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.

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

BLACKADDER. (1983-1989) THE COMPLETE FOUR SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

BLACKADDER. (1983-1989) THE COMPLETE FOUR SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Blackadder2

WRITTEN BY ROWAN ATKINSON, RICHARD CURTIS AND BEN ELTON.

STARRING ROWAN ATKINSON, TONY ROBINSON, HUGH LAURIE, STEPHEN FRY, TIM MCINNERNY, MIRANDA RICHARDSON, PATSY BYRNE, BRIAN BLESSED, MIRIAM MARGOLYES, JIM BROADBENT AND GABRIELLE GLAISTER.

‘Baldrick, it’s the stickiest situation anyone’s ever been in since Sticky the Stick Insect got stuck on a sticky bun.’

‘Yes, the Teutonic reputation for brutality is well-founded, Baldrick. Their operas go on for three or four days and they have no word for ‘fluffy.’

By anyone’s standards, this British pseudo-historical situation comedy snaps, crackles and pops in all the right places. It’s bally well top-notch stuff, as Lieutenant George himself might say. It always comes near the top of Best Sitcom Lists and, as far as the English are concerned, only two other sitcoms could possibly top it: ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES and FAWLTY TOWERS. I think I’d give BLACKADDER first place, personally speaking. The writing is just pure genius.

There were four complete series of BLACKADDER between 1983 and 1989, each taking place in a different historical period of England’s long and chequered past. Each one stars Rowan Atkinson as the Edmund Blackadder of the period and Tony Robinson as his less intelligent and much less fragrant sidekick-slash-dogsbody, while the cast around them shifts slightly each time, while maintaining a little core group of regulars, if you get me.

SERIES ONE: THE BLACK ADDER is set in 1485 at the end of the British Middle Ages. These were pretty yucky times, with plagues and pestilence stalking the land and flies and muck and shit everywhere from the indifferent sewerage systems in place at the time. There were none, I think, in point of fact. With shit from the privies flowing like the Thames down the streets of English towns, it’s no wonder the peasants were always catching the plague.

Peter Cook plays Richard the Third, who accidentally gets his bonce lopped off by an inept Blackadder after winning the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard the Fourth succeeds to the throne and is played by the big, bearded, larger-than-life Brian Blessed, he of the booming voice and lavish theatrical gestures. If anyone was born to play a King with a loud booming voice, surely this guy was, lol.

The Blackadder in this series is the King’s weedy second son, the one he doesn’t like and can barely recognise when he sees him. Flanked by the malodorous Baldrick and the wonderful Tim McInnerny as the foppish Lord Percy Percy, Blackadder is a somewhat ineffectual bumbler here and nowhere near as cunning and self-advancing as he becomes in the later three series.

By the time we reach BLACKADDER TWO, the character of Blackadder has been developed into the shrewd opportunistic sycophant we’re more used to seeing. Set in Elizabethan times, the Queen is marvellously played as a self-absorbed, self-obsessed selfish psychopathic cretin by Miranda Richardson.

The mischievous, some would say malicious Queen’s mood can turn on a dime, as they say, and so it’s ‘off with his head’ for anyone who pisses her off. Blackadder therefore spends his days sucking up to her big-time, in competition with Stephen Fry as her Numero Uno Toady, Lord Melchett.

Patsy Byrne is marvellous as Nursie, the Queen’s constant companion and former Nanny, who is obsessed with the booby-feeding she did when Queenie was a nipper. She treats the Queen as if she were still in the nursery and the Queen seems okay with it, probably because of the comforting familiarity it brings.

Then of course, on other occasions, she’s all, like, shut up Nursie, what would a demented old bat like YOU know about anything, lol. It’s all part-and-parcel of the tightly-knit, almost symbiotic relationship between the pair.

As brilliantly capricious as Miranda Richardson is as Queen Elizabeth, my favourite ‘dim aristocrat’ of the whole show is Hugh Laurie as the idiotic Prince Regent, the Prince of Wales, in BLACKADDER THE THIRD. The Regency period, taking place as it did towards the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th, was the era of the fops, and nobody fops like Prince George.

In his magnificent frock-coat and knee-breeches, his wig atop his bonce and his boat-race powdered and rouged to perfection, he drives his butler Edmund Blackadder Esquire to distraction with the emptiness of his head and the idiocy of his thoughts and ideas, if he has any. If the always-strapped-for-cash Blackadder wasn’t able to make a few quid on the side by selling the Prince’s socks behind his back, he’d probably hand in his notice.

The premise of each episode is that a tricky situation presents itself and Blackadder and Baldrick, who by now is a scruffy sight indeed, have to come up with a multiplicity of ‘cunning plans’ to try to extricate themselves from it.

The plans are always ridiculously complicated, often involve a disguise of some sort, and usually go tits-up in a spectacular way, leading Blackadder to bemoan the fact that ‘Fortune vomits on my eiderdown once again, Baldrick.’

I love the one in which the pals meet the Scarlet Pimpernel during the French Revolution, and the one in which Robbie Coltrane (who also appears in the Crimbo special) plays Dr. Samuel Johnson, the man who wrote the world’s first ever Dictionary.

When Baldrick accidentally tosses the one and only copy of this precious manuscript onto the Prince Regent’s drawing-room fire, believing it to be mere kindling, Blackadder is in a fearful bind.

He’ll have to stay up all night in order to re-write the Dictionary again, the Dictionary it took Dr. Johnson ten years to write, or risk the great wrath of the Doctor and his sword-wielding sidekicks, the boozy, drugged-up Romantic poets, namely, Shelley, Byron and Coleridge. I think Keats is absent for some unknown reason…!

Needless to say, the following morning sees Blackadder still stuck on ‘A is for Aardvark.’ The scene where Dr. Johnson is trying to explain the ‘plot’ of his Dictionary to the thick-as-a-plank Prince Regent is hilarious. Reminds me of that joke in THE SIMPSONS: ‘So, I finally finished reading the Dictionary. Turns out the zebra did it…!’

BLACKADDER GOES FORTH, the final series, is many peoples’ favourite. It’s set in the mucky, water-logged (but poetry-rich) trenches of World War One. Captain Blackadder is at his absolute wittiest and most sharp-tongued here (‘I lost closer friends than that when I went for my last delousing!’) as he battles the deprivations of warfare alongside his mates.

These are his loyal batman Private S. Baldrick (the S stands for Sod Off, as in Sod Off, Baldrick!) and the aristocratic but infinitely loveable upper-class twit, Hugh Laurie as Lieutenant George Colhurst St. Barleigh. 

Blackadder, he of the biting wit and cutting sarcasm, spares neither of them as he demonstrates to the enchanted viewer his unsurpassed skill as master of the scathing put-down.

The main aim of Captain Slack Bladder in this series is to try to avoid the certain death involved in ‘going over the top,’ or taking part in ‘The Big Push,’ as it’s known. This isn’t just because he’s a snivelling coward, but because he genuinely bemoans the awful loss of life, all of it unnecessary, caused by this dreadful war.

By Jove, you coves, it’s enough to make you stick a pair of underpants on your head, shove a couple of pencils up your nose and go ‘wibble!’ Only don’t let me catch you at it, dash it all, or I’ll jolly well have to shoot you for cowardice.

I’m always crying like a baby long before the ‘Big Push’ slow-motion finish, when the three lads finally charge out into the smoke and fog and certain death of ‘no-man’s land,’ joined by Tim McInnerny as Captain Kevin Darling. (Rik Mayall as Lord Flash-heart: ‘Darling? That’s a funny name for a guy! The last person I called ‘Darling’  was pregnant twenty seconds later…!’)

I cry when Hugh Laurie as Lieutenant George, serious for once, realises out loud that he’s the only one of his bright-eyed school chums left alive now, the tiddly-winks-playing, leap-frogging chums who signed up so hopefully to beat the ‘Hun’ three years ago when the war began. It’ll all be over by Christmas, isn’t that what they thought? And now look at the devastating waste of all the young lives gone forever thanks to the stupid war.

Stephen Fry is superbly funny as the lads’ superior, General Melchett, but he’s making a serious point here too. Commanding his men from a comfy, cosy French chateau miles behind the front line, he doesn’t live in the real world of trench foot, rat sandwiches and coffee made from mud and sprinkled with Baldrick’s dandruff-for-sugar. The generals complacently moved armies about on their little maps but it was the men on the ground- and in the trenches- who bore the brunt of these near-sighted, ivory-tower decisions.

Anyway, if you’re not bawling your eyes out by the time the mist and fog clears to reveal a poppy field, empty of living humans but silently bearing witness to the millions who died, then you’re an unfeeling monster, lol. Grown men freely admit to crying at the emotional last episode, titled GOODBYEEE, without a trace of shame. I’ll leave you, as Jerry Springer used to do, with my final thought, and it’s this:

‘If I should die, think only this of me;

I’ll be back to get you…’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. 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, womens’ 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

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