Minder – All Mod Cons

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Terry and Arthur’s relationship is put under strain after Arthur attempts to sell Terry’s flat without his knowledge.  Further complications in the property game occur after Vickery (James Ottway) and his granddaughter Kate (Toyah Wilcox) ask Terry to evict several squatters from one of their properties.  But things aren’t as straightforward as they first appear ….

It takes a little while before the plot(s) of All Mod Cons kicks into gear.  First, we have the unusual sight of Arthur playing Space Invaders.  He doesn’t appear to be very good but things change a few minutes later after a couple of passing punters challenge him and Terry to a Space Invaders contest, with a hefty side-bet to make it interesting.

Were there really Space Invaders Sharks, like Pool Sharks?  It’s hard to believe, but once there’s money on offer Arthur suddenly becomes an expert, shooting aliens left, right and centre!  This doesn’t really ring true, but it’s amusing nonetheless.

Arthur’s ruthless side is on show after he offers Terry’s flat to McQueen (Michael Robbins).   True, if Terry does clear Vickery’s property of squatters then there’s a flat in it for him, but Arthur’s still motivated by pure self interest here.  And if Arthur is thinking of himself as usual, the more gullible Terry still shows Arthur a degree of loyalty he probably doesn’t deserve.

Terry’s girlfriend Helen (Annette Lynton) works at a swanky nightclub and after Terry, popping by to see her, easily deals with a couple of intoxicated toffs, the manager, Simon (Simon Cadell), has no hesitation in offering Terry a job.  It would mean good money and decent hours, but Terry declines, feeling obligated to Arthur.

It seems that Helen’s been on the scene for a while – plainly long enough for her to have formed a low opinion of Arthur and also to have expressed a wish for Terry to better himself. When Helen asks Terry what he’s going to be doing some ten or fifteen years down the line, it’s interesting that she’s echoing an enquiry made by Penny a few stories back.  “You’ll be older, slower and some young bloke will come along and cripple you for life”.

It has to be said that the well-spoken Helen seems to be somewhat out of Terry’s league and we can assume that Terry’s reluctance to break with Arthur severed their relationship.

Terry sums himself up.  “I’m as thick as two short planks, I’m generous when it suits and as for ambition … a three figure break at snooker would make me a happy man”.  He’s obviously being hard on himself, but there’s a kernel of truth here – Terry seems to have a fear of commitment, meaning that a steady job and a settled relationship with Helen isn’t something he desires, even if many others would.

Michael Robbins (best known for On The Buses of course) is good fun as McQueen, a plumbers merchant with a thriving business.  He’s interested in Terry’s flat for his niece (hmmm) and he’s also able to do Arthur a good turn (“Kevin, can you put Mr Daley’s bidet in his car. Midnight purple”).  McQueen later turns up at the Winchester with his shirt open to the navel, displaying both a generous amount of chest hair and a gold medallion.  Glorious!

When McQueen introduces his niece Shirley (Frances Low) to Arthur and Dave, it’s obvious that Dave knows Shirley.  But the way Dave mutters that he didn’t know McQueen and Shirley were related (and McQueen’s shifty expression) shows the bond they share isn’t a familial one. Further evidence can be heard later at Terry’s flat ….

The other part of the plot – Kate turns out to be collecting rent from the people she’s tagged as squatters without her grandfather’s knowledge – doesn’t quite hold water.  Since Kate turns out not to be the innocent girl she first appears (we later see she has no trouble in recruiting heavies) why didn’t she simply organise her own muscle to evict them?  This does lead to a pulsating fight between Terry and Kate’s heavies though – one of the best from the second series.

When Terry learns that his flat has been sold under his nose it sparks what appears to be an irrevocable split between him and Arthur.  Of course, we know this isn’t going to happen (Minder is a programme that has to hit the reset button at the end of every episode).  The way that Arthur frantically attempts to buy the flat from McQueen is clear evidence of his desperation to win Terry back, but this is another part of the story which doesn’t really work.  Even if Vickery’s property had been renovated and turned into flats, it would have been some time before any were ready for use.  So what would Terry have done until then?

Although Terry accepts a job at the nightclub, Simon’s corrupt ways disgust him and so he resigns.  Therefore after finding that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere he ends up back with Arthur and life goes on just as before.

A few gaps in logic aside, All Mod Cons is entertaining, if not stellar, fare.  But the number of familiar faces present – Michael Robbins, Toyah Wilcox, Simon Cadell, Mike Savage, Tony Osoba and Harry Towb – help to make up for this.

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Hi-De-Hi! – The Partridge Season

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One of the advantages of a series like Hi-De-Hi! is that the large ensemble cast enables each character, especially those who usually operate on the periphery, to have a chance to shine.  And as might be expected by the title, The Partridge Season (Series One, Episode Four, Tx 12/04/81) puts the spotlight on the perpetually grumpy Punch and Judy man Mr Partridge (Leslie Dwyer).

Dwyer was a veteran actor (born 1906) who had enjoyed a long career in films and television (although usually in supporting roles).  Therefore, his regular performances in Hi-De-Hi! gave him a late taste of fame (very similar to the experiences enjoyed by the likes of John Laurie and Arnold Ridley in another Perry/Croft vehicle, Dad’s Army).  Mr Partridge was never going to be a character who would be central to the series (he worked better as someone who confined himself to the odd withering one-liner delivered from the comfort of his chair in the staff-room) but every so often he could be moved more up-front, as here.

Jeffrey has received orders to sack him.  Mr Partridge’s contempt for all children has already been well established, but this time he’s overstepped the mark.  When Jeffrey calls him into the office, Mr Partridge knows why he’s there and he gives him his side of the story.

Well, I was packing up the Punch and Judy and I couldn’t find the sausages. So I looked around and there was this snotty-nosed kid sucking an ice-cream cornet. ‘Have you got my sausages?’ I said. ‘Get lost, Grandad’ he said, and I could see ’em sticking out of his pocket. So I grabbed ’em off him, snatched his ice-cream cornet, stuck it in his face, give it a twist, then I clipped ‘im round the earhole and kicked ‘im up the arse.

I’ve already mentioned in my post on Hey Diddle Diddle how an air of melancholy is sometimes not far from the surface.  The forced jollity of the holiday-camp environment has something to do with it, but Mr Partridge (like some of the others) is an individual who’s found himself washed up at Maplins, past his prime and unable to get a job anywhere else.

He gives Jeffrey a brief outline of his career (as the camera slowly closes in on Dwyer, an obvious, but a good way of focusing the audience’s attention).  He started off on the halls as Whimsical Willie, the Juggling Joker.  After he came out of the Army in 1918 he gave up the juggling and became a comic – but talking pictures killed variety so he became a children’s entertainer.  After a stint entertaining the troops with ENSA during WW2 he eventually found himself working at Maplins.

All this is enough to convince Jeffrey that deserves another chance.  Mr Partridge is delighted and promises that he won’t let him down.  He also asks for an advance on his salary – to buy a new cover for the Punch and Judy booth, he says.  Jeffrey agrees and this is where the trouble really starts.

Jeffrey’s mistakenly under the impression that the affair of the ice-cream cornet was an isolated incident, but Ted puts him straight and lists some of Mr Partridge’s numerous run-ins with his audience.  “What about the time he put syrup of figs in the pot at the tiny-tots tea party?”  Worse than all this though is the benders.  “Once or twice every season, he gets a load of whisky and locks himself in his chalet and he’s legless for three days.”  And Jeffrey’s given him the money to do just that.

As ever, it’s the decent and honourable Jeffrey who has to suffer.  Always thinking the best of people, he finds himself left down by Mr Partridge and as a consequence has to share his chalet with Fred Quilley (who apologies for the horsey smell).  Best of all, he’s pressured into covering the Punch and Judy show.  The man-eating Sylvia offers to help, which seems like a good idea, but there’s very little room in the tent for two, much to Sylvia’s delight!

Spike wants to help Mr Partridge, but Ted is unsympathetic.  “I’ve been covering up for him for ten years. And I’ve had it up to here. He’s a rotten, bad tempered old tosspot!”  Ted has never thought of him as anything other than a third-rate Punch and Judy man, but Spike tells him he’s seen the cuttings that record his earlier successes – topping the bill at the Holborn Empire and performing in a Royal Command Performance at Windsor Castle.

Of course, in the end all is well and whilst it’s inevitable that it won’t be long before Mr Partridge causes more trouble, his dysfunctional surrogate family at Maplins will no doubt rally round.  The reveal that he actually was as a big a star as he claimed is a nice, sentimental touch.  It would have been just as easy for him to really have been nothing more than a third-rate musical hall turn, but it’s his genuine (if faded) stardom, as well as the injury he sustained during WW1 (which was the reason he had to give up the juggling), that persuades Ted to talk Jeffrey into giving him another chance.

Hi-de-Hi! – Hey Diddle Diddle

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Many of the best sitcoms feature a disparate group of people who, for one reason or another, are trapped together.  Porridge is an obvious example, but it’s a theme that also runs through the work of Jimmy Perry and David Croft.

Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum both had a diverse set of people thrown together by WW2 and in Hi-de-Hi! the characters are bound together because of their job.  It amounts to pretty much the same thing though – as we see people of different attitudes, ages and classes all forced to work with each other.

If there’s one thing that’s notable about most of Perry and Croft’s sitcoms (and also the ones that Croft wrote with other people) it’s the fact they tended to go on far too long.  When something is successful, the obvious thing to do is to continue – few writers are able (like John Cleese and Connie Booth with Fawlty Towers) to decide early on that all the comic potential has been mined from a certain idea.

But for now, let’s take a look at the first episode of He-de-Hi!, transmitted on the 1st of January 1980.  It has an extended running time of forty minutes and is probably best seen as a pilot – since it would be more than a year before the first series proper began.

What’s interesting is the feeling of melancholy that hangs over many of the characters.  Whilst all of them are professional with the holidaymakers, behind the scenes there’s a sense that for many, Maplin’s Holiday Camp is something of a prison for their thwarted dreams and ambitions.

For example, Fred Quilley (Felix Bowness) was a jockey who, it’s implied, threw races – so he’s washed up at Maplin’s, teaching holidaymakers to ride a selection of clapped-out nags.  And Mr Partridge (Leslie Dwyer) is a Punch and Judy man who has an intense dislike of children, something of a handicap in his job.  Dwyer was a veteran actor with a list of credits stretching back to the 1930’s (In Which We Serve and The Way Ahead were two notable early film appearances).  He’s rarely a central figure in the stories, but his pithy bad temper were always worth watching out for.

Perhaps the most dismissive of the whole Maplin’s environment are Yvonne and Barry Stewart-Hargreaves (Diane Holland and Barry Howard) and Yvonne’s disdain for the common holidaymakers is never far from the surface.  Their marriage is also intriguing, since Barry acts so incredibly camp it’s possible to wonder whether theirs is a marriage of convenience.  There’s this exchange, for example.

BARRY: You’ve got your weight on the wrong foot, you silly cow.  It’s like dancing with an all-in wrestler.
YVONNE: Well you’ve more experience with that kind of thing that I’d have.

There are some positive people though.  Spike (Jeffrey Holland) is young, keen and eager to please.  But it’s possible to wonder if Ted Bovis (Paul Shane) is the sort of person that Spike will become in twenty five years if the breaks don’t come his way.  In the little world of Maplin’s, Ted is King – although the fact he’s still stuck in the holiday camps after all this time implies that his big break never materialised.

Given how Peggy (Su Pollard) came to define the series, it’s surprising that she hasn’t got her face in the opening credits.  Peggy is the most positive person of all, desperate to become a yellowcoat and eager to do anything that will advance her cause.

The person charged with bringing order to this group of misfits is the new Entertainments Manager Jeffrey Fairbrother (Simon Cadell).  Jeffrey is the real fish-out-of-water – formally a professor at Cambidge, he’s thrown that up because, as he tells his mother, “I’m in a rut. My wife’s left me because I’m boring, my students fall asleep at lectures because I bore them. And worst of all, I’m boring myself”.

Cadell is perfect as the indecisive, diffident, but decent man who’s completely out of his depth.  This is highlighted when he meets Gladys Pugh (Ruth Madoc) for the first time.  For Gladys, it’s clearly love at first sight.  For Jeffrey (whilst he’d have to be blind not to see the signs she’s giving off) there’s little more than exquisite embarrassment.

This opening episode has done enough to suggest that the differences between the characters will provide plenty of comic potential in the years to come.  And towards the end Jeffrey is visited by a couple who are about to leave.  The old man’s words help to explicitly state the series’ agenda – whilst the employees of Maplin’s might sometimes be at each others throats, ensuring that the holidaymakers enjoy themselves is something they can all take pride in.

It was wonderful.  Just sheer fun, and we haven’t had a lot of that in our lifetime. It’s grand being daft and forgetting all your troubles for a little while. I was telling Doris here, I said if the whole country could be run like a holiday camp then we’d be alright. We’d have Joe Maplin as prime minister and never mind that Harold Macmillan. He’s always telling us we’ve never had it so good. We’ve never had it. We’ve had a grand holiday and you were marvelous. You joined in the fun, supervising in your own quiet way and you didn’t make a lot of palaver. You just did it and we’d like to thank you, young man.

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