EARLY DOORS. (2003-2004) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

EARLY DOORS. (2003-2004) WRITTEN BY CRAIG CASH AND PHIL MEALEY. THEME TUNE BY RODDY FRAME. STARRING CRAIG CASH, PHIL MEALEY, JOHN HENSHAW, RITA MAY, CHRISTINE BOTTOMLEY, SUSAN COOKSON, JAMES QUINN, PETER WIGHT, RODNEY LITCHFIELD, MARK BENTON AND LORRAINE CHESHIRE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I absolutely bloody love this under-rated Manchester-based sitcom, penned by Craig Cash, aka Dave Best from THE ROYLE FAMILY, and Phil Mealey. Okay, so it never managed to scale the dizzy heights reached by THE ROYLE FAMILY, but I think it’s just as warm-hearted and nearly every bit as funny. So there, lol.

It’s based in a rather scruffy, not very successful (just ask t’brewery; they’ll tell you) Northern English pub called The Grapes, in the early years of the New Millenium. No scenes are set outside this venue, just like in THE ROYLE FAMILY, in which all the scenes are set around the family couch or kitchen table.

Ken Dixon (played by the guy who also portrays Roger in THE ROYLE FAMILY) is the cuddly, overweight, middle-aged pub landlord, an infinitely likeable character, beset by doubts as to his own attractiveness and tentatively dipping a toe back in the dating pool after his wife left him.

He fancies the arse off his mature barmaid Tanya, and she reciprocates, so why the bleedin’ heck can’t the two of them get it together? A lack of clear and direct communication is quite obviously the problem here…

Ken is a devoted dad to his pretty step-daughter Melanie, and adores her as if she were his own, so it’s really sad when he has to hide his feelings of hurt and loneliness during her search for her ‘real’ dad. If Ken knew what a pillock this so-called ‘real’ dad would turn out to be, he might not be so worried…

Craig Cash and Phil Mealey play Joe and Duffy respectively, a real pair of winners who spend all their spare time side-by-side in the pub, sniggering about sex like a couple of schoolboys. Neither of them are particularly good husbands to their wives, especially the serial-cheating Duffy, and yet they’re both so likeable.

Duffy goes to pieces completely after his missus leaves him for a bloke who makes forty grand a year, but will a few weeks of eating nothing but tinned Fray Bentos pies and having no-one to wash and iron his work shirts for him put manners on him…?

I love the character of Tommy, an ancient widower who’s old enough to have lived through the war. Tight with money, he’ll accept free drinks gladly, unless they involve him in the buying of a round, his worst fear.

He’s been a regular at the Grapes for forty-two years, and, as long as he can stay on his own and not be inveigled into paying for a round, he might just make it to his fiftieth anniversary. He gives as good as he gets, slagging-wise, and might just have a kind heart underneath that gruff, crusty exterior.

Phil and Nige, the two coppers who pay Ken a visit every day while supposedly ‘on duty,’ are my favourite characters by far. They sit in Ken’s back room and drink his booze and smoke his cigars and regale him with tales of the great stuff they looted while an electrical store was being robbed.

Phil’s wife is divorcing him, and he happily tells Ken all about how he got a mate to break the antenna off her car to get back at her and how the same mate is going to slash her tyres ‘at t’weekend.’ Ken frankly doesn’t know what to say…

These crooked cops are so funny. They use the police walkie-talkie to phone for an Indian takeaway and they light up joints with total impunity in front of Ken. They freely distribute forged bank notes.

They steal porno videos from the station’s evidence locker and they rent them out to Ken and his customers. So that’s what happened to Blockbuster and X-traVision and t’like. It were those two what put ’em out of business.

They also skip work to go on the pub’s annual day out for male punters only, also known as ‘the big boys’ beano,where a strip joint to see a duo of sisters called ‘Twin Cheeks’ is the highlight of the day.

The corrupt and lazy pair talk freely about how it’s pointless calling in the police when you’ve been burgled, because of how unlikely it is that the cops can catch anyone or get your stuff back, and, by the end of the two series, they’re openly flogging drugs to the young people at Melanie’s twenty-first birthday party. What’s this they say? ‘Crime can’t crack itself!’

There are so many great characters in EARLY DOORS. There’s also Ken’s lazy and manipulative but ultimately loving mother Jean, and her cleaning lady Winnie, with whom she enjoys a good old gossip, despite the fact that Jean’ll tell you to your face that she’s not one to gossip. My eye she’s not…

Eddie and Joan Bell are a mind-blowingly boring but happily married couple. Debbie is a friend of Tanya’s who’s always kind enough to purchase coke and crisps for her two kids, whom she leaves outside the pub in the car while she’s in for a pint. Janice is looking for a Baby-Daddy for the child she may have conceived during a knee-trembler in Ladbrokes’ doorway with Duffy, but will Duffy step up to the plate?

The humour in this show is so dry and witty and the characters so loveable that I can’t understand why this sitcom isn’t more popular wi’ folks. Okay, so some lines are a bit clunky and you can see ’em coming a mile off, but overall the writing here is top-notch. Craig Cash from THE ROYLE FAMILY was one of the two co-writers, after all, and Craig Cash knows funny.

I recommend EARLY DOORS for anyone who wants to remember an England when you could still smoke your charred and tarry lungs out in t’pub, mobile phones were only just beginning to be popular and there were still people alive who could clearly remember Winston Churchill, ration cards and VE Day.

There’s no online shopping, children still looked like children and not like little mini-clones of Kim Kardashian, and reality television was only in its infancy. That’s the England I want to remember. EARLY DOORS encapsulates this period perfectly. Now, close them curtains, Ken, like a good lad, and who’s for a lock-in…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

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