IT AIN’T HALF HOT, MUM. (1974-1981) A CLASSIC COMEDY SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

IT AIN’T HALF HOT, MUM. (TELEVISION SERIES: 1974-1981.)

WRITTEN AND CREATED BY JIMMY PERRY AND DAVID CROFT.

STARRING WINDSOR DAVIES, DONALD HEWLETT, MICHAEL KNOWLES, MICHAEL BATES, DINO SHAFEEK, BABAR BHATTI, MELVYN HAYES, DON ESTELLE, GEORGE LAYTON, CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL, JOHN CLEGG, STUART MACGUGAN, KENNETH MACDONALD AND MIKE KINSEY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Shuuuuuuuuuuuuut up!’

‘Don’t be such a silly arse!’

‘Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.’

‘Move yourselves, move yourselves!’

‘Land of hope and glory, mother of the free…’

‘Meet the gang ‘cause the boys are here, the boys to entertain you…!’

I bloody love this television series, one of the best and funniest I’ve ever watched and certainly the one with the biggest heart. The camaraderie, affection and even love between the characters and the actors who play them is just wonderful to witness, and the laughs and ridiculous shenanigans helped my kids and I through the rather grim months of April and May of 2021, the last uncertain days of Ireland’s third – and hopefully last- coronavirus lockdown.

The series will no longer be shown on television, as it doesn’t conform to modern standards of political correctness. It’s racist, sexist and homophobic, according to these modern standards, but it was the way people talked back then and we can’t pretend they didn’t.

My kids and I simply looked at each other and remarked, you couldn’t get away with that nowadays, whenever a character said or did anything outrageous by today’s standards, and then simply went back to enjoying the genuine laughs, jokes and witticisms with which the show is chock-a-block.

The show is set in Deolali, India, and then Burma, in 1945. The characters are soldiers in the British Army, but they’re soldiers with a difference. ‘They is a bunch of bloody poofs,’ as their largely intolerant Sergeant Major Williams would say, or, if you prefer, they are artistes in the concert party, putting on shows for their fellow soldiers to keep up morale and whatnot. Courtesy of ENSA, or the Entertainments National Service Association, or even ‘Every Night Something Awful,’ as screenwriter Michael Armstrong once rather wittily put it…!

The theme of Imperialism runs through the show, as the British are still occupying India for the first half of the series, and then the action moves to Burma after the war in Europe is technically over, but the Japanese seemingly never read the memo and are still fighting away until a certain bomb, lightly handled in the show, puts a definite stop to all that.

The concert party are somewhat privileged in that they are excused the usual duties of soldiers- fighting the enemy, being killed and sent home to Blighty in a box, etc.- in order to dress up as women and dance and perform variety acts and sing all the old show-tunes for the benefit of the demoralised British troops still in India and Burma.

Sergeant Major ‘Shut up!’ Williams, magnificently played by the barrel-chested Windsor Davies, is always bawling and screaming at them and trying to turn them into proper soldiers by means of rigid army discipline, drills, inspections and PT, but mostly he just despairs of them and their unseemly transvestism and ‘parading around dressed as tarts,’ as he so sensitively puts it.

 He loves ‘em too, though, deep down- very deep down- especially Gunner Parkins whom he suspects of being his son from a dalliance with an English bird twenty-something years ago. Gunner Parkins- ‘Parky’- is the concert party ventriloquist and resident comedian (not a very good one, mind) and has a fine pair of shoulders, bless him, and will really make summat of himself one day, what wiv ‘im being so good-looking an’ all.

Gunner- later Bombadier when ‘Solly’ Solomons gets demobbed back to England- Gloria Beaumont is the concert party’s producer and resident diva. He is effeminate and highly prone to ‘getting historical’ (‘I can’t take it anymore! Is there no end to this green hell?’), but apparently not a homosexual, despite the Sergeant Major’s frequent assertions, merely a transvestite who adores to dress up as Ginger Rogers…!

Lofty Sugden is the smallest and feeblest of the concert party, and is therefore the one who hilariously gets stuck with all the worst and most dangerous jobs. (‘Well, ta-ra then!’) He has a beautiful tenor singing voice, and is the pride of the concert party, next to Gloria’s show-stopping razzle-dazzle Busby Berkeley-style full costume numbers.

Gunner ‘Atlas’ Mackintosh is aggressively Scottish, and ‘a big butch hairy haggis,’ according to Gloria. He’s the concert party’s resident ‘strong man’ and tears telephone directories in half on stage. His funniest moment on the show is when he’s dressed as Marlene Dietrich and singing ‘Falling in Love Again’ in the most Scottish accent imaginable. ‘I cannae help it…’

Gunner ‘Nobby’ Clark does lovely bird impersonations and has a great face for comedy, especially when he’s pissed off or taking gentle(!) abuse from the Sergeant Major. Gunner ‘Nosher’ Evans does a paper-tearing act and his main hobby is eating.

‘Mr. La-di-dah Gunner ‘Paderewski’ Graham is ribbed and imitated mercilessly by the Sergeant Major for having a bald head and a super-posh voice due to his ‘university heducation,’ but sometimes he has good ideas that get the gang out of the crazy scrapes they find themselves in in every episode. If his ideas fail, well then, ‘bang goes that theory!’

The ‘hofficers’ next. Colonel Reynolds and Captain ‘Tiffy’ Ashwood are English toffs, basically kind-hearted but they consider themselves a cut above the soldiers and the Indian and Burmese ‘hoi-polloi’ and end each day with cocktails on the veranda.

When there’s a food shortage and they have to break into the maraschino cherries and olives to escape starvation, Captain Ashwood hilariously remarks, in the middle of the jungle, in a horrified voice, ‘what if someone pops round for drinks?’

Colonel Evans is splendidly embroiled in an extra-marital affair with the wife of a fellow officer who’s away in the Punjab. Tiffy, with a brilliantly affected posh voice to rival Gunner Graham’s, is a supposedly uxorious hubby who wouldn’t dream of being unfaithful to his wife Fiona, that is, until a particularly juicy ‘Chinese bit,’ as the Sergeant Major calls her, happens along…

The ‘hofficers’ are humorously portrayed as being work-shy, selfish, idle and cowardly. They go out of their way to avoid confrontations with the war-like Japanese, and they unashamedly pass all the dirty work onto the Sergeant Major, who lives for the Army and wouldn’t dream of shirking any duty, however unpleasant.

The English are definitely as much figures of fun as the Indian characters they look down on. In fact, the three constant Indian characters are constantly taking the piss out of ‘we British,’ and they get a good few clever little digs in about their imperialistic overlords. People only seem to see the racism directed against the ‘damned natives,’ but I’m telling you the so-called ‘coolies’ get their own back neatly at times. Racism is a two-way street, you know.

For the first five series, an Anglo-Indian actor, Michael Bates, portrays Bearer Rangi Ram, the Indian narrator of the series who ends each show on a piece of native wisdom. He was chosen for the part because he spoke fluent Urdu and had been a captain in the Gurkhas, and in any case the producers were unable to find a suitable Asian actor for the role.

Muhammad is the lovely, cuddly char wallah, which means he’s in charge of the tea, and Rumzan, the punka wallah, is responsible for pulling a string all day which turns a fan which keeps the officers cool in their quarters.

Yes, it’s a horribly demeaning job, and people often feel entitled to kick him as they pass by to gee him up a bit work-wise, but he’s dryly sarcastic and sees more and knows more than his dopey British overlords give him credit for.

His ‘thing’ is to speak fluent passages of Hindu ending with a pithy epithet in English that exactly sums up the situation ongoing in the army camp at the time. Who’s laughing at whom, exactly? I tell you, it’s a two-way street, this.

June Whitfield from the CARRY ON movies and ‘Nineties sitcom ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS plays the spicy little Captain Tollemache, the visiting welfare officer for the soldiers, in one very funny episode. It’s funny because she’s more interested in the welfare of a certain Captain Ashwood’s than in anyone else’s, lol, but the- mostly- faithful Captain Ashwood is horrified by her close attentions.

Apart from Daphne Waddilove-Evans, the pipe-chomping Colonel’s occasional love interest, and Ling Soo, the ‘Chinese bit’ – not my words!- that’s pretty much it for the women, except for the odd mention of Gunner Parkins’s ma, who was once the Sergeant Major’s sweetheart. Once being the operative word, if you know what I mean…

I’m glad I decided not to let feelings of political correctness stop me from enjoying this lovely, big-hearted comedy series. It was a different time, that’s all. They were men of the ‘Seventies making a show about men in the British Army stationed in India during the war. You’d have to expect some wildly colourful and even racist, sexist or homophobic cracks. Remember, the term ‘woke’ back then still referred to the time you got up. Don’t let it ruin your enjoyment of this excellent show.

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 Vampirology. 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:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

BLACK BOOKS. (2000-2004) A FANTASTIC SITCOM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

BLACK BOOKS. (2000-2004) CREATED BY DYLAN MORAN AND GRAHAM LINEHAN. WRITTEN BY DYLAN MORAN, GRAHAM LINEHAN, ARTHUR MATTHEWS, KEVIN CECIL AND ANDY RILEY.

STARRING DYLAN MORAN, BILL BAILEY AND TAMSIN GREIG.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘I ate all your bees…!’

‘Get back in the worm…!’

‘I only knew her as Ma…!’

‘I want a summer girlfriend.’

‘Military history is to your right…’

‘Have you got The Little Book Of Calm…?’

‘Half Iago, half Fu Manchu, all bastard…!’

‘I can’t help it. He looks like a horse in a man costume…!’

I bloody love this British sitcom. It’s the funniest thing since FATHER TED, which is no mere coincidence as, even though it’s the brainchild of Irish comedian Dylan Moran, it was co-created and co-written by Graham Linehan of FATHER TED.

Yes, yes, I know Graham Linehan is persona non grata at the moment because of things he has said about the transgender movement, but that won’t stop me from enjoying his best work.

BLACK BOOKS is hysterically funny. When I was watching it for the first time, it literally felt to me like discovering FATHER TED back in the ’90s.

When I saw the episode of FATHER TED in which Graham Norton as Fr. Noel Furlong exhorts a caravan-full of young people from the local youth club to start ‘Riverdancing’ and the caravan overturns with their efforts, I laughed till I cried. Not since discovering BLACK BOOKS during the 2020 lockdown has that happened again.

BLACK BOOKS, set in a scruffy London second-hand bookshop (so dirty, in fact, that it abounds with wildlife, a running joke), is the story of the interaction of three main characters in and around this bookshop.

Bernard Black, the proprietor, is ‘that grumpy Irish bastard’ who rarely moves out of his chair behind the desk in the shop. Bernard is to bookshops what Basil Fawlty is to hotel management.

He smokes, drinks and reads non-stop (except for the smoking, I thoroughly approve!), while seeming to hate every aspect of book retail: ordering, buying and replacing books, shop maintenance, book events, the customers. He hates the customers worst of all, and can often be seen throwing them willy-nilly out of the shop at short notice, or even getting them to ‘mind the shop’ while he nips out for a boozy lunch.

Manny Bianco, played by Bill Bailey who’s currently dancing up a storm in STRICTLY COME DANCING on BBC One, comes to work in the shop after accidentally swallowing ‘The Little Book of Calm’ which he purchased in Bernard’s shop.

Bernard desperately needs an accountant to help him to do his books, and Manny hates his current job in an office. Over the course of a drunken night out, Bernard offers Manny a job in the bookshop and a room over the shop to live in. Manny eagerly accepts…

Manny is a breath of fresh air around the shop. A free spirit who wears Hawaiian shirts and sandals, his long-haired and bearded Jesus-like appearance is constantly criticised and made fun of by the rude, anti-social Bernard, who’s of more conservative appearance.

After his first full day in the shop, Bernard fires poor Manny for getting on really well with the customers, selling loads of books and prettying up the shop. You can see what kind of establishment Bernard is trying to run here, can’t you…?

Bernard is persuaded to keep Manny on by Fran Katzenjammer, his best- and only- friend. She’s a thirty-something London woman set in the Bridget Jones mould, who owns the gift shop next door, THE NIFTY GIFTY, until it goes out of business and she’s cast once more into the job market.

Fran and Bernard may have slept together once, but have decided to bury that incident in the past and stay ‘just friends’ instead. Fran immediately takes to Manny as the third point in their newly-established triangle.

She’s not at all afraid to say what she thinks, and she’s the one who bangs Manny and Bernard’s heads together, figuratively speaking, though sometimes literally, when they’re having one of their many fallings-out and differences of opinion.

Manny dotes on Bernard and willingly slaves for him, but even slaves have their limits sometimes, like in the episode where Manny decides to ‘run away’ because of Bernard’s cruel treatment of him, and Fran and Bernard have to go down the cop-shop to report the disappearance of their ‘son…’

‘You could become a terrible event and happen to him…!’

Fran keeps the two lads hilariously updated on her dating woes and forays into the world of gainful employment, and both she and Manny together contrive to keep Bernard from slipping through the cracks of the shop into total anti-social ‘loner-ness.’

They’re good for each other, the three of them, although they enable each others’ smoking and drinking somefink rotten. Still, that’s not our problem, lol. We just want the laughs…!

I love the episode where Manny ‘betrays’ Bernard by going to work for Goliath Books next door and Bernard spies on him through a hole in the wall. Manny doesn’t stay there long, however, as his boss, Evan, brilliantly played by Simon SHAUN OF THE DEAD Pegg, is a tightly-wound control freak who wants Manny, horror of horrors, to shave off his beard and become a clone of Evan’s and his cookie-cutter staff…! Even Bernard won’t stand for that. The very idea! No-one tells Manny what to do but Bernard, lol.

I also love Julian Rhind-Tutt as the ‘charming,’ flowery-sentenced travel writer whom Fran and Manny worship but whom Bernard scathingly condemns as ‘Captain Pants…!’ ‘I bet I can open any page in this book and find a picture of him, sitting smugly on top of a Jeep…!’ (Before himself becoming ‘immolated’ behind a wall of said travel writer and explorer’s charm, of course.)

Other familiar faces that crop up in the sitcom include Annette Crosbie from ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE, Martin Freeman from everything ever made, Johnny Vegas as Fran’s corrupt landlord, Omid Djalili as a pornographic photographer and Rob Brydon. Graham Linehan pops up too in a couple of surreal, Father Ted-style cameos.

There are many more fantastic episodes (eighteen in all; six in each of the three series), for example, the one where Bernard and Manny co-write a children’s book together while Fran goes on a disastrous hen weekend but then have to destroy it because it’s ‘too good,’ or the one in which Manny’s annoying parents, Moo-Ma and Moo-Pa, come to stay with their son in the shop for a few days, and Bernard threatens to call the police if he gets so much as a whiff of ‘nonogenarian hanky-panky…!’ Oh, Bernard, you absolute crank, you.

I’ll leave you with Dylan Moran’s thoughts on real-life second-hand bookshops, which apparently he views as ‘doomed enterprises.’

Running a second-hand bookshop is a guaranteed commercial failure. It’s a whole philosophy. There were bookshops that I frequented and I was always struck by the loneliness and doggedness of these men who piloted this death ship.’

Ironically, I’ve always wanted to run my own second-hand bookshop. I think I’d feel really at home amongst the dust and tattered covers and hidden lives, waiting to be uncovered. But now I’m thinking I might just leave it…

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.

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.

THE MAGNIFICENT EVANS. (1984) A CLASSIC RONNIE BARKER SITCOM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

evans and rachel

THE MAGNIFICENT EVANS. (1984) WRITTEN BY ROY CLARKE. CREATED BY RONNIE BARKER. STARRING RONNIE BARKER, SHARON MORGAN, MYFANWY TALOG, WILLIAM THOMAS, DICKIE ARNOLD AND DYFED THOMAS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I was a bit bemused by this six-episode sitcom at first, as it seemed such a departure from what Ronnie Barker usually does, but then Ronnie Barker was an unusually gifted and talented individual who could play whatever character he put his mind to, so maybe there’s nothing so bemusing after all about his creating the persona of Plantaganet Evans, a true individual if ever there was one.

He’s a self-centred, egotistical Welshman living in Wales who takes photographs for a living, but he’s no common or garden snapper. Oh no. He’s an artist, an artiste, for whom conditions have to be ‘just so’ before he can click that shutter. Unappreciated in his time, like most geniuses(!), his business is largely unsuccessful, even though there’s plenty to photograph in such a beautiful spot.

Oh, and he does that old-fashioned photographer thing where he sticks his head under a black cloth before he takes the picture, so he’s clearly not using a crappy disposable camera from Boots in a plastic package, lol. He’d probably puke in rage at the thought of such cheap shoddiness…!

His appearance is extremely flamboyant, as befitting the true artiste. He favours big, wide-brimmed hats, big floppy bows in place of a tie, and velvet suits with a real handkerchief in the breast pocket. Very Oscar Wilde. He might even be wearing a smidgeon of black eyeliner for good measure. He’s also the local agent for a certain brand of Scandinavian wood-burning stove on the side, but he doesn’t make much dosh from that. We know this much because we see the defective stove in action, that’s why…!

So, with whom does he share his life, his home and his life’s work? The answer to all three is the attractive and much younger Rachel Harris, a Welsh lady with lovely curly hair who wears tight pencil skirts with fluffy angora cowl-necked sweaters in pale pastel colours. She journals daily about her life with the great man.

She used to work in the office of a haulage/heavy goods firm before Evans ‘rescued’ her and put her ‘in black stockings,’ having no use at all for the functional cotton underwear she used to favour when she worked in haulage.

Now she’s Evans’s photographer’s assistant and live-in housekeeper-cum-girlfriend-cum-all-round-Girl-Friday. She takes great pains to point out that ‘I have my own apartment,’ though, as she’s deeply uncomfortable at the idea of ‘living in sin’ with a man.

She longs for marriage, both as she actually loves the rascally Evans and also because she wants to formalise their living arrangements in the eyes of the ever-watchful community, but Evans is a commitment-phobic rogue who dangles the carrot of marriage over her head at all times, and always just tantalisingly out of reach.

So, basically, Rachel cooks and cleans for Evans, she runs his business and takes his bookings and she carts around his heavy photography equipment with only a little help from Practically Toothless Willie, Evans’s non-talking, alcoholic chauffeur-cum-handyman, who’ll ‘get the hang of it’ eventually.

She wears the sexy underwear he favours- he’s a leg man who adores the sight of a couple of shapely female pins in black stockings- but what does she ever get back in return? He’s stingy with the housekeeping (she frequently has to dip into her own savings to keep the house afloat) and he won’t commit to a wedding date, although he’s quite happy to be engaged indefinitely. Poor Rachel! She could be an old maid before the smug, self-satisfied git that is Evans ever gets round to naming the day.

Her judgemental, prudish sister Bronwyn and her prim and proper husband Probert, who works for the council, are the people who give Rachel the most trouble about ‘living in sin’ with Evans. They even try to get the new vicar involved at one point.

I love the conversation they have when they’re watching out their bedroom window one day as Rachel climbs awkwardly into Evans’s old-fashioned vintage motor car. The car doors don’t work, you see, so it’s a running joke that Rachel has to yank up her tight pencil skirt in order to climb over the sides, thereby flashing her black stockings and suspenders to all and sundry. Bronwyn heaves a huge sigh from across the street and says sadly: ‘I’m glad our old mum isn’t here to see this.’ ‘Where is she then?’ replies Probert. ‘At the hairdresser’s,’ deadpans Bronwyn mournfully…!

There’s more comedy in ‘the mad cyclist,’ and also in Olwin ‘Home Rule’ O’Toole, a fanatical Welsh ‘freedom fighter’ who loves Rachel and keeps trying to get her to leave Evans and go off with him. ‘I’d have married you in a heartbeat,’ he keeps declaring dramatically, but Rachel isn’t swayed, even though a bird in the hand is always worth two in the bush.

She’s holding out for the roguish scallywag Evans, despite the fact that he’s an incorrigible old flirt who openly eyes up anything in a black stocking, the disgraceful old codger. There are worse places to spend your life than on the delightfully quaint street where they live, on a pretty hill surrounded by the most picturesque Welsh scenery, but whether he’ll ever make an honest woman out of Rachel before either of ’em die is anybody’s guess. Why is he so averse to trying matrimony? I mean, it’s not that hard, surely? He’s bound to ‘get the hang of it’ eventually…

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

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

GOING STRAIGHT. (1978) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.©

going straight

GOING STRAIGHT. (1978) WRITTEN BY DICK CLEMENT AND IAN LA FRENAIS. STARRING RONNIE BARKER, RICHARD BECKINSALE, PATRICIA BRAKE, NICHOLAS LYNDHURST, TONY OSOBA, MILTON JOHNS, NIGEL HAWTHORNE, PETE POSTLETHWAITE AND FULTON MACKAY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Aw, I absolutely loved this follow-up to PORRIDGE, the hit sitcom that sees Ronnie Barker as habitual criminal Norman Stanley Fletcher, aka Fletch, being incarcerated in Slade Prison for his continued recidivism. He can’t say he wasn’t warned, lol.

GOING STRAIGHT sees Fletch leaving prison at last, and with a new determination to go straight for a change as well, brought about by the realisation that he’s already spent far too much of his adult life behind bars. He says goodbye to McLaren, the last of their gang on the inside, gets ‘checked out’ by Milton Johns and heads outside to civilian life.

Episode One sees him sharing the train home with his old nemesis from Slade Prison, Mr. MacKay, the tough-as-old-boots Scotsman whose aggressive adherence to rules and regulations has caused him to clash with Fletch on more than one occasion.

Fletch has an opportunity to get revenge on Mr. Mackay when a couple of criminals board the train looking for a ‘patsy,’ but he doesn’t go through with it. Deep down, I think the two men have always had a grudging respect and admiration for each other, and I for one am in floods of tears when they shake hands as equals, as men and friends, and go their separate ways at the end.

In Episode Two, we see Fletch having trouble adjusting to civilian life. His wife has upped and left him for a man named Reg, and his lovely blonde daughter Ingrid has more or less shacked up, in the family home, with a certain lorry-driving Lenny Godber, Fletch’s best mate from Slade Prison and his protegé as well.

Fletch took Lenny under his wing in Slade and helped him to adjust to prison life, while always having an eye to getting out, of course, and now here’s Lenny Godber indecently mauling Ingrid in front of Fletch’s very eyes. It’s very hard for poor Fletch to stomach, much as he will always have a soft spot for Lenny.

Shouldn’t he perhaps get a job, to help him re-adjust to society and life in Civvy Street? No flaming way! Not when he can ‘borrow’ Lenny’s articulated lorry so he can drive to the Essex countryside in the hopes of pulling a ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and digging up some moolah he buried there in another lifetime… Fletch complicates everything unnecessarily while kidding himself he’s actually in search of a simple solution, doesn’t he…?

Episode Three sees Fletch regain some of his faith in human nature when he helps a young runaway to get back onto the straight and narrow, and in Episode Four he actually- hallelujah!- gets a real job as night porter in the Hotel Dolphin, courtesy of his parole officer. He looks so smart in the suit he wears to work, and he takes such a real pride in the work he does there that it’s lovely to see. We’re all genuinely rooting for him to do well and not to slip back into crime.

Ingrid is so incredibly proud of him and Godber is too, and when Fletch brings home his very first pay packet in a small brown envelope, it’s a real day for celebration. That, and also a day for getting back from Fletch what he owes everyone. Even his lanky, grotty teenage son Raymond has his hand out for the share of Fletch’s earnings which is owed to him. Welcome to the real world, Fletch…!

Episode Five sees Fletch nearly losing his precious job over an imagined jewellery scam involving a young Nigel Hawthorne (YES, MINISTER), and in Episode Six he battles his old demons as he tries to earn money dishonestly to pay for Ingrid’s wedding to Godber.

Angry that his estranged wife and her fancy man are shelling out for a lavish reception while Fletch himself hasn’t a bean to contribute, he takes a job as lookout and getaway driver in a bank job. This could be the start of the slippery slope for Norman Stanley Fletcher. Will he take the easy money and risk prison, or will he turn his back on crime forever and live happily ever after with Ingrid and Godber? Our prayers are with you, Fletch…!

If poor tragic Richard Beckinsale had lived, there might have been another series or two made of this much-loved and superbly-written sitcom. As it is, these six episodes are extremely precious in more ways than one, and I look forward to learning them by heart myself in the years to come.

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

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

THE ROYLE FAMILY: ONE OF BRITAIN’S BEST SITCOMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

roylefamily christmas

THE ROYLE FAMILY. (1998-2000 and 2006-2012.) STARRING CAROLINE AHERNE, CRAIG CASH, SUE JOHNSTON, RICKY TOMLINSON, RALF LITTLE, LIZ SMITH, DOREEN KEOGH, PETER MARTIN, JESSICA HYNES, ANDREW WHYMENT, TOM COURTENAY, HELEN FRASER AND GEOFFREY HUGHES.

THEME MUSIC: HALF THE WORLD AWAY BY OASIS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such a genius sitcom. It’s warm, hilariously witty, down-to-earth and the genius part is that it’s based on such a simple premise, ie, a bunch of working-class folks from Manchester sitting round on a family couch in front of the telly, just talking shite-talk to each other.

‘Whatcher ‘ave for your tea, Dave?’ and ‘You’ll never guess who was in’t Chinese last night?’ Stuff like that, the shite-talk we talk with our families and friends every day. It might not be earth-shattering, but it’s the stuff of which everyday life is made up.

Caroline Aherne as Denise Royle is pure comic genius. Denise is lazy in the extreme, which means that she and her work-shy Dad Jim Royle are like two peas in a pod. She chain-smokes and she can sink a pint as well as her dad and her hubby Dave, and she’s not one to let impending marriage and motherhood tie her down. ‘I’ve gotter keep me independence, Mam…!’ (How many times does she palm them kiddies off on ‘er mam and dad…?)

Dave, a removals man and sometimes-disc jockey, is completely under Denise’s thumb. If he has any ambitions in life beyond slouching on the Royles’ couch eating one of Denise’s mam’s bacon butties, he keeps it well hidden. (Well, Denise doesn’t feed him, lol. That’s apparently not part of her remit as Dave’s missus…!)

He enjoys a pint or fifteen of a night, down the Feathers with his main man Jim Royle, and if he should happen to bump into his ex there, Beverly Macca with the great big knockers, well, he’d best keep schtum about it, that’s all, or Our Denise’ll ‘ave his testicles for ping-pong balls. She will an’ all, our Dave…!

Our Mam, or Barbara Royle, is like Marge Simpson from The Simpsons. She medicates her brood with food, an endless assembly line of grub to cork their cryholes, everything from the aforementioned bacon butties to a Christmas dinner big enough to feed all outdoors to a Kit-Kat or a Bounty bar with your cup of char.

She didn’t exactly draw James Bond or Prince Rainier of Monaco in the lottery of marriage, but she seems to be holding up okay under it. She loves her kids and grand-kids and a bit of gossip, but some of her hubby Jim’s grottier habits turn her stomach, and no wonder.

Jim is a character. His armchair in the family living-room is his throne, and from here he holds his court, and holds forth also, on every subject under the sun. And, to every subject under the sun, from having to pay 5p for a plastic carrier bag at the shops to Dave’s dad’s owning a Ford Mondeo, he says ‘My arse…!’ It’s sort of his catch-phrase, if you will. When he opens his wallet, the Queen declares a Bank Holiday, and he’ll have to be buried with his TV remote control, it means that much to him.

Antony Royle, aka Our Ant’ny, is Jim’s son and heir, though you wouldn’t think it, the abuse Jim gives him, calling him gayboy and Lurch from the Addams Family and yeh lazy sod and yeh lazy git and get up there and make yer sodding family a brew…! But Our Ant’ny will grow up to be, of the two Royle offspring, the more successful and dynamic, ending up going to conferences in Congleton and other such high-flying places, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jim Royle.

If you enjoyed Big Brother in the 2000s, you’ll love Our Ant’ny’s impersonations of Craig Phillips, the winner of series one of the show, nominating fellow contestant Sada in the diary room scenes. Our Ant’ny’s a big Ali G fan too, and he and his hilariously funny dopey mate Darren, aka Kirk Sutherland from Coronation Street, have great craic outdoing each other with their classic imitations of same. ‘You is da king of the batty men…!’ Yes, indeed, harrumph, harrumph.

Norma Jean Speakman, or Nanna Royle, is a canny old dear. When she practically strips her dear dead friend Elsie’s house of ‘a few bits’ that she has her gimlet eye on after the funeral, you can see why Liz Smith was asked to play Mrs. Dilber in not one but two screen versions of Charles Dickens’s perennial favourite story, A Christmas Carol…! Still, she gives Our Ant’ny three pounds when he goes up to London for the day to be a big music mogul, so she can’t be all bad.

Norma and her son-in-law Jim fight like cat and dog, but they love each other really, as we see in the truly gut-wrenching special episode The Queen of Sheba in which… gasp, sob, sniffle… Nanna Dies. And this is meant to be comedy, lol…! Remember when Nanna asks her daughter Barbara back in 1999 if she (Nanna) is definitely ‘staying over for Minnelium Night…?’ It’s one of my most enduring memories of the late ’90s and early ‘Noughties.

Mary and Joseph (Mary and Joseph, lol!) from next door are always popping in the back door, Irish Mary to swap bits of gossip with Barbara and to ‘have a bit of a sniff around to see if she can smell anything untoward’ after Dave treks dog muck in on his shoe, and the monosyllabic Joe to make such magnificent pronouncements as ‘A little baby…!’ when Denise announces that herself and Dave are expecting a visit from the Stork.

Mary and Joseph’s one child, their daughter Cheryl (not Jesus!), is always unsuccessfully on a diet, always hungry and always stuffing her face. She’s always on the hunt for a bloke too. That time she tries putting an ad in the personals and Lomper from The Full Monty, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and a tie, ends up on the Royle family couch between Cheryl and a practically prone Our Denise so that the Royles can give him the once-over is so pricelessly funny. Uncomfortable is not the word.

My favourite character is Twiggy. A big bear of a man with a heart of pure gold, he can sell you anything in the world your little heart desires, but just give him some time to rob it first, right? He only sees his son Lee when they both end up in the same nick together at the same time and, if there’s any free grub going round at his great mate Jim’s house, you can be sure that Twiggy’ll be first in line. ‘Our Ant’ny, put some bacon under for Twiggy, would you?’

The Royles do Christmas so well. It’s that kind of magical Christmas from the ’90s and the 2000s when mobile phones were still a novelty and shops, horror of horrors, did occasionally close and allow families some time to veg out on the couch together and watch The Snowman while pigging out on turkey sandwiches and Quality Street.

Back then, of course, Quality Street choccies came in a proper tin. A tin, mark you, and none of this plastic tub or even plastic pouch shite. Pouch, my arse…! Sigh. Don’t even get me started on how much our favourite sweets and chocolates have changed since the ’90s.

My two favourite episodes are Christmas ones. One is the one where Emma, Our Ant’ny’s preggers girlfriend, brings her well-to-do parents round to meet the Royles one Crimbo Night, and everyone ends up goggling at the breast implants that Roger (John Henshaw) has bought for his blonde wife, Valerie (Sharon Duce).

Nanna develops quite the girl-crush on Valerie, but she’s really curious to know first if the airline’s advised Valerie if her new titties have been cleared for take-off. Then, when it’s pull-a-cracker time, Nanna was ‘hoping for Valerie’ to be her cracker buddy. It’s just so funny.

Then, finally, there’s my favourite episode of all, the one where Denise goes into labour at Christmas-time and everyone rushes off down the ‘ospital with her. The camera pans round the empty living-room, empty of people but full of Christmas, with the lights and the tree and the cards and the telly and the couch.

That heavenly couch ‘upstairs’ has quite a few Royle behinds settled on it by now, sadly. The wonderful Caroline Aherne, Liz Smith, Doreen Keogh and Geoffrey Hughes are all deceased now. No doubt they’ll be joined by other cast members in the fullness of time. We’ll always have our memories of them, and the three series and four Christmas specials of this magnificent sitcom that captured so brilliantly the essence of the ’90s and the new ‘minnelium.’ All together now: Sitcom, my arse…!

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

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

PORRIDGE. (1974-1977) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Porridge-619612

PORRIDGE. (1974-1977) WRITTEN BY DICK CLEMENT AND IAN LA FRENAIS (WRITERS OF AUF WIEDERSEHEN PET, THE LIKELY LADS, LOVEJOY). STARRING RONNIE BARKER, RICHARD BECKINSALE, BRIAN WILDE AND FULTON MACKAY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence… You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences. You will go to prison for five years.’

‘Ronnie Barker will be remembered for Fletcher in PORRIDGE long after everything else he was in has faded from memory.’ DAILY EXPRESS.

This comedy series set in an English prison is just so good, I’m genuinely gutted that I can never again watch it for the first time with new, excited eyes. I’ll be re-watching it, however, hopefully many times, and I’ll remember it till my dying day as possibly the best, funniest and also the most warm-hearted and true-to-life sitcom I’ve ever seen. Gorblimey, I’m tearing up here. Whatever would Fletch say…?

Norman Stanley Fletcher, better known as Fletch, is a petty criminal whom the Beak is sick and tired of having up in front of him, charged with yet another offence involving thieving or fraud. This time, Fletch is hit with a good stiff sentence… five years in Her Majesty’s Slade Prison, a fictional nick up North somewhere, Cumberland I think, surrounded by moors and suchlike, so escape won’t exactly be an easy option.

Fletch is a hard-as-nails, tough-as-old-boots old lag from the big smoke. Muswell Hill in London, to be precise. Every sentence ends with ‘intcha?,’ as in, aren’t you? and ‘an’ all,’ as in, as well, too, also.

He’s perpetually chewing gum, he doesn’t react with any surprise to the things he hears and sees in the nick because he’s seen and heard it all before, and he’s got his own rather skewed sense of morality. It’s okay, for example, for Fletch to nick a tin of pineapple chunks from the kitchen, but the lag who in turn steals the tin from Fletch is the lowest of the low, innit?

This time round, Fletch has a new young cellmate called Lenny Godber, played by the dreamily handsome Richard Beckinsale who was tragically dead of heart failure by the age of thirty-one.

Fletch, rather grudgingly at first, takes Lenny under his wing, but the two soon find themselves to be friends for life, partly cemented by the confidences they exchange in the wonderful two-handed episode in Series One called ‘A NIGHT IN.’

As well as being drop-dead gorgeous, Lenny is surprisingly thoughtful, insightful and sensitive for a house-breaker serving his first sentence. He’s got an unusually wide vocabulary for a con and a philosophical turn of mind, and he uses the prison’s training programmes and courses of study to better himself.

When Fletch kindly arranges to steal the History O Level Exam papers for a nervous Lenny, Lenny has no trouble deciding that he wants to pass the exam the honest way. Which is just as well because Fletch’s man Warren, dope that he is, has only gone and nicked the wrong bleedin’ paper, ‘asn’t he? Much good the Biology papers will be in this instance.

Fletch doesn’t understand Lenny’s constant quest for self-improvement. He personally just wants to do his time in peace and quiet, if anyone will ever let him. He particularly just wants to lie on his top bunk with the Page Three Stunna of the day and have himself a nice time, nudge nudge, wink wink. Let’s just hope the visiting party from the Home Office have the manners to knock before they enter his bloomin’ cell, lol.

Mister Mackay, or ‘Scotland the Brave,’ is Fletcher’s nemesis, a screw who’s firm but fair. In his own words, he holds all the lags in equal contempt…! Getting one over on Mr. Mackay, whose exaggerated accent and gestures are almost criminally funny, is probably the thing that brings Fletch the most pleasure in life inside.

You see, the little victories Fletch manages to wring from Mackay in particular and the prison system in general are what makes life behind bars bearable. Look out for Fletch’s hilarious description of how the terminally regimented Mr. Mackay has sex with his wife. Bellows: ‘Stand by your bed…! One, two, three… knickers down… NOW…!’

Mr. Mackay has a foil, of course (for every bad cop there’s a good cop), in the form of the nervous, rather jittery but undoubtedly kind-hearted Mr. Barrowclough. He’s a progressive thinker who believes that the men in his care are there to be rehabilitated and treated as human beings rather than lowlives for whom there’s no hope. Mr. Mackay thinks Barrowclough is for the birds because of such forward-thinking and modern ideas.

Of course, Barrowclough’s lovely good nature means that he can be easily taken advantage by Fletch and the other lags, but it’s nice to see as well that not every screw thinks that the prisoners are irredeemable scum who should all be locked up and the key thrown away for ever.

Poor Mr. Barrowclough has a miserable home life courtesy of his domineering wife Alice, so much so that he often wishes, as he tells Fletch, ‘that I were in here wi’ you lot…!’ Fletch’s skills as a marriage guidance counsellor are in great demand, not just with Mr. Barrowclough but also with the other lags, so much so that everyone’s in shock when it transpires that Fletch’s own wife has left him for another man… or has she…?

Other characters include: Ingrid (Patricia Brake), Fletch’s sexy blonde daughter who comes in on visiting days with ‘unfettered knockers,’ much to the other prisoners’ interest; and Mr. Geoffrey Venables, the posh prison governor whose ivory tower existence away from the crims of Slade Prison renders him ineffectual at dealing with most crises; after all, when Jim McLaren (Tony Osoba), the black angry Scottish bloke, is up on the prison roof after a scrap at the footy match, it’s down to Fletch to talk him down. McLaren, an orphan, was found as a baby ‘up a side-alley wrapped in the Glasgow Herald.’ Just like a bag of chips, the poor lad. No wonder he couldn’t go straight.

Then there’s the ‘genial’ Harry Grout (Peter Vaughan), the most powerful prisoner in Slade prison and the least genial bloke you’re likely to meet. He even gives Fletch the willies. He never goes anywhere without his muscle man for back-up and, if Grouty wants a favour, you’d damn well better do it, or else you might just get your face re-arranged… and all for free an’ all…!

Alun Armstrong (THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER, DAVID COPPERFIELD, BLEAK HOUSE) has a cameo as a Geordie con called Spraggon, a former illiterate who’s now writing his first book. Maybe a tin of snout will release his Muse? Dudley Sutton from LOVEJOY plays Reg Urwin, a prison trustee who wants a helicopter out of Slade and ten grand in used notes. Hang on a minute, Reg, and we’ll see what we can do…!

Christopher Biggins plays the cuddly kitchen trustee Lukewarm, surely the first openly gay character on British television? David Jason (OPEN ALL HOURS, ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES, A TOUCH OF FROST), brilliantly made up as an auld fella, plays crafty old Blanco, Lukewarm’s cellmate, who’s been inside seventeen years for topping his wife.

He swears he’s innocent, however, does old Blanco, and so Fletch and the lads set up a campaign to prove said innocence. Shame they’re wasting their time. He may not have offed the wife, but he’s definitely guilty of summat, all right, the cunning old lag…!

The box-set I own has all three series of the show on it, plus two cracking little Christmas specials and an hour-long documentary, presented by Johnny Vaughan, about how great the show is and why it just might be Britain’s Best Ever Sitcom. I have no problem with any of that, lol.

I’ll leave you with Fletch’s invaluable three-pronged piece of advice for any new inmates to Slade Prison, with which, by the way, Mr. Mackay doesn’t altogether agree: One, bide your time; Two, keep your nose clean and your head down; and Three… (altogether now!)… DON’T LET THE BASTARDS GRIND YOU DOWN…!

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

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

OPEN ALL HOURS. (1976-1985) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

open all hours

OPEN ALL HOURS: THE COMPLETE SERIES 1-4. (1976-1985) CREATED AND WRITTEN BY ROY CLARKE. STARRING RONNIE BARKER, DAVID JASON AND LYNDA BARON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘G-G-G-Granville, f-fetch your cloth…!’

‘You can’t move around here for grocers in your bosom.’

This is the warmest, nicest and funniest television I’ve watched all year. It’s really and truly the best of British in the sitcom line. My only regret is that I didn’t discover it sooner. It’s the story of Arkwright’s Corner Shop and all who sail in her, namely Albert E. Arkwright the grocer, his n-n-n-nephew Granville and Arkwright’s state-registered lady love, one Nurse Gladys Emanuel, who lives over ‘t’ road.

Arkwright has three aims in life. One, fleecing his customers of every possible half-penny and sending them home with much more than they came in for. A slice or two of bacon? Well, why not buy a nice hand-mirror, antique clothes horse or out-of-date packet of Jamaica ginger cake to go with that, my love? The customers leave, bemused, time after time, gobsmacked at the way that the sneaky, unscrupulous Arkwright has managed to part ’em from their hard-earned cash.

Two, preventing his curly-headed, constantly daydreaming nephew, Granville, from discovering a life outside their cosy little Yorkshire shop. Granville yearns for a woman, for the bright lights and clamour of the local disco, for foreign travel and Chinese architecture and a yacht on the Riviera and the finer things in life, but how the heck is he supposed to achieve any of these exotic delights when the shop opens in ‘t’ middle of ‘t’ night, namely, at sun-up, and doesn’t shut till nine o’clock at night…?

Three, breaking through the fortress of ample bosom that is Nurse Gladys Emanuel to her softer inner core without getting one of her nifty left hooks, although getting stuck in the outer bosom would suit Arkwright (and Granville!) just fine, come to think of it. They could set up shop in her splendiferous frontage without any hesitation whatsoever, it’s so nice and warm and comforting there.

Nurse Gladys Emanuel, Arkwright’s betrothed, with her fabulous head of burnished red-brown hair, is one of those old-fashioned visiting nurses who’d drive round her little parish seeing to different patients. Changing a bandage on an old lady’s wound, checking on a newborn baby and its poorly mum, seeing that a bedridden old gent has managed to eat something after his operation, stuff like that. The travelling nurse is very much part of Britain’s distant past. I enjoyed hugely having that lovely nostalgic element included in the show.

Gladys Emanuel, played by the magnificent Lynda Baron, is a fine figure of a woman. No skinny little young one she. On the contrary, she’s broad in the beam with more front than Blackpool, and it’s no wonder the lovestruck Arkwright risks climbing a ladder at his age to catch a glimpse of her famous frontage leaning out of a window in her negligée. She won’t marry Arkwright until her never-seen mum no longer needs looking after, and Arkwright’s just going to have to knuckle down and wait.

Nurse Gladys is worth waiting for, though, as Arkwright well knows. She’s a woman any man would be proud to call his own, warm and good-humoured with a ready laugh. It’s brilliant, though, the way she slaps away his groping hands time after time and always has a cutting quip lined up that’s guaranteed to put him back in his box.

She’s determined to get him to spend a few quid as well, which for a man as stingy and parsimonious as old Arkwright is like pulling teeth without anaesthetic. Good luck getting Arkwright to prise open the old Oxo tin that holds his precious takings, Nurse Gladys Emanuel. If anyone can do it, you can!

There’s a running joke in the show about Granville, who’s of uncertain parentage, being part-Hungarian. Arkwright’s quite cheeky about his own sister, Granville’s long-deceased mum, having been of loose morals, flinging her knickers to the four winds whenever anyone asked her to.

Granville isn’t altogether averse to being part-Hungarian. It appeals to the part of him that yearns for excitement, glamour, mystery, bright lights; anything, in fact, that takes him away from the mundanity of pricing tins of carrots and pushing the old shop-bike loaded down with deliveries up yet another poxy hill in the rain…!

Arkwright’s Super-Stores is the housewives’ choice for sure. Kathy Staff (LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE) was bloody hilarious as the plain speaking Mrs. Blewitt in the earlier episodes. Stephanie Cole as the Black Widow, aka Mrs. Fer-fer-fer-fer-fer-Featherstone, did duty as the Resident Cranky Auld One in the later episodes.

Liz Dawn, Vera Duckworth in CORONATION STREET, had one line in a very early episode. Him off THE BILL (Eric Richard) played a cameo role once as a man trying to flog a washing machine to Arkright. Good luck with that one, mate. He’ll want cheaper than what you’re offering, you mark my words. Teddy Turner (CORRIE, EMMERDALE) also had a small role. Barbara Keogh (Lilly Mattock from EastEnders) was Mrs. Ellis.

Maggie Ollerenshaw played the ditzy, terminally indecisive Mavis, or did she? I can’t quite make up me mind! Paula Tilbrook (Betty Eagleton from Emmerdale) was Mrs. Tattersall. Barbara Flynn played the Milk-woman who every morning delivered two pints and a pot of unrequited love to the head-over-heels Granville. I personally thought she was a bit of a tease. I don’t believe she had the slightest intention of ever letting Granville have the top off ‘t’ milk, the snooty little hussy. She were only leading ‘im on, she were.

Poor Granville, desperate to be part of Britain’s new generation of swinging young people, but he never has time to get his pinny off. Doomed to be an errand boy for life, the poor lad. Come and nestle for a bit in Nurse Gladys Emanuel’s bosom. That’ll make you feel better, lad. Just make sure Arkwright’s not watching…!

Arkwright the grocer is rude to everyone, racist, sexist, disrespectful to women, verging on dishonest the way he flogs his old out-of-date white elephant stock to his customers (remember when he tried to sell some kind of lead blacking to male customers as a kind of marital aid?), and yet he’s the cuddliest, most loveable rogue you could ever hope to meet.

I also love the delightfully mournful theme tune, and the fact that the show didn’t modernise as the years went on, but rather kept the olde-worlde charm that makes it so magical. The time of the corner shop that sold everything from turnips to braces for your trousers to the kind of lead blacking people used to put on old stoves (marital aids, my foot!) has passed, sadly, to be replaced by the age of the supermarket and online shopping. Still, if we ever have a burning need for a small brown loaf and two teacakes, we’ll know where to go, won’t we? G-G-G-Granville, fetch your cloth…!

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

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. (1990-1995) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

hyacinth richard

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. (1990-1995) WRITTEN BY ROY CLARKE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY HAROLD SNOAD. STARRING PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE, CLIVE SWIFT, JOSEPHINE TEWSON, JUDY CORNWELL, GEOFFREY HUGHES, MARY MILLAR, SHIRLEY STELFOX, JEREMY GITTINS, MARION BARRON AND DAVID GRIFFIN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘It’s my sister Violet, the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony…!’

‘The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!’

‘She’ll sing at me, I know she will…!’

‘Coffee in ten minutes, Elizabeth…!’

‘Mind the pedestrian, Richard!’

‘Oh, nice…!

This is one of the best British sitcoms ever made. It’s right up there with FAWLTY TOWERS and ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES for sheer brilliance and terrific writing. I was thrilled to find the complete box-set containing a whopping forty episodes (FAWLTY TOWERS only ever made twelve, lol) and three fifty-minute Christmas specials. My kids and I have been watching these at the weekend since the summer started, and it’s brought us together like you wouldn’t believe.

Hyacinth Bucket- pronounced ‘Bouquet,’ if you please, under pain of death- is Britain’s most snobbish and house-proud middle-aged housewife. She’s the world’s most enthusiastic social climber, desperate to prove her social superiority to herself and others.

Her house could be featured in HOMES AND GARDENS, it’s so clean and sparkling and stylish. Her candlelight suppers are the talk of the town, and as for her waterside suppers which include riparian entertainment, well, even the characters in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS couldn’t manage it quite so nicely.

Her Royal Doulton china with the hand-painted periwinkles is the envy of all England, and if you phone this lady up looking for a No. 41 with rice and beansprouts, you’d better be aware that you’re calling her on her slim-line pearl-white telephone with last number redial facility and ‘within the precincts of a vicar,’ so you’d just better watch out, that’s all…!

Her long-suffering husband Richard Bouquet- Dickie Bucket as was, before he met the wife- has terrible trouble filling his days now that he’s rather reluctantly taken early retirement. Every activity in which he engages has to be devised or at the very least supervised by his wife, who would almost certainly tidy him away in a cupboard when she’s not using him, if she could get away with it.

He can do the garden, but he has to look like he’s enjoying it, which would imply to anyone watching that they could easily afford a gardener, only Richard enjoys gardening so much he prefers to do it himself, see? Hyacinth is most dreadfully worried that the neighbours will see Richard gardening with a miserable face and think he’s being forced to do it because they’re too poor to… Well, you get it, don’t you…?

Richard has marched to Hyacinth’s tune since they were married. He’s completely under the thumb of his high maintenance wife, who regularly requires driving to stately homes to hob-nob with the big nobs, to travel agents to pick up brochures for the most expensive holidays they have on offer (they don’t have to GO on the holiday; all that matters is that people think they can AFFORD to go!) and into the countryside to look for a holiday home. Poor Richard lives in fear of Hyacinth’s spending too much, which she nearly always does, as he’s utterly unable to put his foot down on any subject under the sun.

Elizabeth from next door is a bag of nerves in Hyacinth’s pristine showhouse. She’s so terrified of spilling her coffee on the lovely perfect furniture that it becomes a running gag that she does exactly this in every episode.

Her brother Emmett, who is living with Elizabeth now he’s divorced, tells his sister to refuse to go next door when the call comes from Hyacinth. Elizabeth snorts in justifiable derision. You try saying no to her, she tells her brother. She never listens!

Emmett finds this out the hard way. You really don’t say no to Hyacinth, who would climb over you in her highly polished court shoes to get to a local celebrity or councillor or a minor aristocrat.

When Hyacinth wants a part in Emmett’s ‘Twenties musical THE BOYFRIEND, which calls for slim young women to play flappers in sheath dresses, feathers and heels, he’ll find out just how determined she can be. ‘Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…!’

Hyacinth is immensely  proud of her seldom-seen sister Violet, who was fortunate enough to marry Bruce, a rich turf accountant, and now she has the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony. Never mind that Bruce is at the very least a transvestite and quite possibly bisexual or even homosexual into the bargain. Violet must keep her marriage vows, if only for the sake of the Mercedes…!

Hyacinth loves all her family, but maybe she’d quite like to tidy away the Daisy-and-Onslow branch, purely for cosmetic reasons, you understand? Her sister Daisy- not the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony!- is married to Onslow, a self-confessed bone-idle slob in a vest who spends his days in an armchair swilling beer and watching telly.

Daisy, a hopeless romantic who spends her time devouring Mills & Boons, still finds Onslow attractive (which he definitely is; he exudes a distinct air of sweaty, hairy masculinity), but he seems terrified at the idea of entering into any intimacies with his wife. He’ll even get out of bed before noon to do the garden just to get out of a romantic interlude with a disappointed Daisy.

He’s a bit of an enigma, is Onslow. You might be forgiven for judging him on appearances and thinking him as thick as a short plank, but he occasionally lets slip the fact that he’s actually a deep philosophical thinker with a penchant for the Open University and big thick books about Quantum Physics. No wonder Daisy can’t get enough of him after all these years.

Rose, the attractive unmarried sister with the heart of pure gold, lives with Onslow and Daisy and has had her share of husbands. Always someone else’s, unfortunately. She’s been hurt in love many times but she never gives up. If a Mr. Blenkinsop fails to give satisfaction, well, there’s always a Mr. Halliwell waiting round the next corner.

Played in the first series only by Shirley Stelfox (Edna from Emmerdale) and from then on by the sadly now deceased Mary Millar, the highly strung and over-emotional Rose often feels in need of spiritual guidance, in which case the obvious person to go to is the dishy local Vicar, Michael.

He’s almost as afraid of the man-mad, short-skirted Rose as he is of ‘the Bucket woman,’ as he and his sensible, no-nonsense lady wife call her. His wife is aware of her husband’s good looks and charm and would prefer to keep him out of the clutches of all and any neighbourhood floozies, if you don’t mind.

Daddy, the ancient paterfamilias of Hyacinth, Rose, Daisy and Violet’s branch of the family, lives with Onslow and Daisy. Hyacinth would be happy to have him at her house, of course, except for the fact that he leaves such hard-to-remove stains.

She pops round frequently, though, to make sure that her sisters haven’t lost him or left him to wander off to Africa on his own. He’s usually easy enough to find, though. When he’s not renting out his bed- and issuing a receipt too, by Jove!- to a Mr. Mawsby and then going walkabout, that is.

Daddy, who has a keen eye for the ladies and is not above chasing them while naked on a bicycle, fought in World War Two and he sometimes continues to fight in it fifty years later, in his gas-mask and with his bayonet to hand. Don’t bother trying to get in the house when Daddy’s on duty. He has orders to defend it to the last man…!

Hyacinth is inordinately proud of her never-seen son, Sheridan, who’s off at University majoring in needlework and rooming with his ‘friend,’ Tarquin. He only phones his Mummy to get her to ask Daddy for money, but Hyacinth is always thrilled to hear from him anyway.

A conspiracy of sympathy for Richard, the browbeaten husband, exists amongst Emmett, Elizabeth, Daisy, Onslow, Rose and the Vicar, a sympathy which Richard is only too eager to encourage. He stands up to Hyacinth just once, in the episode in which she demands that Richard forcefully evict a man from a telephone box just because ‘our Hyacinth’ wants to make a call. She nearly has a fit, it’s so very out of character for him.

‘Our Hyacinth’ can be quite formidable when she wants to be. Just ask the nervy postman (‘Where’s my invitation to the Lord Mayor’s garden party?’), who never used to be nervy before he met Hyacinth, or any tradesman calling to the door who’s asked to remove his shoes before entering the house because she’s just had her herringbone re-lacquered, if you please.

And God help you if you have the temerity to brush up against her walls! She can be a bit of an old battleaxe at times, but her heart’s in the right place. In a genuine antique Waterford crystal glass tumbler on top of the display case with the polished walnut doors. God bless her and all who sail in her.

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

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor