A taboo-tackling sitcom starring Maureen Lipman as Jane Lucas, 'problem page' author and phone-in host. Her personal life was in a mess because she spent far too much time dealing with other people's problems: her philandering husband (Simon Williams), needy Jewish mother (Maria Charles), impossible boss (Jan Holden) and shallow radio colleague (Peter Blake). The only people who could help were her gay neighbours (Peter Denyer & Jeremy Bulloch) - in a first for British TV, they were portrayed as a witty, sensitive and content couple. Real-life 'agony aunt' Anna Raeburn co-wrote series one, and advised on all three series, ensuring authenticity.
The highly successful novel by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, had already become a movie starring Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie, then a play. Ten years on, the same writers adapted and updated the story for an early 1970s sitcom audience. It's good, clean, whimsical stuff, starring Jeff Rawle as the eponymous, Walter Mitty-like day-dreamer. George A. Cooper reprised his West End role as Billy's father, while Pamela Vezey and Colin Jeavons were notable in supporting roles.
Bless Me Father
1978 - 1980
This witty and entertaining series set in 1950 starred Arthur Lowe, in one of his few major television roles after Dad's Army. When newly-ordained priest Neil Boyd (Daniel Abineri) arrives at the parish of St. Jude's he realises that no amount of training could have prepared him for Father Duddleswell. His eccentric new mentor insists that a priest needs the reserve and resourcefulness of a poker-player, as well as the usual virtues of patience, love and charity.
Curry and Chips
Curry and Chips was the first LWT sitcom to be made in colour. Its other claim to fame is that it was cancelled after just six episodes, a humiliating outcome for its famous writer Johnny Speight and blacked-up star Spike Milligan. The idea of a Pakistani called Kevin O'Grady, Irish on his father's side, was actually Milligan's. He's portrayed as more intelligent than his bigoted white co-workers in a local balloon factory, but it doesn't matter. There's so much vitriol, swearing and bandying of words like 'Paki' and 'coon' - even O'Grady's boss and defender Arthur (Eric Sykes) uses them - that it quickly becomes unbearable viewing, particularly to modern eyes. A frequent criticism of Speight's BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part was that the prejudices of his characters reinforced, rather than challenged, those of its audience, a charge he refuted. While he may have wished to mock racists, clearly this time he failed.
Doctor in the House / Doctor at Large
1969 - 1971
Richard Gordon's 1952 book, Doctor in the House inspired a handful of film comedies starring Dirk Bogarde and Leslie Phillips, a one-off BBC play in 1960, and 11 TV series, 10 of which were made by LWT from 1969 to 1975. Doctor in the House (1969-1970) came first, chronicling Dr Michael Upton's exploits at medical school. Doctor at Large followed in 1971. By this time, Upton (Barry Evans) had qualified from medical school and was on the lookout for work. The clip shows one of the six initial b/w episodes, the subsequent 24 were made in colour.
Doctor at Large
A colour episode from March 1971, Cynthia Darling, one of six to be written by John Cleese. This was the last Doctor series to star Barry Evans as Michael Upton. Hattie Jacques puts in a terrific guest appearance here as an overbearing mother, while Michael Bilton plays a character who would become his stock in trade: profoundly deaf elderly gentleman.
Doctor in Charge
1972 - 1973
Third in the saga, a sequence of 44 episodes and 1 special, of which three were scripted by Phil Redmond. By this point Michael Upton had eloped (ie. Barry Evans was written out, ending up in the cultural wilderness of Confessions movies) to be replaced by Duncan Waring (Robin Nedwell). The colourful chromakey title sequence shows Nedwell to be a keen groover.
Doctor at Sea
At the end of Doctor in Charge, Dick Stuart-Clark (Geoffrey Davies) was dismissed from St.Swithun's, and Duncan Waring resigned. The pair enlisted as medical officers aboard the MS Begonia, for the fourth sequence of stories. The ship's captain was the twin brother of their old hospital nemesis, Loftus (Ernest Clark). Bob Todd joined the cast as Entertainments Officer.
Doctor on the Go
The last LWT series, and the fifth chunk of the story, coming soon after Doctor at Sea which had seen the GPs working on a cruise liner. Here they returned to their old haunt, St.Swithun's teaching hospital, for more of the same nudge-nudge, nurse-fondling antics. One of the episodes was co-written by Graham Chapman and Douglas Adams, shortly before he found fame with Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy on BBC Radio.
End of Part One
1979 - 1980
Satirical sketch show inspired by Radio 4's The Burkiss Way and forgotten by all but comedy aficionados. Well-observed, hilarious and often near the nuckle, it was shown in a children's slot on Sunday afternoons, but the adult content would have gone way over their heads. Spoofing late 1970s TV, the witers Andrew Marshall and David Renwick left no turn unstoned, from fey continuity announcers to American imports. In this clip, Mr and Mrs gets a well-deserved kicking!
End of Part One
The first series witnessed Vera and Norman Straightman (Denise Coffey and Tony Aitken) moving into a terrace much like Coronation Street. Their lives are disrupted by bizarre characters played by the excellent ensemble cast: Fred Harris, Sue Holderness, David Simeon and Dudley Stevens. Series two ditched Vera and Norman in favour of outright genre spoofing. Monty Python had been here before, but rarely with such precision. Dr Eyes and Nationtrite are two notable examples.
End of Part One
What's so engaging about these spoofs is the expert duplication of graphics and music, the latter thanks to composer Nigel Hess. Among the performances, David Simeon never ceases to amaze with his comical impersonations: he's at his best as Frank Muir in the Call My Bluff spoof Scrape My Barrel (clip left) while Sue Holderness is excellent as a motormouth Isla St.Clair (below).
Fat Ladies... Game
BBC East Anglia
Cheapo Cartoon Man
Mike Der Da-Da
Return of the Doughnut
Mind Your Foreigners
Stiff Actors Five-O
The Gag Trade
The Two Quasimodos
A Fine Romance
The much-loved stage and film actress Judi Dench made her TV comedy debut in this series, playing opposite her husband Michael Williams and performing the signature tune. As Laura and Michael, they're singletons who feign interest in each other to ward off the interference of Laura's match-making younger sister Helen (Susan Penhaligon). But their relationship blossoms into a happy marriage by the end of the fourth and final series.
1976 - 1977
The Fosters holds a unique place in the history of British TV, in that it was the first sitcom written for and starring black actors. It was also the making of 17 year-old Lenny Henry, who had "arrived" the previous year in ATV's New Faces. Here he supported Norman Beaton, Isabelle Lucas and Carmen Munro. There were two series of 13 episodes, plus a 1977 New Year special, all adapted by Jon Watkins from the US sitcom Good Times (CBS 1974-79).
The Galton and Simpson Comedy:
An Extra Bunch of Daffodils - 1969
Frank Muir was LWT's original comedy guru. He lured genius writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson from the BBC to create a series of six plays in the same style as their 1962 Comedy Playhouse, from which Steptoe & Son became a hit. This sharp and delightful two-hander tells the story of a pair of avaricious poisoners, played by Stratford Johns and Patsy Rowlands. They fall in love with funereal consequences.
LWT blew a fortune on lavish props when Graeme, Bill and Tim switched to ITV for their ninth series. Executives believed that spending so much money on what was deemed to be "just a kids programme" was not viable, so just six episodes and a Christmas special were made. The theme is funkier than the Beeb version, and the titles show the chaps larking about in the Festival gardens on the South Bank.
Hark at Barker
A sitcom/sketch vehicle for Ronnie Barker's great talents, created by Alun Owen and written by a distinguished team that included Alan Ayckbourn and Barker himself, credited under pseudonyms. Each episode begins with a spoof LWT continuity announcement featuring Barker, who then stars as Lord Rustless, a decrepit peer who lectures the viewer on a different subject each week. His points are illustrated by surreal filmed sketches.
Hark at Barker
Switching to colour for series 2, Barker retained his strong supporting cast: Josephine Tewson as his housekeeper, Frank Gatliff as his butler, and David Jason heavily disguised as a bearded, doddering gardener with enormous personal hygiene problems. As before, Terry Gilliam is responsible for animation, including the opening title logo in which the words swing open like a door, matching the background activity.
Andrew Marshall and David Renwick followed End of Part One and Whoops Apocalypse with this satire of tabloid journalism. Robert Hardy played two parts, both owner and editor of The Daily Crucible, while Geoffrey Palmer co-starred as the managing editor Harry Stringer, in his struggle to maintain propriety. The closing titles are highly memorable: the series logo, type-set as a steel block, melts into a bubbling mess as Alan Price's theme surges to its climax. Each series one episode started with a recap of the crazy events so far, and part 6 tells us all we want to know about the plight of Father Teasdale (John Horsley), a priest persecuted by Crucible journalists. (tx 23/03/1986)
By the start of series two, Geoffrey Palmer's character Harry Stringer was missing presumed dead in the Bermuda Triangle. His edgy replacement was TV political chat show host Dickie Lipton (Richard Wilson) who suffered as many humiliations as his predecessor. In the midst of a nervous breakdown, he called on assistance from Sooty and Sweep to help him edit the paper, before streaking on Blue Peter! Palmer returned for a Comic Relief special, shown on BBC1 in 1989.