Airing on ITV between 1977 and 1981, Robin’s Nest (one of two sitcoms spun off from Man About The House) is centred around the restaurant of the title, run by Robin Tripp (Richard O’Sullivan) and his wife Victoria (Tessa Wyatt). She provides him with moral support and able assistance whilst less able assistance comes from the enthusiastic but incompetent one-armed washer-upper, Albert Riddle (David Kelly). Also on hand is Victoria’s father, James Nicholls (Tony Britton), a sleeping partner in the business who’s always keen to make the maximum amount of money from his investment.
Although the series was created by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, by this time they’d stepped away from scripting duties, so Robin’s Nest at Christmas was penned by George Layton, the second of his thirteen contributions to the show. Enjoying an equally successful career as both an actor and writer (with his writer’s hat on he’d be reunited with Britton on the middle-of-the-road but nonetheless popular sitcom Don’t Wait Up a few years later) Layton seemed to easily pick up the rhythms of the series.
Although guest actors drop by occasionally, Robin’s Nest concentrates on the four regulars – with Robin and Victoria usually playing the straight-men to the more comic characters of Albert (inept at whatever he attempts) and James (a mean skinflint, content to work Robin into the ground to generate a healthy profit).
Easily the most memorable character of the four is Albert Riddle. Kelly effortlessly steals every scene he’s in and is an endless delight to watch – without him it would be a much more routine show. Albert’s complete ineptness is clearly on display in the opening few minutes as he attempts to help Robin to put up the Christmas decorations in the restaurant. Of course he’s no help at all, and his endless off-key singing of Christmas songs (“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. We are doing up Robin’s Nest, just for Christmas day”) doesn’t help to reduce Robin’s stress levels.
Albert then pops by at one o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day to deliver a bombshell – after coming into a small windfall he’s been able to buy a business of his own so will be resigning from Robin’s Nest forthwith …..
There then follows a rather tense Christmas Day meal at James’ house, with a glum Robin and Victoria and a rather merry Albert, whilst Peggy Aitchison has a nice scene as James’ domestic servant, Gertrude. Many sitcoms tended to have an extended running time for their Christmas Specials, but this Robin’s Nest remains at its normal twenty-five minute format. This means that it all feels quite compact (with more time, the Christmas meal could have been extended and made to feel even more awkward) but the one interesting wrinkle is that the reset button with Albert isn’t hit at the end. His arrival back at the restaurant in the last few minutes seems to indicate that he’s had a change of heart, but the reason for his reappearance is quite different and a good comic moment to end on.
Coasting by for 48 episodes thanks in no small part to the regulars, Robin’s Nest is undemanding but always watchable entertainment. As for this one, I’ve always been a little puzzled why Robin is so upset at Albert’s decision to leave – since he spends all his time complaining about him you’d have thought he’d have welcomed it!