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The Great British Sitcom: Yes, Prime Minister

Discussion in 'TV Central' started by Mel O'Drama, Sep 17, 2016.

  1. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    With a similar episode count to The Lovers, my next Britcom began running this evening:

    [​IMG]


    Technically I started with Poppy And Her, which was the Pilot. I'm not sure why they tweaked it before going to series. If I had to guess, I'd say it was because the name "Maggie" was quite ubiquitous among thirty-somethings at the time (so therefore making the series more relatable). Poppy may have been just a tad too unusual (and therefore potentially more threatening to viewers).

    The other main tweak between Pilot and the regular series is the title sequence. Poppy And Her had a jaunty Ron Goodwin composition. Maggie And Her has replaced it with a Julia McKenzie number of the "life's a compost heap but I'm smiling through it" variety. It reminds me of another theme. An American sitcom of the same era, I think. It's probably a little different and less obviously a sitcom theme. But I prefer the jaunty Goodwin.

    Things have started well. As with a rewatch of Fresh/French Fields a few years ago, I'm finding Julia McKenzie very engaging. She's very perky and sparkling. Which would probably annoy me in real life, but for someone carrying a sitcom it's perfect. There's a little location work, some decent lines and the casting is great. Among those appearing in the first few episodes have been Dibley's David Horton; Maggie Forbes's handsome romantic interest from some later episodes of The Gentle Touch and Lou Beale.

    Oh, and

    Alison King also appeared in an episode. In a speaking role to boot. What are the odds?

    This one's brand new to me, so I'm looking forward to seeing it play out.
     
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  2. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    Gosh, I've very vague memories of this -- Friday evenings, the LWT logo, a bedsit/flat with yellow-ish walls and ... a payphone in the corridor? In my mind's eye, there's something quite hospital-ish about the setting for some reason.
     
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  3. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I couldn't swear to the payphone, but yes, you've described it exactly as I just saw it.


    There are lots of browns and greens and grey in many of the interior sets which make it feel quite like an institution. The corridor in the pilot looked so grim I thought it was a prison set for a moment. Borrowed from Within These Walls, perhaps. And I think if anything the interiors of the flats have become even more sombre in the series proper.
     
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  4. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    Institution -- yes, that's the word. It's certainly not the groovy bedsit land of The Liver Birds or Man About the House, that's for sure.
     
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  5. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Absolutely not. It almost makes Sons And Daughters look groovy.

    I guess it's inhabited by very different people to The Liver Birds or MATH. A mid-thirties divorcee and at least four pensioners so far. It's easy to get the impression that the elder characters have been in this block of flats for many decades. Perhaps part of the reason they find the presence of a young single woman moving in so concerning.

    A visitor to Maggie's flat commented that it had character which she interpreted to mean full of junk. So there's a definite awareness from writers and characters that it's not the sunniest of environments.
     
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  6. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    There's a slightly bipolar element to Maggie And Her, I feel. And it comes directly from the two leads.

    Maggie's scenes with romantic partners or her school feel quite nuanced, well structured and quite real. They're played mostly straight and, apart from the laugh track, could fit into a drama of the time. The single woman juggling her personal and professional life reminds me a little of a later sitcom: Agony.

    But then there are the scenes with Irene Handl, and it becomes far broader and more stereotypically sitcom. Not that the scenes with Mrs P. are bad. But I find the scenes without her more absorbing. Handl has her charm though, and there are occasional glimpses of her corpsing (such as a scene in which she was doused with water from her bathroom). I think I even caught an ad lib from her when she was playing a homemade swingball indoors and ordered it to "stop hitting me Bristols" after it bashed her in the chest (another scene in which Handl is endearingly seen to laugh).

    A degree of continuity has been a welcome surprise. Particularly the storyline with Maggie's dalliance with a co-worker who turned out to be living with another woman. There were a good three episodes' worth of material there: the initial romance leading to the discovery and then the aftermath in which Maggie attempted to take life less seriously.

    The most recent episode I've watched featured Maggie's date with an older man played by Joss Ackland. This actually felt like another pilot, as it's easy to imagine this setup forming the premise of a series (as it did later with McKenzie's once and future co-star Anton Rodgers). Ackland had the episode's best line when, in response to Maggie telling him she was approaching thirty five, he asked "From which direction?".

    And that Julia McKenzie sung theme song. It's starting to win me over, damn it.
     
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  7. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Familiar faces are everywhere in Maggie And Her. Particularly British sitcom mainstays.

    A pre-Edith Carmen Silvera is new Headmistress Miss Prosser. Much as I'm enjoying her, Carol Gillies had won me over during her First Series appearances as previous Head Miss Cartwright. She had a wonderful presence and great facial expressions (her features, physique and voice were very masculine, which brought something quite unique).

    Carmen's future 'Allo 'Allo player Sam Kelly has appeared as Sid the milkman.

    Leslie Dwyer - still a couple of years away from being the grouchiest thing in Hi-De-Hi - appeared in The Good Old Days, in which Hester returned to her East End origins only to be depressed at how much things had changed.

    The same episode saw a return appearance for Anna Wing. And most exciting of all was that Bill Treacher was sitting next to her sharing not only the scene but the screen - almost half a dozen years before their wonderful clashes-in-law in EastEnders. You'd think it would be surreal - especially with him balancing Julia McKenzie on his knee for the entire duration - but it all seemed completely right.



    With each episode there is a moment or two that makes me wonder if a certain action is planned, improvised or accidental. Like in A Holiday For Two where teacher Dave was being led out of the classroom by Maggie while looking sideways and managed to walk into the thin side of an open door, his face colliding with it and an arm stretched out on either side. If it wasn't an accident it was incredibly well done, because it looked like it hurt (John Kane, playing Dave had a very Terry Scott like quality, and curiously a look on IMDb told me he began his TV career writing for Scott himself and would go on to write more).

    A number of scenes have laughter that sounds so natural it's hard to tell if it's coming from the characters or the actors who are enjoying some funny moments. The final episode of Series One saw Maggie's advert as a personal tutor being misconstrued and - long story short - she ended up giving Mike Lewin a bizarre massage treatment involving marmalade, grapes, coffee granules, salt and spaghetti while wearing pink marigolds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Julia McKenzie appeared to almost lose it more than once during the course of the scene (most noticeably while slapping cooked spaghetti on his back). But it all worked to make the scene more engaging. There's nothing like an actor corpsing to let the audience feel that they're in on a little secret, and if that connection is used well it can enhance the scene in question, as it did here.
     
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  8. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Maggie And Her has just come to an end. Or at least it's finished. There was no sense of ending or closure, with the last episode being fairly standard and notable only for the series' only slap when Maggie discovered her lover was two-timing her.

    It was, though, a very enjoyable run. I'm a little sad about the brevity as I could happily have watched another series or two. As usual I'm curious why it ended after just two series.
     
  9. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    On a Britcom related note, I was walking past a craft shop today that had a flyer in the window promoting lampshade making classes which were to be held there.

    Naturally I immediately thought of Beryl's Mum from The Lovers.
     
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  10. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Next up will be a very short-lived series that's completely new to me...


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  11. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    Whoops, double post.

    And now I've gone and deleted the wrong one.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2019
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  12. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    And I may never know what the right one was saying.

    This thread has taken a rather cloak and dagger turn.
     
  13. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    [​IMG]

    Well, I had to look this one up, didn't I?

    wack
    wacker (ˈwækə)

    noun

    Liverpool and Midland English dialect friend; pal: used chiefly as a term of address


    And it's not the only bit of online research into regional terms used so far. Like this exchange from Episode Two:

    MARY: "I don't want you putting me in the club again... I'm getting too old for changin' nappies and two o'clock feeds."
    BILLY: "Oh, well if that's all you're worried about I can always get off at Edge Hill."
    MARY: "Oh aye. I've 'eard that one before. The last time you promised to get off at Edge Hill you went straight through to Lime Street. An' our Bernadette arrived on the next train."

    The context gives away that it refers to the withdrawal method, but I just had to check.


    And it's probably as good an example of any of the series' pithy dialogue, which is wonderful. Sometimes coarse, usually loud and always believably real. This is a series in which good actors portray everyday people. There's no sense of the theatre to it and very little heightened reality. It's just an ordinary working class family interacting. It feels in many ways like a forerunner to The Royle Family. Naturally, the Catholic working class Liverpudlian central family is similar to what would later be seen in Carla Lane's Bread.

    I wasn't a bit surprised to see faces I recognised from later work in Brookside (Bill Dean has been in every episode so far, and Ray Dunbobbin appeared in the first). It has a similar kind of realism and grit to it. There's casual swearing, casual racism, casual homophobia and some nice casual cardies.

    As you'd expect, Ken Jones, Sheila Fay and Alison Steadman are all just note perfect. Steadman's character has more than a touch of Karen Grant to her (which, to follow that parallel, would make cheeky young teen Keith Chegwin the Damon of the series. And there's even an older brother). It's good to see Joe Gladwin too. What with having watched Last Of The Summer Wine very recently and Nearest And Dearest in late 2017 I've seen quite a bit of him recently, and he's enjoyable in everything.


    The brilliantly bizarre theme by The Spinners sets the tone well. The opening medley features In My Liverpool Home, Faith Of Our Fathers, Onward Christian Soldiers and Liverpool Lullaby, while We Shall Not Be Moved and You'll Never Walk Alone close it. Three episodes in I'm thinking the medley summarises the setting and themes of the series in a genius way.
     
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  14. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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  15. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Oh wow. It certainly is. There are a number of names that keep coming up in my considerations for future viewing.
     
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  16. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Around 48 hours after it began, The Wackers has ended its run. It's painfully soon. Just as I've got into the rhythms. Fortunately, the series was firing from its first episode so they were seven really good episodes.

    IMDb tells me...

    This seems rather criminal. What was it that made it "unpopular" (which could simply mean low ratings but could also suggest people actively disliking the series through letters to the TV Times or wherever). It's certainly a little grittier than your average sitcom. Which is no bad thing. Were people put off by the fairly mild sex references, the lavatorial humour, the occasional b-word or the characters communicating in raised voices? Was it a little ahead of its time?

    The cast has been great. Ken Jones has a nice presence: part Leonard Rossiter, part Roy Kinnear, with a bit of Basil Fawlty thrown in for good measure. Sheila Fay has also been a joy. I'm sure I previously commented on her performance in One Summer and she's done it again here. Mary is a really interesting character, being different things to different people and so presenting differently depending who is around (most apparent when a clergyman visited). She's shrill and shewish but also one of the most sensible characters on the show.

    It's hard to describe, but there can be an oddness in seeing a real-life couple playing a couple on-screen. I think they actually have their work cut out because they not only have to convince as (in this case) a married couple, but they also have to be a different married couple to the one they are usually. And I suppose it can get into some kind of self-consciously meta territory where the audience is so busy looking for suggestions of the real-life couple that suspension of belief doesn't happen to the correct degree and they end up being less convincing as a couple than strangers would be. But any scene between these two will get past that as they've got it exactly right. They're so convincing as a long-married couple I could actually believe they only first met at rehearsals for Episode One.

    There's been a novelty factor to watching a very young Alison Steadman and Keith Chegwin. But Steadman in particular is so different to any other role I've seen her in it's easy to (mostly) forget that she's acting. And she is very good in this.

    Bill Dean has had quite a bit to do here, which is a good thing. By series' end he was dropping into the family living room, so it's safe to say he was seen as a core cast member. Likewise, the change of dynamic with Billy's mum and Mary's dad moving in together showed a degree of thought about future dynamics in the series.

    As with the film version of The Lovers, the series ended with a visit to the city's football Mecca. Anfield in this case.

    At risk of repeating myself, I'm just shaking my head that this only ran for a matter of weeks. I'm so glad it's available on home media as it deserves to be seen. I've thoroughly enjoyed it.
     
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  17. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Last night saw the beginning of The Bounder.

    [​IMG]

    Firstly, I was a little surprised to find only two series were made. Fourteen episodes in all. I recall this being on TV a fair bit during the Eighties. Perhaps it got repeated a great deal.

    This is kind of a transition piece for Peter Bowles, being made between the third and fourth series of Only When I Laugh - penned, like this, by Eric Chappell. The sense of familiarity between this and the hospital-based series doesn't end there. Both Rosalind Ayres and Isla Blair made brief appearances in that series and they're arguably serviced better here. Ayres, of course, has popped up in my viewing schedule as recently as last week in both the small and big screen versions of The Lovers.

    As Trevor, George Cole - already synonymous with Arfur Daley - is playing a very different character to his Minder role. And yet not. The setting and accent may be different, but there's no mistaking this is George Cole, which brings a comforting sense of the familiar. The same goes for Bowles himself, playing to type and once again giving Chappell ample opportunity to bring him down to size. In OWIL, he'd been reduced to frequenting an NHS hospital ward while trying to maintain his sense of importance. Here in The Bounder he's fresh out of prison, and using his wiles to give the appearance that he's still living a life of privilege.

    While I remember having watched at least a number of episodes of the series, I have very little recollection of the plots beyond the title sequence and the "fresh from prison" premise. I'm only two episodes in, but it does seem to follow a typical Chappell pattern of a character being painted into a corner and having to bluff their way out with all the odds against them. Much of the humour comes from discomfiture and social imbroglios. The first episode, for example, had Glover Howard, through charm and wiles, worming his way into staying with Cole and Ayres' characters (his best friend/best man and sister, respectively). The second saw him forgetting their wedding anniversary and covering his faux pas by taking them out to an expensive restaurant despite having no cash. He feeds the couple by gatecrashing a private function and pretending to belong there - giving speeches while smuggling food out; and by acting as head waiter and removing "tainted" food from guests.

    So Howard is constantly in danger of being hoist with his own petard. As in Chappell's other works (perhaps most notably his next series, Duty Free), it becomes enjoyably uncomfortable and farcical. An episode hasn't yet seen a half naked lover in the wardrobe or ended with a food fight but it's early days. Certainly, lines are crossed by the end of the episode. The end of the second episode saw Trevor debagged by angry rugby players after they found him eating food that Howard had stolen. And I can't help thinking that by the beginning of the third episode it will have been forgotten and the reset button pressed. In other words, Howard has permission to go as over the top as he likes with complete impunity. Which on the one hand allows for limitless wacky scenarios but on the other may prove slightly unsatisfying. That said, my rewatches of Duty Free and - especially - Only When I Laugh proved more enjoyable and satisfying than expected, so we'll see.
     
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  18. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I recall The Bounder was shown on the PBS station I watched back in the 1980s. I sampled it a bit, but like you
    With only 14 episodes (like you, I thought it ran longer), I'm guessing the local station only bought it because "Peter Bowles of To the Manor Born was in it".
     
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  19. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Ah. I wondered if you'd be familiar with this one, knowing that you're familiar with series like To The Manor Born and Executive Stress.


    I'm sure you're right. It's a short run by any standards, but especially by American syndication norms. Am I right in thinking that PBS stations can be more relaxed about these things because of the way they're funded? It's good to know a slightly more obscure British sitcom has been given an airing.


    After a couple more episodes, I've noticed there is a bit of very loose continuity. For example, Howard plagiarised a Byron poem in the third episode and Mary was still annoyed about it in the fourth. But the chaos of the final moments of each episode - the times where things get a little more cartoony - are immediately forgotten. So I was almost there.
     
  20. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Things were quite different in the 1980s (the understatement of the year). Georgia Public Television (the state-wide network of PBS stations) opted to buy a lot of British comedy and sci-fi imports because they wanted to diversify their image (PBS being viewed as 'stuffy old period dramas', boring documentaries and Sesame Street). This was when they had to start the beg-a-thons, which they refer to as 'pledge breaks'. The British comedies seemed to be when they could get a lot more movement on the donations, so they would often premiere a new series during pledge season, much like the networks airing specials during Sweeps to drum up ad revenue. Since Nielsen didn't measure PBS's ratings, this was often the only real 'feedback' the program director got with respect to popularity. They would even enlist some of the actors to appear (on tape, or even in person) during the breaks to help raise money.

    GPT also seemed to want to diversify PBS's overall image, which was 'stuffy period dramas, boring documentaries, and Sesame Street'. Emphasizing British comedy and sci-fi (even a few Australian programs mixed in) allowed them to claim they were more than just Masterpiece Theater. They likely got the shorter-run series to augment the schedule where they tended to beat their favorites to death with endless reruns. I can only recall The Bounder airing once, maybe twice, while Are You Being Served? re-played in a continuous loop for probably fifteen years. Here in Florida a local PBS station is doing the same endless loop with Keeping Up Appearances and As Time Goes By--both shows have been in reruns for the whole seven-plus years I've lived here. GPT seemed to 'fall out of love' with Britcoms in the early 2000s when they no longer had their stuffy image problem, and of course BBC America came along to provide Anglophiles with their Brit-fix. That was of course until BBC America quit airing exclusively British content and just became another place to see Star Trek Next Generation four times per day.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2019
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