The Vital Spark – A Drop O’ The Real Stuff

vital spark

An archive rarity has recently received an unexpected screening on BBC2 and is available, for those who can access it, on the IPlayer.

The tales of Para Handy, written by Neil Munro, first appeared in the Glasgow Evening News between 1905 and 1923.  Para Handy is the skipper of the steamboat The Vital Spark, which is his pride and joy.  Together with his mismatched colleagues – Dan MacPhail, Dougie and Sunny Jim – they wend their way around the coast of Scotland, enjoying various misadventures.

Para Handy first came to BBC television in 1959 with the show Para Handy – Master Mariner, starring Duncan Macrae as Handy.  A few years later came a fresh series of adaptations – entitled The Vital Spark.  Roddy McMillan played Handy (he’d appeared as Dougie in 1959) and there were three series – which aired in 1965, 1967 and 1973/74 (the 1970’s episodes were essentially remakes of selected scripts from the two 1960s runs).

As might be expected, the archive status (like so many other programmes of the era) isn’t particularly good.  Several episodes from the 1970’s series exist (and are available on DVD) whilst only a single episode from the 1960’s run remains in the archive – and this is what has been given a welcome airing.  A Drop ‘O The Real Stuff was the second episode of series one (first aired on the 28th of January 1966).

Para Handy would return to BBC television in the 1990’s, with Gregor Fisher taking the lead role (it’s one of those shows which has inexplicably never been released on DVD).  And whilst this incarnation is quite different to the 1990’s series (it’s a half-hour sitcom with a studio audience, for a start) it’s just as enjoyable.

A Drop ‘O The Real Stuff is worth tracking down.

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