The Great British Sitcom: "No - Honestly"

Mel O'Drama

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The final 1978 special felt a little anticlimactic in a number of ways.

The big plane sequences were enjoyable, but quite prolonged and they felt too impersonal. All other stunts have been most impressive because one can see Crawford getting stuck into them whereas in these, even if he were flying the plane himself (which I don't think he was) there's no way of knowing that. It could have been second unit for all I know. The better scenes were earlier in the episode where he first put Biggins off his flying lesson (Biggins's second episode - he was earlier in the team building episode where he got covered in food at least once) and then returned to sign up for his lesson, complete with his excited "I need a wee" kind of leg movement ("Cramp, is it?", asked the instructor. "No. Spencer" was Frank's reply).

The malapropisms wore a little old for me. They seemed to appear quite suddenly in Series Three and so felt slightly out of character to me. Likewise, his singing to Jessica - which reappeared in this last episode - felt more Michael Crawford than Frank Spencer, even though it was very charming to see Michael Crawford singing and keeping a connection with the child.

I noticed most Series Three episodes were "based on material provided by Michael Crawford" or some such wording. So I'm guessing he had far more input by this time.


There's a great deal of continuity, which is appreciated. And it's not overplayed, which is even better. Just two episodes after Betty announced she was pregnant, Jessica was born. It was just enough. Likewise, two episodes before the final episode Frank heard from his uncle in Australia, paving the way for the upcoming emigration and flying lessons.
I don't mind the "life goes on" endings of many sitcoms of the era and since, but with such tight continuity in many episodes, the felt the lack of a proper ending was a little disappointing.

Still - overall, Some Mothers... was a consistently enjoyable series.
 

Swami

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It was of course the precursor to Mr Bean in many ways although the latter was mostly silent and nowhere near as many stunts.

Swami
 

Mel O'Drama

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I rounded things off this evening with the 16 minute Sport Relief Special from 2016. Quite enjoyable, even though - not being a sporty person - I had very little idea who most of the special guests were. I did know Paul McCartney, David Walliams, Andy Murray and Boris Johnson (who makes a marginally better actor than he does PM). And I worked out who the cyclist was because they said his name about twenty times (and I've forgotten it already).

But I thought the tone was good overall in showing how Frank Spencer has grown into the twenty first century.
 

Swami

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Even though it was only a 16-minute production, it was still a brave thing to do to resurrect the character of Frank Spencer, inevitably there is a risk when bringing a previous hit back to the screen that the original loses its gloss a bit, but it worked out well.

One thing I would have loved to have seen, a Millennium special for instance or for Comic Relief, assuming all parties agreed to it, would have been a one-off return of Fawlty Towers, but to include hotel guests like Frank Spencer, the Trotters, Mr Bean, Norman Stanley Fletcher, Hyacinth Bucket.

To see Basil dealing with the likes of Hyacinth would have been good.

Alas, too many people no longer with us to make that happen.

Swami
 

Mel O'Drama

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Next up...




It's been a month of drama for me. First Tenko; then A Kind Of Loving. Both are period pieces, which makes Bless Me Father seem like a somewhat logical choice (even if I hadn't realised it had a period setting until I watched the first episode). Indeed, Bless Me, Father begins where Tenko Reunion left off: in 1950.

As might be clear, this is a new series to me. It went under my radar at the time it aired (I was very young when it began, but was certainly watching sitcoms like Robin's Nest by the time this series would have ended).

The thought of Captain Mainwaring meeting Jake Sanders is a little mind-boggling to me. But perhaps the bigger surprises came when I did a little search on Daniel Aberini and discovered (or possibly re-discovered) there's far more to him than his stint on Return To Eden. Indeed, he was playing Frank-n-Furter during Bless Me Father's run, and apparently would later cast Russell Crowe in his first professional stage role in The Rocky Horror Show (Wikipedia says it was his first professional acting role, but I'm sure he was paid for The Young Doctors, even if he was uncredited). I'll certainly be looking at him through different eyes when and if I re-watch Return to Eden. Watching him in these first two episodes, it seems like he hasn't yet blossomed. His round, rosy face is framed by ears that are permanently red. He's the picture of innocence. Which makes him perfect for this role. I wonder if this series will mark his journey into manhood.

The clerical setting is enjoyable. All Gas And Gaiters is on my viewing bucket list, and I presume would have been fresh in the minds of the audience at the time. How it compares is hard to say, since I've never watched All Gas And Gaiters. Somehow I feel that the earlier series would have been a little edgier and higher in energy. But that's mostly going on what I've seen (or heard) of Derek Nimmo. The brass band theme evokes that of Hallelujah! And the young priest's arrival in the first episode, and the locals' subsequent testing of him would be somewhat repeated in early episodes of The Vicar Of Dibley.

The sets are great. They feel established and the dark hues seem to cloak the series in atmosphere. My eyes are drawn to the windows with their net curtains, and the light coming through which looks very natural and cosy.

Arthur Lowe doing an Irish Catholic priest is interesting. He is inevitably completely recognisable as Arthur Lowe. Which is, of course, as it should be for the series' big draw. And he still sounds like Arthur Lowe. There's no mistaking that voice. I'm reminded of the Mr Men series, where he used regional accents for some of the characters, but never really sounded any different (that series was a firm favourite of mine when I was very young, and hearing Arthur's voice always transports me back to that time).

Gabrielle Daye as Mrs Pring nicely completes the regulars.

So far, I'm not laughing at the series. It's not very funny. One scene where Daniel Aberini tried to do broad physical comedy on thinking there was a mouse in the confession booth was just cringeworthy. But there's a heart to it. Watching characters, the sets and the twee little stories is like stepping into a comfortable pair of slippers and sitting down with a cuppa. It's not going to change my life, but it's a welcome little break from the trials of twenty first century life.
 

Daniel Avery

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So far, I'm not laughing at the series. It's not very funny.
Oh, I'm so glad you said that. My local PBS station bought this series to air in the late-1980s. Though I was game for just about anything British TV cranked out, I had to give up on this show after a few episodes for that very reason. :( I know some shows have a much more "gentle" sense of humor (relying more on interactions rather than jokes/punchlines) but I feared that maybe the humor was lost on me because of a culture barrier or something. The station only aired the series once, so maybe others realized it wasn't the kind of in-your-face funny that they expected/wanted.
 

Barbara Fan

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I dont think I have ever seen it and I couldnt have told you who was in it either (and i did like Arthur Lowe as Capt Mainwaring)
Hope it improves for you @Mel O'Drama xx
 

Mel O'Drama

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I had to give up on this show after a few episodes for that very reason. :(
Funnily enough I thought of you with one of the episodes I watched this evening.

Peter Bowles guest-starred. It was an interesting role for him. Instead of his usual upper class suave bounder type, he was playing a rough round the edges publican. Unsurprisingly, though he gave the Cockney twang a bit of a bash and his hair was nowhere as perfectly coiffed as usual, he was unmistakably Peter Bowles. If you stopped around episode 3 you may have missed him by one episode.

It's actually become more interesting now that a few more familiar faces are dropping by. The episode following Peter Bowles, Richard Bucket himself turned up. As did Derek Francis - a character actor who it feels like was in practically every British production of the Sixties and Seventies.



I know some shows have a much more "gentle" sense of humor (relying more on interactions rather than jokes/punchlines) but I feared that maybe the humor was lost on me because of a culture barrier or something.
This is definitely one of the more gentle ones. I do find this kind of tone quite comforting, and now that I'm getting into the rhythms of the series (six episodes, which is pretty much the first series) I'm finding the humour a little more. It was given a second and third series, so I'm guessing there were a number of people who enjoyed it (or at least watched it).



Hope it improves for you @Mel O'Drama xx
Thanks BF. I think it's starting to click with me. I'm almost a third of the way through now so it won't take long. But we'll see how long it feels. :D
 

Mel O'Drama

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Funnily enough I thought of you with one of the episodes I watched this evening.

Peter Bowles guest-starred.
And Geoffrey Palmer appeared in a Series Two episode as a funeral director, helping out with a burial at sea (hilarity ensues). Naturally, he was perfect for this sombre-but-slightly-mercenary kind of character.
 

Mel O'Drama

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The third and final series of Bless Me, Father came to a quiet but passable end this evening.

How I felt about it after the first few episodes is still true at the end. It did what it said on the tin, and gave me some quiet 25 minutes of enjoying character.

Arthur Lowe was solid enough, doing his typical Arthur Lowe thing. His Irish accent came and went, but that's all part of the charm. Daniel Aberini seemed to improve as the episodes went by. I'm sure his stint in The Rocky Horror Show didn't hurt his comic timing at all.Gabrielle Daye had a wonderful scene stealing quality in each episode. Mrs Pring's sarcastic little barbs towards Father Duddleswell were great fun. And the recurring characters that emerged with Billy Buzzle, Reverend Mother Stephen and Doctor Daley were equally enjoyable.

Probably one for hardcore British sitcom fans or Arthur Lowe aficionados. But one I'm glad to be able to say I've now seen in full.
 

Mel O'Drama

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A couple of nights ago I watched half the episodes in The Galton & Simpson Comedy set.



There are only six in total, after all. And with each being self-contained, they're so easy to dip into. Curiously enough, I watched the Leslie Phillips episode The Suit on the evening after reading Leslie's comments about filming it in his autobiography (which I seem to have been reading for about a month due to a combination of busyness and poor concentration). Apparently it led to the later series Casanova '73, which featured his own car. I see that series is on DVD, so may have to dip into that at some point.
 

Mel O'Drama

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The Galton & Simpson Comedy has proved very enjoyable and I thought some of it impressively risqué for the 1969 transmission.

The Suit is essentially about a man having his clothes stolen while shagging his mistress only for them to be returned to his wife (I can see why Mary Whitehouse's humourless group would have had it in for Casanova '73).

Friends In High Places is about a man who is suddenly decades younger and so unrecognisable even his daughter takes a fancy to him. He leaves his wife for greener pastures and is promptly killed by showboating on a bus. Bob Monkhouse is great fun as the man in question (even if his bald cap is a bit iffy in the first part). With his Cockney accent I thought it was Warren Mitchell at first.

Never Talk To Strangers is perhaps the most poignant of the six. Rosemary Leach, who I recently watched in Sadie, It's Cold Outside is one of those people who seems to be able to elicit audience empathy freely.

Don't Dilly Dally On The Way feels like it could easily have gone to a series. Pat Coombs is the woman so attached to her house she locks herself in the bathroom on moving day and refuses to leave, even when the newlyweds move in. Her bolshy husband insists on staying, brings his sleeping bag and pushes his way into the newlyweds' first dinner with the parents. It's great to see Jacki Piper - around the time she'd have been shooting her first Carry Ons - as the young bride (her new hubby is David Jason). Naturally, the newlyweds quickly discover they've been ripped off when they discover woodworm, damp, and the like. When Pat is eventually guilted into leaving and they leave to go to their new home, the twist is that they've moved to the house next door. Which, in hindsight, makes older hubby sending the young couple to the woman next door - presumably the other side of the house - to use her bathroom even funnier.

Pity Poor Edie... Married To Him and An Extra Bunch Of Daffodils share a common theme of work-shy men trying to live off women. Pity Poor Edie has Gwendolyn Watts - Charles Hawtrey's pregnant wife from Carry On Doctor - pregnant again. Which means a possible end to her supporting hubby Milo O'Shea's gambling habit. What's more, she tells him he might not be the father. He leaves her, but returns after their doctor forgets the Hippocratic oath and tells him that wifey is expecting a multiple birth which could make them famous. He ropes in lots of sponsorship from Cow and Gate or whatever, and the money offers come flooding in. The twist here, as seen when we see the six babies, is that the father is clearly black (it was hinted at a couple of times, so wasn't a great surprise. But still I wonder what '69 audiences would have made of it).

Daffodils has Stratford Johns trying to bump off yet another Carry On redhead - Patsy Rowlands. We see him placing flowers on multiple graves of his wives, all of whom have died very young and all in recent years (in a nice touch, only the name and dates are different. There's also a nice running gag through the episode where each time he references his late wife he uses a different name. The headstones and inscriptions are identical). There he literally bumps into Patsy, who is tending her husband's grave, and is attracted by her enormous brooch. He persuades her to reluctantly accompany him for a drink where he roots through change to pay for the drinks (hers is a large. His is a small, as he whispers to the bartender). When she insists on buying the next round and produces huge bundles of notes, his mouth waters and it's two larges and an expensive cigar. Next thing, they're married and he asks her to sign a life insurance form for her peace of mind in case something should happen to him. When she is reluctant, he says he'll also take one out on her. Once signed, however, she refuses to eat the mushrooms he's specially picked for her. And she doesn't like the idea of the juice he's prepared. When she develops a cold, he makes them a milky drink and adds powder to hers. Next thing, he's dead and buried and she's placing daffs on his grave, and then many other graves at the cemetery. They're two of a kind. It's just she's better at it than him.


As with Playhouse, which I last watched some years ago (and which kick-started my British sitcom jag), I'm in admiration of the witty writing. It's both poetic and relatable. And quite cynical at times, which I enjoy. It's reminded me that Hancock's Half Hour is on my viewing bucket list. Except the series doesn't seem to be readily available on DVD.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Next up on O'Dramavision is another series that's brand new to me.



John Alderton and Pauline Collins appearing together on the cover of No - Honestly makes me smile. Just because they've made so many series together it almost feels like a punchline in itself. Just like Dennis Waterman's "write the theme tune. Sing the theme tune" penchant was tailor made for Little Britain to rib on a regular basis.

Before diving in to buying the DVD set, I took a peek at the clip on their official YouTube channel. And even then I wasn't sure what to make of it.


Is it a sketch show? A sitcom? A series of flashbacks? I suppose the answers would be "No", "Yes" and "Kind of". The straight to camera stuff "present day" stuff is only a minute or two at the start and end of each episode, remembering a specific event in their dating history. Besides that it's a straight up sitcom, set a decade or so earlier. And follows a linear story as well. The remembrances so far are chronological. They remembered meeting in the first episode; the aftermath of an early date in the second; and C.D. meeting Clara's father in the third.

The staging of the "main" sitcom is exactly my cup of tea. Long scenes which are mostly one-to-ones between the couple (the second episode spent much time with the two of them sitting in a car and talking). And guest actors are well-cast. Geoffrey Hughes was in the second episode (this would have been right before his Corrie debut). And the actors playing Clara's eccentric father and his haughty butler (naturally C.D. thought the father was the butler, and vice versa) were spot on.

The premise and tone of the series reminds me very much of The Lovers. I was actually a little surprised to see this wasn't written by Jack Rosenthal. The writers Charlotte Bingham and Terence Brady are also a husband and wife team who share many credits so perhaps this is partly autobiographical. I wasn't familiar with them, though I've seen some of the stuff they've written, perhaps most notably their later series Pig In The Middle starring Liza Goddard, who also appeared in the sequel to this very series: Yes, Honestly (which sadly seems to be out of print).

Despite their many appearances together, I'm not sure I've seen Alderton and Collins together before. The former is most familiar from my recent watch of Please, Sir! The chemistry works well between them and they bounce well off each other, which I'm sure isn't something that can be guaranteed even with a husband-wife team. Pauline Collins in particular is very watchable. On paper her performance sounds terrible: there's a lot of big-eyed ingenuity and ditziness and her dialogue is riddled with malapropisms. Exactly the kind of stuff that can get on my nerves or seem somewhat cheap. But it's actually genuinely funny and even endearing to hear her refer to Charles's suit as his "whistle and pears". And I must confess that C.D.'s explanation of the term "cobblers" (cobblers awls) was informative to me. I don't think I'd thought deeply enough to investigate that one.
 

Mel O'Drama

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No - Honestly came to an end this evening. It's been a fun little ride. And Pauline Collins in particular has been just wonderful. So funny in every quirky scene.

A favourite of the latter run of episodes was Clara taking up work as an extra in the penultimate episode. C. D. is an actor anyway, so she asked him to help her with a role play. And he suggested she was a good time girl in the old West. Pauline did this hilariously exaggerated side to side move with her hips as she walked then said "Hello sailor". When C..D. scoffed and reminded her this was the old West, she simply said "Hello sailor" again, but with an American accent. You had to be there, but Pauline's delivery had me laughing out loud.

Familiar faces in latter episodes included Aunt Lucy from Happy Ever After as Clara's auntie (what else?) and Corrie's Johnny Briggs as a car thief.

I've really enjoyed the series, and found myself feeling sorry there weren't more made. The ending was even acknowledged in the "to camera" spiel at the end, which makes me think everyone was aware there would be no more. Both were doing Wodehouse Playhouse for the BBC, which aired later in the year, so perhaps this is the reason. I wonder if that series is available on DVD. It looks interesting.
 
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