Village Hall – Mr Ellis Versus the People

jack

For visitors to the blog from outside the UK, today is General Election day.  Of course, those from the UK will hardly need reminding of this as it’s been a constant topic of conversation in the media for some time.  And should no party gain a majority tomorrow, no doubt the conversation will go on!  But since I’ve made my trip to the polling station and cast a vote, it seems apt to dig out this episode of Village Hall, written by the late, great Jack Rosenthal.

The Village Hall has been turned into a polling station and present are three very different people.  First there’s presiding officer, Mr Ellis (Ron Moody).  Mr Ellis is a veteran of every election since 1945 and there’s nothing that could possibly happen which would surprise him.  He’s assisted by the eager young Mr Martin (Brian Miller) and the equally young and eager Miss Robinson (Veronica Roberts).

Mr Martin is deeply aware of the solemn duty they are all undertaking and he’s incredibly keen to impress Mr Ellis (he’s also completely humourless and by-the-book irritating).  Miss Robinson, for some unfathomable reason, is rather smitten with Mr Martin and she tries her best to impress him – but he has his mind strictly on the job in hand.  As the day wears on, the three of them face an increasingly bizarre parade of characters, all of whom are keen to exercise their right to vote (even if many of them don’t understand even the basics).

Although this was made forty years ago, it’s interesting to see how little has changed.  My polling station might be in a church hall, rather than a village one, but it’s still run on the same low-tech lines (just a few booths, a piece of paper and a pencil).

It sounds like an unpromising topic to fill fifty minutes, but Jack Rosenthal always had a keen ear for dialogue and this gives a very decent cast plenty of scope.  There’s so many quotable lines, such as when Mrs Ellis (Majorie Yates) turns up and Mr Ellis tells her that he can tell she’s come for an row, because of her handbag!  Ron Moody is excellent as the permanently harassed Mr Ellis, whilst Brian Miller (Mr Elisabeth Sladen) and Veronica Roberts both offer good support as two more irritants who conspire to make Mr Ellis’ long day even longer.

The setting of a poling station means that a disparate group of characters can enter, briefly cause havoc, and then disappear.  During the day they have to deal with a woman who tells them she wants to vote Conservative but can’t grasp that she has to put a cross on the paper, a man who keeps on putting his cross in the wrong box and another woman who has to have the whole procedure explained to her (and then she further irritates Mr Ellis by asking him where to put the cross!).

There’s plenty of familiar faces, such as Bernard Hill (as a policeman), Michael Angelis, Liz Dawn and a young Richard Griffiths as Mr Ridealgh, who becomes rather belligerent when he’s told that he can’t vote (because Miss Robinson accidentally ticked his name off the list in error).

This is available either on the series one set of Village Hall or on the five-disc set Jack Rosenthal at ITV.  Personally, I’d go for the Jack Rosenthal at ITV release as it’s packed with some lovely one-off plays as well as episodes from various series (including Coronation Street and The Lovers).  For anybody who wants an introduction to his work, it’s warmly recommended.

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