The great British sitcom

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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    Having completed Series Five, it's occurred to me that the format of As Time Goes By has changed quite distinctly since the earlier episodes. Surprisingly, the marriage of Lionel and Jean has been the least of the changes.

    We haven't visited the office in quite some time, which would have been unthinkable early on in the run where the secretarial agency was as much a part of the series as Jean's home. To accommodate this, Sandy has moved in. When she landed on the doorstep in the first episode of Series Four (I think), it was ostensibly because she'd had another row with her boyfriend. But she's become a permanent fixture with very little comment from anyone (though a couple of lines from Jean and Lionel have suggested Sandy is now thought of as family). Naturally, this has changed the dynamic. Particularly, Judi now has someone to interact with while Jean and Lionel are doing their country thing. But each time they mention "Judi and Sandy" (which is with some frequency) I can't help thinking of these chaps.

    Becoming part of the country set after being gifted Rocky's house has added more layers to the series. Mixed feelings here, one the one hand it's made the series a little less identifiable (and I speak as someone who doesn't have a country mansion in which to spend my weekends), but the new set of problems and social commentary it's brought with it has been greatly enjoyable.

    Joan Sims is a treasure. It's a treat for me to see her so late in life in these episodes, still with that sparkle in her eyes. It's reminded me that I've never got round to watching her last filmed piece of work, The Last Of The Blonde Bombshells (also with Judi Dench). This must be rectified.
     
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  2. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Mega Star

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    One thing that has always saddened me is that Joan Sims never got a proper chance at a real leading role in her own sitcom, certainly she had plenty of supporting roles but given her ability as an actress I always thought there were opportunities to a write a decent sitcom for her.

    Swami
     
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  3. J. R.'s Piece

    J. R.'s Piece Soap Chat Addict

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    Yes. Michael Bates was born in Jhansi in India and he lived there as a boy and later served in Burma. Think his father was born in India too. So his experiences may have assisted with his performance.

    Peter Sallis mentioned that Michael Bates had an argument with Bill Owen on Last of the Summer Wine over their opposing political views.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8054225.stm
     
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  4. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Mega Star

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    Yes, although they did subsequently get on well together. This reared its head again when Brian Wilde joined the show, and quite often Peter Sallis would do his best to keep the peace.

    Swami
     
  5. J. R.'s Piece

    J. R.'s Piece Soap Chat Addict

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    I sometimes encounter Georgina Moon and Margaret Nolan in person from time to time, sometimes at the same time. I run into Valerie Leon, Richard Gibson, Kim Hartman all fairly regularly too. Georgina was in Gerry Anderson’s UFO, playing a Skydiver operative. For some reason, she stuck in my mind.
    F4B84F25-DCAB-4941-B6D0-43BB42C132CF.jpeg
     
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  6. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Joan would have been a great sitcom lead, but there's something about her supporting roles that feels quite fitting. She's a very generous performer as part of an ensemble and somehow I think she was more comfortable that way.



    That's an interesting read. I had no idea



    My goodness. Next time you run into her ask her if she still has that top.




    In As Time Goes By news, it looks like Judith and Alistair are headed to official coupledom The lead up to it has given us an abundance of Moira Brooker's throat clearing acting and I fear the new series may contain more of that. And probably a great deal of eating toast in her dressing gown. Judith and Sandy certainly eat a lot of toast, don't they? I love Sandy even more since I've noticed her love of Marmite.
     
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  7. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I've always felt reluctant to bring this up, but Moira Brooker always seemed to be the weak link in the series. I had not noticed the throat-clearing, but it seems as if the toast eating is another of the 'callbacks' they employ (like the custard tart thing, and Jean's nosiness). And odd choice, since they'd have to keep replacing the toast with an un-bitten piece every time there was a different take filmed. I also noticed (when watching the series at different points) that Judi/Moira seemed to be a yo-yo dieter, which could have been real-life pregnancy-related for all I know. It's one of the drawbacks of large gaps between seasons/series--people change in ways the cameras can't disguise.
     
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  8. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Of all the regulars, she's the one that works the least for me. I'm sure she's fine, but I find myself preferring scenes that don't feature her.

    Yes - I've noticed that during a scene the toast actually gets eaten. There's no nibbling away or using it to gesture with. It's actually devoured on camera.

    I suppose it can't be helped and in some ways can sum up how life is when you bump into someone you haven't seen in a while. But then when nobody comments it's a little confusing. It would be interesting for me to compare how the cast looked in the first year or so to the episodes I'm currently watching from Series Seven. I'm sure it would be eye opening.
     
  9. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I know a sitcom is really well written when it becomes part of my language as shorthand to describe a parallel situation or characteristic. In recent weeks, I've shared several instances of this with As Time Goes By - mostly shared with my viewing companion. The character I share the most foibles with is Lionel, highlighting that I'm getting older and grouchier.

    Last night there was an instance where I didn't catch something that was said to me, echoing the episode we'd watched almost immediately before in which Jean was concerned about Lionel's hearing. Then this morning I woke up from a dream and uttered a random word ("cream", in case you're wondering), and immediately recognised I'd "done a Lionel". The frequency with which these similarities are arising is a little troubling.
     
  10. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    If it helps, your writing is so much more interesting than anything from My Life in Kenya.

    Faint praise? :rolleyes:
     
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  11. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Series Eight of As Time Goes By has commenced and, as we enter the 21st Century, it's now in glorious widescreen. Those opening titles look a little strange now - I can understand why many shows re-shot their credits when they went widescreen. But that's hardly a deal breaker.

    One thing I forgot to mention was the final episode of Series Six. Lionel producing the photocopy of the missing letter that is the driving force behind the series was such a beautiful scene and I felt quite moved as the extended theme music played over the final scene. What a perfect ending it would have been to the entire series. Not that the series has outstayed its welcome. I'm not in a hurry to leave this show behind.

    The evolution of the series has worked well. It's moved on from the original premise of Jean and Lionel's reunion - by necessity after eight years. But the backstory hovers over the series and still feels significant even though we've seen it through. The will they/won't they has now shifted to the next generation with Judith/Alistair and Sandy/Harry which is slightly less engaging, but still watchable. As a late addition to the series, I really like Harry and I find myself rooting for him to stop putting his foot in it with his rugby obsession taking precedence.

    The letter scene above is an example of the heartfelt writing. Every once in a while Bob Larbey will throw out a moment of sentiment or even pathos that adds weight to the rest of the goings on. In an episode last night, Lionel had been stalked by a stray dog which they ended up taking in. Lionel was most reluctant to become attached to the dog - partly for practical reasons that they didn't know if the dog belonged to someone else (which, as it turns out, he did). Then at the end of the episode he talked about the dog he loved when he was younger, which was a nice moment. Just as things were getting warm and sentimental, Jean asked what happened and Lionel casually mentioned that after the dog became old and ailing he'd had to shoot him. It was a powerful moment that stopped things from getting too safe.


    Ha.

    And thanks…?
     
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  12. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The wife from hell and her long suffering husband isn't completely unfamiliar, but Penny and Stephen are proof positive that Hyacinth Bucket doesn't have that market completely cornered. So I must give praise for these two. Whenever they're in an episode I know it's going to be a fun one and they haven't disappointed yet. Even just hearing that they're pulling up outside or due to arrive at any moment makes a scene even funnier… because I know what's going to come.

    I particularly enjoy that henpecked Stephen doesn't get too much sympathy from other characters because he's viewed to be dull as ditchwater. So their appearance is always met with dread for two different reasons.

    Here's hoping there are a couple more good P&S episodes before series' end.


    Frank Middlemass and Joan Sims's names flashing up at the start of an episode is another thing that's guaranteed to make me look forward even more to what's coming. Sadly I've now watched the last Joan Sims episode. It's a shame she wasn't in another one or two, but Madge will be fondly remembered.
     
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  13. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Last night I finished the series proper of As Time Goes By with the last two episodes of Series Eight and the compilation special You Must Remember This…

    I do feel very satisfied with the way things ended. Everything was wrapped up nicely and there was the sense that Lionel and Jean finally having the house to themselves was the beginning of a new chapter in their lives as much as an ending.

    My goodness - I really found myself rooting for Harry and Sandy. As I said before, I'm so impressed that someone can join the ensemble so late and fit in perfectly. And David Michaels has certainly done that.

    I'm very curious about why the final series only had four episodes. At a guess I'd say they were ordered specifically to wrap things up. Whatever the reason, it feels like a good number to round things off.

    Compilation shows can be hit and miss. You Must Remember This… was a hit because it actually fitted in very well with the tone of the entire series which was built on reflection and remembering times past. All the way through the series I was incredibly impressed with the continuity and references to earlier events and moments. Little touches that all but the best-written series is happy to forget about but people in "real life" generally don't. I had the sense that everyone involved treated the characters' histories with reverence and respect. It's very refreshing for their to be no noticeable contradictions or convenient retcons in a series that runs for this length of time.

    I still have the reunion specials to watch, which I'm looking forward to. As worrying as reunions can be, my expectations are very high for this one due to the consistently high quality of the main series, even when it had gaps that were almost as large as the space between the series and the reunion. We'll see...
     
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  14. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I started to feel a little perturbed about not having a "new" Britcom lined up for when As Time Goes By finishes. Thankfully this has been resolved.

    The series I'm in the mood to watch next had doubled in price between last week when I checked it out and the weekend when I dropped by Amazon to buy it. Thankfully, today it's back down to a price I can justify. It's ordered and will be with me tomorrow.

    And there is a connection between the two series…
     
  15. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Last night I rounded off As Time Goes By with the two-part reunion, part one of which featured the series' only cliffhanger.

    Not knowing the background of the reunion I am slightly intrigued by it. It doesn't appear to be a significant anniversary for the beginning of end of the show - in fact the series proper had only wrapped up three years previously, so it seems quite soon. That said, the gap here seems to have told on several of the cast who look like more than three years have passed (Alistair's completely silver shock of hair suits him).

    The recast Harry took a while to endear himself to me. It's very difficult not to compare this actor with the previous one (I found it impossible). I imagine the recast was necessary since he had a pretty significant role here. All things considered I'd say Harry II was perfectly serviceable.

    It was lovely to see Rocky, Penny, Stephen and Mrs Bale included, and final scene at A+E- while not the most memorable - brought together all the remaining main cast nicely. The only missing piece of the puzzle was Lol, but I suppose only so much can be contrived. Madge is still greatly missed too, of course, but with Joan Sims having died it's only right that the character is conspicuous by her absence. She was very much on my mind during scenes featuring Rocky, and I felt trusted as a viewer to know that the spirit of the character was being kept alive without the need to even mention her name.


    The outtakes were great fun. It's pleasantly surprising how iconic the episodes have started feeling to me already - for most scenes featured in the bloopers I could place the episode and remember what was going on and what the scene was about, which is very impressive with my memory. Seeing how the actors react to goofs - whether their own or their castmates - is quite telling about the atmosphere on set, and this looks like a very happy one. Moira Brooker's reflexive "Oh shit", and the resulting theatrically stunned faces of the others was highly enjoyable. Having thoroughly enjoyed Geoffrey Palmer's stuffy, irritable hangdog thing all the way through the series, it was especially pleasing to see how cheeky, quick-witted and downright impish he could be. There's a fascinating moment in the Making Of feature where the director looks thoroughly exasperated with an ad lib of his which apparently ruined a take but got a huge laugh from the audience, cast and crew (he got a ticking off for it). I suspect when you make a career of playing reserved Blimps it's hard to resist an opportunity to cut loose sometimes. Everything I saw has served to endear him to me even more, and I'm consequently looking forward to the final bonus feature - a twenty minute interview with the man himself.
     
  16. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The Conversation With Geoffrey Palmer was quite charming. It's a bit of a risk learning more about someone who I've watched for decades without knowing very much about, but it was worth the risk in this case. He was disarmingly frank and clearly very self-aware as well as knowing much about the world of the sitcom. He covered the creation of the show, too, which was fascinating. I found it interesting to learn that it came out of a theatrical group he was involved with and that he hadn't worked with Judi Dench before this. In his no-nonsense way, he regaled how in the weeks before he met Judi, everyone he encountered who knew her was telling him how wonderful she was and that he'd love her - to the point that he got sick of hearing her name. As he conceded, they were right. He had nothing but praise for Bob Larbey. Having thoroughly enjoyed a few Larbey-penned series recently I can understand why. I have another series of his in mind to watch in the near future.

    His approach to the business seems very grounded and healthy. It was good to hear a little about his other roles - Ben in Butterflies got mentioned more than once.

    He seemed genuinely perplexed by the success of the series in America because of how terribly British As Time Goes By is and because of the age of the cast. The Britishness, I suspect, is a large part of the appeal in that regard.
     
  17. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    It might surprise him to learn that a fair amount of us Americans tuned into ATGBbecause of HIM, and not just because of Dame Judi. He, like Penelope Keith, has starred in several Britcoms that were well-received here in America. We do tend to stick with actors we've enjoyed in the past, even if the scripts can...vary.

    Speaking of whom, have you run across PK and Geoffrey Palmer in Executive Stress? Those two have that same easy chemistry and affection you see with ATGB, though in their characters' cases this comes from having been married for 25+ years and having five kids :eek:. It is also noteworthy because they recast Palmer with Peter Bowles half-way through, creating a very different dynamic even when the premise had not changed. It would have been an otherwise head-scratching recast had it not been for Bowles's famous pairing with Keith in To the Manor Born. Still, it was like recasting Darrin on Bewitched.
     
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  18. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I suspect it might blow his mind a little bit to think he has a following across the pond. But in the best possible way.



    Executive Stress - much like The Good Life and Dad's Army - is a series I can remember watching very casually and very occasionally when it first aired. As I remember, I didn't enjoy the Peter Bowles episodes as much, though as you said there was the novelty of seeing Bowles and Keith working together once more.

    It's a series I plan to revisit in the not too distant.



    My next Britcom can be filed under this. ^
     
  19. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Geoffrey Palmer has completely charmed me once again in As Time Goes By, which gave me the urge to keep watching him. This time it's a series I remember enjoying hugely in the Eighties but haven't seen in many years. We've talked about one of the cars a little, now let's properly drop in on Ria and co. in...

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Butterflies came as a little bit of a shock after becoming so used to As Time Goes By. It has quite a different kind of voice. Don't get me wrong, I knew it would. I'm familiar with the series and with Carla Lane's work, but after the multi-strands and naturalistic performances in ATGB, Butterflies still felt a little artificial at first.

    It's many years since I've watched any Lane-penned stuff, and it jumped out at me how much her voice can be heard in the dialogue. ATGB made a true Bob Larbey fan of me. And perhaps that's telling. I adored properly immersing myself in The Good Life and As Time Goes By, but it's taken this long for Larbey's name to mean anything to me for the simple reason that the dialogue tends to be so subtle and natural it can almost go unnoticed. It's designed to be understated, to be part of the whole without being showy. Butterflies is almost the opposite. The dialogue is like a kind of poetry. One can't help noticing the use of words and phrases. They jump out and grab the attention. They're clever and they're less shy about letting you know it. To the point where the writing becomes a character of its own. In the first five episodes there have been a number of moments where I couldn't help thinking - in the most complimentary way - "that's so Carla Lane". It's almost at odds with itself. In essence it encapsulates the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the audience, but articulates them in ways that most wouldn't. Butterflies allows the viewer to think "I wish I'd said that", where As Time Goes By's tone leaves the audience reflecting "that's exactly what I said yesterday". Neither is more right than the other - they're just different styles.

    As expected in a series about a woman contemplating infidelity, the tone is very specific. In the wrong hands this could have gone horribly wrong. Ria and Leonard could have been extremely ugly and unlikeable. But that's not the case. With Ben the oppressor and Ria seeking emancipation, the series seems grounded in the very specific feminist movement of the time. As it is, the show's feminist angle - like Ria itself - seems to be at odds with itself. In one moment, Ria is speaking meaningfully about not wearing a bra. In another moment she is screaming out that she wants to be raped (not the only rape reference so far). There's no way much of this would fly today, which makes the series even more fascinating - like discovering lost voices in a time capsule and being equal parts fascinated and uncomfortable. As a viewer it's almost like having eaten the apple in Eden. From 2017, I can look back in mild horror and yet marvel at the freedom.

    As the primary voice of Lane, Wendy Craig's Ria seems somehow to embody everything that makes Butterflies different from As Time Goes By. While Geoffrey Palmer's grouchy Ben is essentially a young version of his ATGB character Lionel, the chemistry with Craig could not be more different to that with Judi Dench. Craig is whimsical and poetic. Almost theatrically so. Some of her delivery was almost like seeing a rural am dram with a middle aged housewife directed by her husband (could this be the intent, I wonder? Is it that clever?) That's from where my sense of artifice came in the first episodes. But then something happened… Ria had a phone call from Leonard in which he offered her a job (so offering her the freedom, liberation and adventure we'd come to know she craved so much). Leonard did all the talking. Ria simply listened. But the camera stayed on Craig's face and the subtlety kicked in. In the silence, all of Ria's soliloquys, outbursts and musings made sense. Everything she had been trying to say was written on her face. Simply, and in the space of a few moments, I understood Ria and connected with her in a meaningful way. There have been a couple of moments like this. They're the moments in which I can forget the clever words of the scripts and simply be with the characters. And they make it all worth investing in.
     
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  20. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Another Britcom I absolutely adored. :) I think a lot of what attracted me to this series' writing style is that it would never have been produced in the US. In the US, producers would tell Carla Lane she needed to "punch it up with more jokes" (sitcom) or make it into a drama and cut out the sense of humor entirely. Even today, network execs don't understand that life has both drama and comedy in equal measures. Unlike the rather ubiquitous Palmer, I don't think I've seen Wendy Craig in anything since.

    I look forward to your trip down memory lane.
     
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