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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    Yes, and it got soaking wet. That's why she's holding it in front of the fire.

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  2. TJames03

    TJames03 Soap Chat Addict

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    If you bend over and drop a sardine through the letter box, it'll gobble it up....
     
  3. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    ...And Mother Makes Five is now at the latter part of the penultimate series.

    There's a new cutesy title sequence, now part-animated which brings to mind the later Thames comedy Keep It In The Family. I prefer the earlier versions, and I miss the final scene continuing to play out over the end credits, but I always admire a little experimentation. With the font change for the credits, the last hints of the Sixties have gone, to be replaced with a font that looks decidedly Eighties to my eyes. With the new version I particularly enjoy the caricatures of Wendy Craig which are quite funny. They're all huge eyes, snub nose, thin lips, bowl hairdo and skinny body with her backside jutting out. All of which makes them sound a little offensive, but in fact they're rather cute. Each episode gets a different caricature of Wendy at the end which relates to a scene within the episode which makes them feel kind of collectable.

    New additions to the cast this series with Joss and Monica Spencer. Tony Britton is always very watchable so it's a treat to see him as Joss. I know him best from Don't Wait Up and Robin's Nest. More recently (at least for me) he was in Father, Dear Father. As I remember, he's played a similar type of character in them all. His presence has allowed us to see a different side to David as they talk over whiskey and the conversation veers towards the laddish and they both get a bit of a twinkle in the eye. Charlotte Mitchell is fairly unfamiliar to me, though IMDb tells me I've seen her in small roles here and there. She's likeable enough, though Monica's presence in the house has served as a reminder that Auntie is absent since she performs the same functions at times.
     
  4. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    With Series Four of ...And Mother Makes Five they wisely returned to form by losing the animated sequences from the title and going for the classic opening sketch (this one being Sally and David dressed for cocktails and leaving the house while the children chortle on seeing Sally's dress completely unzipped at the back).

    I was reflecting last night how the series really has no USP at this point. In terms of premise it's become very generic. A viewer tuning in to one of the latter episodes would simply see a ditzy stay at home Mum with a husband and three children. She gets into a scrape each week, frequently accompanied by the wacky next door neighbour. The family are patient and when it's resolved everyone laughs about it.

    The last series, as far as I noticed, had no mention at all of Auntie - such a vital piece of the picture in the earlier series. And the bookshop is now gone. David seems to spend most of his time at home. There was a reference to him selling antique books, but this time he brought a client home to show him the book (just in time for Sally to embarrass him, naturally).

    I find it interesting that this is the fate of a sitcom that started out focussing on a non-traditional family unit. We first met Sally as an independent working mother. Over the years she journeyed to become a housewife who had dinner on the table when her husband came in from work. She's become more conformist and dependent as the series have gone by. It's almost a backwards journey. But still a very interesting one.

    The writing remained sharp and the series was making me laugh until the end. Now that it's ended, there'll be a Sally shaped gap in my daily schedule and I'd certainly be up for a revisit in a decade or so.
     
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  5. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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  6. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    My Brit trip continues. Last night I started to revisit a series that's now three decades old...


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    And adaption of a BBC radio series - the TV version produced by Thames, rather than the Beeb - I remember After Henry being an unassuming presence on TV. Back in the day I viewed it as safe and twee. It wasn't the sort of series that would get discussed the next day at school.

    I'm sure I must have watched it as every part of it feels familiar, from the opening credits (with a jazzy rendition of Gershwin's Three Quarter Blues) to the bookshop in which Sarah works. And I remembered the basic premise (forty-something widow whose domineering mother and laid back daughter live with her). But besides that it's pretty much a blank canvas. There are no specific scenes, episodes or storylines ingrained in my memory.

    Three episodes in, there's already a feeling of slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers. It may not be earth shattering, and after a while I may not even notice... but still everything about it feels right.

    The onscreen dynamics are great. There are four main players, and so far it seems that the chemistry is good with any combination of them. The setup at home - with Sarah's home being divided into three relatively self-contained flats over three floors - is both cosy and believable.

    Great care has been taken to show that all three women have taken steps to live independently, so it very successfully gets over the archetypal Dallas question: "why do they all live together?". Of course, Eleanor can't help butting into her daughter and granddaughter's business. And Sarah - for all her irritation at her own mother - can't help doing the same to her own daughter. But there's a sense that this is because the agreements over living arrangements aren't being adhered to. We never saw JR and Bobby rolling their eyes when they arrived home to be greeted by their mother. Sarah showing irritation when she finds Eleanor in her kitchen, muttering to herself about "the old bat" or reminding her mother that they're supposed to be living separately stops the audience from asking questions by acknowledging the elephant in the room. Besides, with two women widowed and one still young enough to have not left home yet, the arrangement makes perfect sense. There's a security in the arrangement. There is, too, an almost guilty sense of both filial and parental duty which has been cleverly utilised, such as with Eleanor's mischievous phone call pretending to have chest pains and then deliberately leaving her phone off the hook. There's a family pull that makes it difficult to get away.

    With the wonderful Joan Sanderson stealing every scene she's in, it would be easy to overlook the heart and subtlety that Prunella Scales brings to her performance as Sarah. So comfortable does she seem in the role I almost get the sense that she's playing herself. It never really feels as though she's acting. Which, depending how you view it, could either be doing her a huge disservice or paying a huge compliment. There was a touching little scene where she discovered that her home had been burgled and a picture of her late husband smashed, and she was note perfect. It wasn't break your heart, win a BAFTA, real snot and tears great. It was just a simple, honest, poignant moment.

    Sanderson's Eleanor is very similar to the other roles I know her from - primarily as Nell in Me And My Girl, which was still running when After Henry began. Her formidable battleaxe with a soft centre works every time for me and she delivers her acid drops with unerring accuracy. It's not just the lines, but the looks. There was a great scene with Sarah recording an answerphone message, aided by Clare and under the critical eye of Eleanor which is perhaps my favourite so far because of the wonderful chemistry. Sarah was overwhelmed by the new technology and Eleanor zoomed in on every flaw while knitting for England. When Sarah asked her mother to be quiet, the look of incredulous disgust on Sanderson's face spoke a thousand words.

    I thought Claire was going to be the weak link of the series. All I remembered of her was that she was young and trendy, so I imagined there would be a parade of terrible Eighties clothes and little else. Would this take away from the timelessness of the rest of the series, I wondered? In truth she's fine and perfectly cast for this ensemble.

    As Russell, Jonathan Newth has the same kind of air as Prunella Scales, insofar as it's perfectly underplayed. I believe Russell as a character and I believe his relationship with Sarah. When I bought the series on DVD, I read a brief synopsis to remind myself what it was I had to look forward to, and I was intrigued to see that Russell was gay. It's not something I remember noticing when I watched the series as a teenager. And indeed, the character is - by many standards - underwritten. So far there have been just a couple of very subtle allusions to Russell's sexuality (an appreciative comment from him in a discussion about a good looking man, and Sarah mentioning that she was off to a party that Russell and Bob were holding. At least I think it was Bob). I've found myself wondering if this is by design or dictate. There would have been a degree of risk including a gay man in an early evening family sitcom in 1988, and there must have been conversations around it. Whatever the case, I appreciate that Russell is simply a sitcom character. He's not defined by his sexuality. Neither is his sexuality a social issue. It's just a simple fact of his life. In many ways he's the evolution of Agony's Rob. And it's also worth noting that the series was created and written by a heterosexual man. It shouldn't be surprising, but I do find it to be at least a little so.

    The episode running order is a little curious. Or at least the placement on the DVD. What looked suspiciously like a pilot episode was the second episode on the disc, sandwiched between two "regular" episodes. In terms of writing continuity there's been little to disrupt, as there's no "origin" episode. But the production continuity did change for these episodes. The second episode had different set dressings and some of the most basic titles I've seen. A sub-par version of Three Quarter Blues was used for the titles, with credits in a standard font on a blue background. The bumpers for the adverts had the same blue background and basic text and no music at all. The content of the episode besides was great. It's easy to see why they'd approve a series based on it - if the radio series wasn't enough to convince them (incidentally, I've never experienced the radio version. Maybe I'll feel inclined to do so as I get towards the end of the run).

    So far, three consistently good episodes. It's a promising start.
     
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  7. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    After Henry is passing the time nicely. Last night I watched the second (and final) Christmas special. Series Two's twelve episodes have gently washed over me, rather like standing in a warm shower and being surprised at how quickly the time has gone.

    Simon Brett's writing is wonderful. It's intelligent and relatable and seems so simple and effortless, which is a nice trick if you can do it. Everything about it says "understated quality". Appropriately for a series that began on the radio, a couple of moments of tongue twisting dialogue have wowed me. The eggy peggy episode had a few - particularly for Prunella Scales (I'd never heard of eggy peggy and now I feel I've missed out. Perhaps because I wasn't a public schoolboy) And there was Joan Sanderson's rather epic recitation of historic British monarchs in chronological order. Again, it was probably one of those mnemonics that was taught at school during her childhood, rather like Thirty Days Hath September. But hearing it for the first time, recited at great speed by Eleanor looking equal parts bored and superior it was very impressive. And that's in addition to some of her regular mouthfuls about her sources, which usually involve "Valerie Brown on the pension counter's sister Mary", though sometimes are even more convoluted.

    Timothy West appeared in one episode as a rather camp theatrical. Real life spouses always make me watch with a different angle, and this was no exception.

    Speaking of Eleanor's network, it was a treat during the first series to see Fanny Rowe as Eleanor's frienemy, Vera Polling (the one whose daughter Tricia is married to a merchant banker). I know Fanny best as Hester's interfering mother in Fresh Fields: a character analogous to Eleanor in any number of ways. So seeing them both together seemed almost surreal. The image of two of them sitting in a darkened room watching softcore porn was nothing short of heartwarming. Vera has been recast from Series Two with Peggy Ann Wood, and the onscreen dynamics are very different. With Sanderson and Rowe, their little barbed back and forths were like a battle of the titans. Wood's Vera is rather more timid and subservient. The Minnie Caldwell to Sanderson's Ena Sharples. Both interpretations are very enjoyable. Looking on IMDb, I see that Fanny died in 1988, so that first series of After Henry was her last work. In fact, After Henry was the last work for Rowe, Wood and Sanderson. And how wonderful that all three of them were serviced so well for their last roles.
     
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  8. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The latter two series of After Henry have now bubbled away to their natural conclusion.

    The one disappointment with the final series was the revised theme, which sounds like an ersatz cover for one of the cheap TV theme compilation tapes I had a penchant for in the Eighties. The ones from artists with names like "The Silva Screen Orchestra" that sounded like they were recorded on a Bontempi in someone's basement bedroom. Even the font for the text in the opening credits looked like a cheap copy.

    Thankfully, the content of the latter episodes was as consistently good as the previous three. Even with the gap between Series Three and Four, the writing remained strong.

    The continuity has been appreciated, such as in Clare's Australian sojourn and dalliance with a married man.

    Speaking of things Australian, barely an episode went by in the latter series without a mention of Neighbours or Home And Away. Sometimes both. With Eleanor so hooked on them, it's a wonder she didn't recognise Home And Away's very own Greg Benson showing up as a down under relative of Vera Polling.

    Despite eventually using the word "gay" to describe himself in the third series with even Eleanor using it by the fourth (having to explain the term to Vera), Russell remains a rare example of an LGBT sitcom character who, as I said at the start of watching, is not defined by his sexuality. He's the only character on the series who is in a long-term, stable relationship from start to finish with no upheavals. But even that relationship doesn't define him. Bob remained one of the series' unseen characters, and enjoyably so.

    Joan Sanderson was a joy in this series, with every scene - every line - a gem. It's made me keen to seek out some more of her work soon. She even handled the series' one (some would say unnecessary) expletive with old school grace ("I'll nail the bastard", she said of the married man she assumed her daughter was seeing). It's a little sad to think that Sanderson had died before the final series aired, but wonderful that she left us with some perfectly pitched verbal sparring with her onscreen relatives and the ever patient Vera Polling.
     
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  9. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Last night began a new series with the Pilot and first regular episodes of...

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    On first glance it's cleverly written in a verbose kind of way. But it feels like the kind of show whose rhythms can only be appreciated as the series becomes more familiar. So I'm going to say nothing until I've watched a few more.
     
  10. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    After watching the entire first series I still think this is the case. But I can't be certain as I don't feel I've kept up with it properly. Yes Minister is a series that relies on the viewer following the dialogue carefully. My concentration is adequate on a good day, and extremely poor on others. I've found that if I lose concentration for part of a scene I have no idea what's going on for the rest of the episode. Or at least it feels less meaningful because I don't fully grasp the reason for the panic that is underlying the scene. This is particularly true of the Whitehall office scenes, where the writing is at its most discursive. For this viewer, Yes Minster is probably a series that would benefit from viewing each episode several times.

    The home-based scenes feel like they're on a different level. They're often informed by the fallout of the Department of Administrative Affairs scenes, so even there it can feel like a piece of the puzzle is missing. But they're much more economically written. Jim's shrewish wife certainly gives me sympathy for him. I don't think she could be any less supportive.

    The title sequence is a classic. It still looks fresh today. Gerald Scarfe's partially animated drawings are perfect for the political setting and the theme tune - essentially the Westminster Quarters mashed up with To The Manor Born - further paint the picture. The patriotic music used in the Pilot also fitted well but felt a little more stereotypically sitcom (it had a Croft & Perry sledgehammer quality to it, and was indeed reminiscent of the closing theme to Dad's Army). The regular series' theme is a very classy affair and gets across the upper middle class wood panel tone to the series.
     
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  11. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    I always associate her with Please Sir, of which I have very dim but fond memories. I remember the spinoff film better. Joan Sanderson can be glimpsed shaking a very sedate tailfeather to the Cilla Black theme song here:

     
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  12. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    This is one that I'm hoping to watch at some point. My only real awareness of it were repeats on Saturday lunchtimes being on when I'd visit my grandparents when I was young. But it was very much background noise to whatever else I was doing, which was probably catching up with cousins and whatnot.

    And a very catchy song it is too.

    Surely the mark of a good British sitcom spinoff film is the inclusion of Patsy Rowlands as a yearning spinster who mounts the lead.
     
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  13. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes Minister has come to an end here. I've had (and still have) little to say about the series, but that's not me casting aspersions. Quite the opposite. It's a very well-written and acted series and if anything became more so as the episodes went by. It remained as wordy as ever, and as intelligent.

    I still feel this is a series that - unlike many other sitcoms - actually demands the viewer to pay attention. And I don't have a 100% success rate in this. There were times when I lost concentration or drifted a little and then it all started making a whole lot less sense. But one thing this didn't affect was my enjoyment. Having this series on has been like being in the company of a favourite aunt or uncle for a bit. It's so comforting that the content of the conversation isn't as important as the fact that you're spending time together.

    The series ending was rather uneventful and in the case of this series I was rather surprised. Fortunately, Party Games - the seasonal special that aired a full two years after the series proper had ended - made up for this by showing Jim falling into being Prime Minister.

    It's also worth noting that by coincidence I'd been watching this evening's debate between Tory leadership hopefuls immediately before watching Party Games. And the transition was unnervingly seamless. All the games and oneupmanship. And numerous references to the EEC. It's as topical as ever.
     
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  14. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    To the surprise of nobody, next on my viewing schedule is...

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    I watched the first episode this evening, which was as enjoyable as the preceding series. In fact there's little to tell them apart. The quality of writing is still there, as are all the key characters. There are only sixteen episodes, which I'm looking forward to seeing play out.
     

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