Two’s Company – A Loving Christmas

two's company

Two’s Company was a culture clash comedy – Dorothy McNab (Elaine Stritch) is a rich American and Robert Hiller (Donald Sinden) is her superior English butler.  Their differing natures are spelt out in the opening credits (which seem to go on forever).

Running for four series between 1975 and 1979, Two’s Company‘s strength is the banter between Stritch and Sinden.  Take that away and there’s not a great deal left – the writing is amusing enough but it’s hardly top-tier sitcom fare.  But the first series had clearly been successful enough for A Kind of Loving (the opening episode of series two) to receive a Christmas Day airing in 1976.

The relationship between Dorothy and Robert is made clear by their choice of presents to each other.  Dorothy is underwhelmed to receive an LP of Elgar’s Enigma Variations whilst Robert is equally unimpressed with an LP by Jelly Roll Morton.  Once they swop, then they’re much happier.  Although both presents were unsuitable, there’s no malice in their choices – possibly they genuinely wanted to widen the others musical horizons (although it was doomed to failure).  This sets the tone for their general interaction – both indulge in a subtle form of one-upmanship, with honours (in this episode) ending up even.

The plot of this one is quite simple.  Both say their goodbyes on Christmas Eve as they head off in different directions (Dorothy to Paris and Robert to the country).  But both were fibbing and had planned to spend a quiet Christmas at home (Robert in the comfortable downstairs portion of the house) with convivial company.  As both of them have now returned that creates something of a problem.  And when Robert’s friend Gillian (Geraldine Newman) takes an interest in Dorothy’s friend Nigel (Derek Waring) that just adds to the tension.   And then Dorothy’s cousin Clarence (John Bay) turns up …..

Clarence is your stereotypical, loud, crass American – constantly referring to Robert as “Jeeves” much to his disgust.  Dorothy’s no more pleased to see him and when Gillian and Nigel leave together that means Dorothy, Robert and Clarence are fated to spend Christmas together.

Bay was married to Elaine Stritch, but he was a decent actor so his appearance here wasn’t just nepotism (it’s not his fault that Clarence was written as such an irritating person). Geraldine Newman and Derek Waring were both very experienced performers and they help to give the episode a bit of impetus.

Donald Sinden’s spot-on comic timing, even with the fairly thin material, is worth watching and he has a decent foe in Elaine Stritch.  Not a classic series, but a passable way of spending twenty five minutes.

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The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Assyrian Rejuvenator

sinden

Donald Sinden as Romney Pringle in The Assyrian Rejuvenator by Clifford Ashdown
Adapted by Julian Bond. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

Sergeant Hawkins (Victor Platt) calls on Romney Pringle (Donald Sinden) to ask for his help – a conman called Henry Jacobs (Derek Smith) is selling a potion called the Assyrian Rejuvenator.  He claims it’s a remarkable tonic that will restore their lost youth, but it obviously does no such thing.  Hawkins can’t proceed until somebody makes a complaint and he concludes that nobody will – since they’re all too embarrassed to admit they’ve been conned.

When Pringle asks why Hawkins has come to him, the policeman’s answer is straightforward – “set a thief to catch a thief”.  Pringle’s office door might declare him to be a private detective, but it’s clear that he’s more than happy to break the law when it serves his best interests – and he quickly sees how to turn the affair of the Assyrian Rejuvenator to his own benefit,

Romney Pringle was created by R. Austin Freeman and John Pitcarn (writing as Clifford Ashdown) and the character appeared in a series of stories written at the turn of the twentieth century. The Assyrian Rejuvenator was included in the book The Adventures of Romney Pringle and it can be read here.

Pringle is a rogue, very much in the mould of Horace Dorrington, and he’s quickly able to deal with Jacobs (by scaring him out of town).  He then proceeds to take over Jacobs’ operation, which also means inheriting Doris (Alethea Charlton).  Pringle’s an arch manipulator and he quickly has poor Doris hanging on his every word.

Donald Sinden gives a typically ripe performance as Pringle, although he never manages to make the character even remotely likeable. Peter Vaughan’s Dorrington was similarly unscrupulous, but he had a certain charm, thanks to Vaughan.  Also, whilst Dorrington never quite managed to pull of the big con in either of the two stories adapted for The Rivals, here we see Pringle make a tidy profit from Jacob’s operation – and he shows little remorse when both Jacobs and Doris are caught by the police and charged with running the whole operation.  Which isn’t, when you consider how he manipulated Doris to serve his own interests, a very admirable trait.

Jo Rowbottom
Jo Rowbottom

It also doesn’t help that the story is a little mundane, although there are a few compensations such as Jo Rowbottom as Suzy Shepherd, Music Hall artiste, and Michael Bates as Colonel Sandstream, an elderly duffer who’s somewhat smitten with her and will try anything (including the Assyrian Rejuvenator) to improve his chances to, as it were, satisfy her.  Rowbottom is rather alluring and Bates (star of It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum and Last of the Summer Wine) has a nice line in comic bluster.

They both help to compensate for an episode which is one of the less engaging from the first series.

Next Episode – The Ripening Rubies

Playing Shakespeare – Donald Sinden

Donald Sinden’s recent death, at the age of 90, has encouraged me to dig out some of his many performances from film and television.

Whilst well known as a comic actor, he was no stranger to the classics, as seen (with other greats of the British stage) in this edition of Playing Shakespeare.

From amongst the numerous tributes paid to Sinden over the last week, there’s a lovely one from Michael Billngton here.