOLD. Not only is it those people like my mum who grew up on the Good Life and Some Mother’s Do Ave Em but people like me who discover them either through their parent’s love of the show or by their own accord. They make people laugh in a way not many sitcoms do nowadays, they don’t insult the audience’s intelligence, and they aren’t crude for the sake of being crude in a bid to get a laugh. But above all it was the fine body of actors and actresses who were a part of these brilliant shows that have ensured that they are timeless.
People that know me will know I could spend age’s wittering on and exaggerating the fact just how much I admire people like Michael Crawford and Penelope Keith, it was Some Mother’s that I spend my entire primary school days watching and gave me the comfort and assurance that moving to secondary school would be okay. It was watching endless reruns of the Good Life on GOLD that got me through GCSE revision (okay, I may well have done better in those exams if I hadn’t become so obsessed).
I have found that seventies sitcom stars seem to have this talent at beautifully creating these outrageous wacky, insane but above all believable characters that could so easily be unlikeable but instead you fall instantly for their charms and take them in as if they were one of the family.
It is Crawford’s Spencer I turn to whenever I feel like I am the world’s biggest failure; Frank allows me to laugh off my mistakes and encourages me to keep on trying as it is not the end of the world if I do something wrong. He also gives me hope as if he can stay blissfully married and make a go of life despite the fact that everything he touches turns into a disaster, that then perhaps there is really no such thing as a failure in life.

“I’m a success”: Michael Crawford receives his CBE from Her Majesty

It is Margo I go to whenever I want to escape from reality, the way Ms. Keith plays Margo as someone so snobby but so vulnerable due to her lack of humour, allows you to forget your troubles and that worry about how other people perceive your issues. As here you quickly latch on to the Good’s current dilemma and laugh at the way Margo, sometimes rather foolishly views it.

There's nothing like a dame: Penelope Keith is made a dame by the Queen

There’s nothing like a dame: Penelope Keith is made a dame by the Queen

Of course, that is what I find magical about the world of sitcom (especially those made in the 70’s), for me it is the only genre of television that really offers you a chance to escape your issues or worries and by witnessing the disasters of the likes of Frank Spencer or the social misfortunes of Margo Leadbetter, you know that however big or small your worries are things will be okay in the end. If Frank can still stand with that impish grin spread across his face at the end of each episode then it proves you are not indestructible.
So, while the country is celebrating the well deserved achievements of two of our most loved national treasures lets also celebrate the joys of the seventies sitcom and their importance even today.

Why unseen characters are just as important

This week is slightly different as we are paying tribute to those sitcom characters that are ‘invisible’, by invisible what I mean is they are a key part of the show without ever actually being seen. Many sitcoms use this technique, possibly due to budget issues or as I like to think a method to bring more depth to an established character.
In this post, in turn, I will be looking at four sitcoms that feature ‘invisible’ characters, some more frequently than others and some that have a huge part in the sitcom as a whole.

 
Let’s begin with two of Margo Leadbetter’s allies in The Good Life. These are the twenty odd stone wife of the local Conservative agent, Mrs Dooms-Patterson and Miss Dolly Mountshaft an active force in Surbition. We usually hear of these people directly from Margo, moaning about their ideas not being as good as hers or from Jerry moaning that they are invading his home. Margo makes Miss Mountshaft out to be someone who is selfish and doesn’t really approve of Mrs Leadbetter’s ideas for the music society and their production of ‘The Sound of Music’. Margo often has to use bribery and persuasion to get her way when it comes to Miss Mountshaft, “Blackmail is such an ugly world, Miss Mountshaft.” This, like so many other elements of Margo’s character should make her unlikable but instead you can’t help but side with Margo and take her word that Dolly Mountshaft is a nightmare. A clear example of this is in the episode ‘I Talk to the Trees’, in which Margo is asked to return to the music society (having resigned after the atrocious production of ‘The Sound of Music’) and run for president by fellow members, hoping to oust Miss Mountshaft into the back row of the choir. Before we even see the scene with the election taking place we get the impression that Margo is more liked by members than the current president. When the election takes place at Margo’s home we can see that despite there being more people sat on the Miss Mounshaft side of the room Margo does receive the biggest applause and does touch on admiration for her predecessor.

 
What is a wonderful about this scene is we still don’t see Miss Mountshaft as she is “holidaying in Greece”. Her “mouthpiece” Mr Chipchase really sucks up to the invisible Dolly and is written up to be so irritating you instantly side with Margo, believing that Miss Mounshaft and her allies are just as bad as Margo says they are.
This can be seen with Mrs Dooms-Patterson too; she appears to batter any furniture she sits on, causing Jerry to moan endlessly whenever she has appeared to have visited the Leadbetter’s abode. We also learn from Tom and Barbara that she isn’t an elegant horse rider when they pay a visit to the stables.
So, the purpose of these invisible characters is to big Margo up. They make her look more stylish, intelligent, and likeable. They also provide the character with more punch lines at the expense of her allies who are never seen, rounding off Margo as a sitcom character.

Dressed to impress: Miss Mountshaft and Mrs Dooms-Pattersom make Margo look good

Dressed to impress: Miss Mountshaft and Mrs Dooms-Pattersom make Margo look good

PC Reg Deadman’s adulterous wife, Minnie is never seen in Goodnight Sweetheart. This is primarily, in the first few series is to boost the laughs at Reg’s apparent lack of knowledge when it comes to sex. “Bloomin’ Welsh windbag, he’s been hanging round my Minnie and I think they have been doing more than discussing the price of his yard brooms.” While Reg always has his suspicions that his wife is playing away he is never sure, which not only has a heightened comedy effect, highlighting the fact that PC Deadman is not the brightest tool in the box but also elicits sympathy for the bumbling police officer.

 
His wife’s farcical antics not only make light of Reg’s intelligence, or lack of it, but come series three when Gary discovers that Reg is the father of bus conductress Margie’s son the audience and the few characters that know about this controversial situation for the time, are happy for him. And as the world and his wife are aware of Minnie’s antics they don’t condemn him, despite being a ‘respectable’ Police Constable . Cheating Minnie also, along with Margie’s abusive husband is the catalyst for hapless Reg to eventually find a happy family with Margie and their little boy.

PC Deadman: His wife's antics give him humour and a happier future

PC Deadman: His wife’s antics give him humour and a happier future

The third example of how ‘invisible’ characters can play a key part in a sitcom comes from Keeping Up Appearances in the form of the apple of Hyacinth Bucket’s eye, her son Sheridan. We mainly learn about the Bucket’s only child from the one-sided phone calls he makes to his mum, demanding a huge sum of money to fund his latest phase that has tickled the fancy of he and ‘friend’ Tarquin. It often involves something over the top and extravagant like buying pure silk pyjamas or going on some trip to a far out country to ‘find oneself’ or to write poetry. Of course, the main joke here is that it is heavily hinted that Sheridan is gay due to taking a degree in needlework and his mother is too proud of his artistic approach to realise.

 
However, I personally think that this generates quite the opposite effect with Mrs Bucket. Most people see her as being so self obsessed that she is oblivious to the people around her and what they think of her. I would disagree. I think deep down she knows that Liz isn’t necessarily her best friend, and she is not really highly regarded in the community as many of her guests decline her invitation to a candle light supper, and she clearly knows about Sheridan’s situation. For example on several occasions Richard indicates that they need to chat about Sheridan and why he shows no interest in girls. His wife looks at him seriously for a split second and then quickly changes the subject to avoid the topic, hinting that deep down she knows he is gay and despite the joy of Sheridan “Just ringing his mummy” she knows he only calls her when he needs some cash as she is unable to say no to her son and heir.
Sheridan is also seen to be frequently used as a pawn in her game of social-climbing and impressing those higher up the social ladder than her. Whether it being an art exhibition, one of Emmet’s musical recitals or something someone has achieved, she never misses an opportunity to boast about his talents and how well he is doing at university. Which is actually a polytechnic which Hyacinth insists is “university standard”. This is another indication of Hyacinth’s insecurities as despite several pushes at using him to impress high standing people in the community like Mrs Councillor Nugent, it shows that Hyacinth is and always will be the working class girl in a middle class world.

 
It is worth touching on Mrs Bucket’s social rivals Mrs Barker-Finch and Lydia Hawksworth, even though they have both been briefly seen in the odd episode or two they never have a speaking part and pay a vital role in Hyacinth’s characteristics as she is convinced that both woman try to outdo her, Lydia with her new car and branding at one of Mrs Bucket’s candle light suppers that kiwi fruit is “so lower-middle class”, and Sonia Barker-Finch with her hyphenated name (“He was a Barker, she was a Finch, suddenly they are hyphenated”), getting a well-known builder’s merchant to come for a barbecue and of course getting burgled three times to Hyacinth’s none.
Neither women try to outdo Hyacinth but she is convinced that they are. Unlike with Mrs Dooms-Patterson and Miss Mountshaft in The Good Life, who make Margo appear more likeable, the one-sided rivalry Hyacinth sees to be in place just highlights her flaws and snobbery and makes her somewhat unlikable.

Mummy's boy: Hyacinth dotes on Sheridan but does she know everything?

Mummy’s boy: Hyacinth dotes on Sheridan but does she know everything?

The final and perhaps most important example comes from Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em and is found in the form of Frank Spencer’s mother. Of course this one is a little different as she is the only deceased ‘invisible’ character on the list.
Frank’s mother is clearly his hero and apart from long-suffering wife Betty, was the only one that didn’t judge Frank on his incompetence and the fact he is accident prone. He often mentions his mother in most episodes and clearly her questionable words of wisdom have had a propounding effect on Mr Spencer who takes on board this advice, “My mother always said a trouble shared is trouble doubled.” Frank was an only child and brought up singled handed by Jessica after his father “disappeared”, so naturally he was very close to his mum.

 
We get the impression from Frank’s personal anecdotes about his childhood and from Betty’s mother that Mrs Spencer behaved in a similar way to Frank and is the reason he has turned out a little different to most people. For example his mother was told by a fortune-teller she was expecting a little girl and so she bought all girls clothes before Frank was born and instead of exchanging them for the first few months of his life he had to wear girl’s clothes. He also tells his psychiatrist that his mother entered him in a baby show but was disqualified as the pram was broke so he was “exhibited in the cat’s box.”

We also learn that she didn’t send him to school until he was ten and then it was during the holidays as she didn’t want him getting bullied so he was taught by the caretaker. Thus, illustrating the reason behind Frank’s trouble socialising with others as well as his intellectual trouble. In a strange way you really see that Mrs Spencer cared for her son and passed on the same displays of affection when Frank became a father to a little girl, who was named after his mother, Jessica. Showing again, how much his mother still means to him in a very poignant scene before she is born Frank confides in Betty how his mum would have loved to have been a grandmother and it clearly upsets him that she is not there enjoy that with the Spencers. For me I really feel that here we get a true insight into the real Frank, a trying but ultimately caring family man.
Frank is also quick to defend his dead mother’s memory from his aunt who claims she was ashamed of him but by hearing Frank’s tales and when, in the very first episode, Betty’s mother says: “His mother was always breaking things, just like Frank” we get the impression that isn’t true.
So by hearing stories of Frank’s unique upbringing the audience is given a vital clue as to the reason behind Frank’s adverse behaviour and child-like innocence.

Just like mum: it is indicated that Frank's behaviour stems from his mother

Just like mum: it is indicated that Frank’s behaviour stems from his mother

While many sitcom fans feel that (particularly in the case of Keeping Up Appearances) that the ‘invisible’ characters should be seen, I don’t. There is a reason why there are never shown as they provide a key understanding into the characteristics of a main character and allow the audience to create their own vision of the character. I mean how disappointed would you be if you saw Sheridan Bucket and he wasn’t really as camp as they make out and that he was telling his mother all these tall tales about knitting and re-building Romania in a bid to make her proud and give him more money. Or what about if Margo Leadbetter’s allies weren’t as stuck up as she made out, would Margo be as unlikable as Hyacinth is when it comes to her ‘rivals’ in the world of social mobility?

What about those pesky unseen character’s that I haven’t mentioned like Nick Swainey’s mother in One Foot in the Grave, here we are often given an empty window where mother is, is she in bed or is she just a figment of the imagination of the Meldrew’s neighbour? We can have fun debating this. What about the outrageous Father Bingley in Father Ted? Here the writer gives the viewer an opportunity to let their imagine run wild, picturing this insane ‘dead looking’ priest, seriously could that really be shown on television? And what about Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army? The audience is often teased into a possible glimpse of what the Captain’s wife is like and like with Keeping Up Appearance we get a glimpse into Mr Mainwaring’s somewhat domineering home life through the telephone calls he receives. These are often a comic offering thanks to Arthur Lowe’s wonderful, reluctant facial expressions on taking the call and they are made that bit funnier when the Captain can’t get a word in edgeways. Let’s not forget that egotistical, crude, intimidating big boss Joe Maplin in Hi-De-Hi! (the role was intended to be played by Bob Monkhouse but he was unavailable for filming), who we only see in statute form and through those sarcastic, poorly constructed letters to staff detailing how his holiday camp is to be run. Giving an insight to why the camp appears to be manically run at times.
One thing’s for sure, unseen characters can be just as important as onscreen characters when it comes to situation comedies as well as helping constructing and developing those characters we are lucky enough to actually see.