Click for larger image A.J.Wentworth, B.A.
1982
Click for larger image Arthur Lowe gave his final performance during this six-part sitcom. He died on 15th April 1982, and the series was finally shown on ITV from 12/07/82 - 16/08/82. The series was adapted from the stories of H. F. Ellis, which had appeared in Punch magazine before publication in book form in 1949. Wentworth was the Maths master at Burgrove, a boys' preparatory school. Harry Andrews played the headmaster, The Rev. R Gregory Saunders, and read out a short scene at Lowe's memorial service. Marion Mathie and Ronnie Stevens were also in the cast.

Click for larger image Bless This House
1971 - 1976
Chuckling, pipe-smoking, bird-fancying Sid James was at the height of his powers in this series, produced and directed by William G. Stewart, devised by Vince Powell and Harry Driver. All the classic situations are to be found in this domestic, generation-gap comedy. Diana Coupland is an excellent foil for James, and the supporting cast is great too. The series ran for six series until 1976, when James passed away. The warm and welcoming theme tune was composed by Geoff Love. In common with many sitcoms at this time, Bless This House spawned a spin-off movie in 1972, as well as a cartoon in Look-In magazine. TV ARK has the original title sequence; the first series of seven episodes should have been recorded in colour, but because of a "colour strike" by technicians, they were rendered in monochrome...

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Click for larger image Carry on Christmas
1969
First shown on Christmas Eve in 1969, this show was third in Five's line up of vintage festive repeats on 26/12/2002. Alas it's the one that had dated least well. Thames made four such Christmas specials from 1969 to 1973, while ATV made thirteen half-hours in 1975; not one of them featured Kenneth Williams!
 
This particular programme has a good, strong opening which kicks along nicely, but it soon descends into a tiresome series of spoof Victoriana sketches, linked by Sid James as Scrooge in 'A Christmas Carol'. Talbot Rothwell wrote this, so I'm surprised it isn't funnier. I think the problem lies in the overlit studio environment plus the as-live vision mixing of multiple cameras. These factors highlight the somewhat ramshackle direction given to these brilliant, tired, over-worked, under-rehearsed character actors.


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Click for larger image Father Dear Father
1968 - 1973
Click for larger image This sitcom ran from 1968 to 1973 and starred Patrick Cargill as a divorced novelist, Patrick Glover. It ran to 7 series, 4 short specials, a 1973 spin-off movie plus a 1978 spin-off series set in Australia. Producer/director William G. Stewart was at the helm once again, and the series is notable for having a different opening title sequence on every episode. It is always a funny sketch in which something awkward and embarrassing happens to Glover, usually an accident or misunderstanding involving his daughters Karen (Ann Holloway) and Anna (Natasha Pyne).

Click for larger image Father Dear Father
1968 - 1973
Click for larger image Some more examples of the Father Dear Father opening titles... As talented in comedy as he was in straight drama, Patrick Cargill was excellent in the role of the elegant fusspot Glover. The series is a succession of brief drawing room farces: Glover lives with his teenage daughters, trying to keep them in tow with help from their nanny (Noel Dyson). From time to time, his mother (Joyce Carey), brother (Donald Sinden) or ex-wife (Ursula Howells) turn up and create confusion. Sometimes twee, but good fun in small doses.

Click for larger image Ffizz
1987 - 1989
There were two series of Ffizz, created by writers Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss. It concerned two friends, Jack Mowbray (Richard Griffiths) and Hugo Walker (Benjamin Whitrow) who run an upmarket wine store. By the start of the second series, the duo have fallen on hard times and are working in a supermarket. The cast for series one included George Ballantine, Phyllida Law, with Gabrielle Drake in series two.

Click for larger image George and Mildred
1976 - 1979
Man About The House writers Johnnie Mortimer & Brian Cooke created two spin-offs. Their first was George and Mildred. Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce resumed their roles as the Ropers, previously the flatsharers' landlords. Each of the five series had its own title sequence. The original graphics, shown here, featured music by Johnny Hawksworth. Brian and Yootha must have had fun posing in these mock-up photos of the couple in their younger days. All the subsequent series used a theme tune by Roger Webb; series two titles consisted of a funny live-action sequence involving George and his motorbike; three involved a laboured barbeque sketch; four was just a very bland silhouette graphic; five had a great live action sequence, once again with George and his motorbike, spattering mud over the neighbour Mr Fourmile (Norman Eshley) and rainwater over Mildred's shoes.

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Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Series Two
1977
Series Three
1978
Series Four
1978-9
Series Five
1979


Click for larger image Keep It In The Family
1980 - 1983
Not a million miles away from Father Dear Father, except the lead character Dudley Rush (Robert Gillespie) is a cartoonist and ventriloquist rather than a novelist, and he's not divorced. He and his wife Muriel (Pauline Yates) still have two irrepressible young daughters living under the same roof. Susan (Stacy Dorning) is a teenager, while Jacqui (Jenny Quayle, later Sabina Franklin) is in her 20s, yet dad struggles to keep track of their wacky adventures and disapproves of all the men who turn up to visit them. There's even a literary agent, Duncan (Glyn Houston) who contributes to the madcap mayhem! It's a huge laugh round at the Rush home! Five series were made between 1980 and 1983.

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Click for larger image The Kenny Everett Video Show
1978 - 1980
Click for larger image Kenny Everett was the stage name of Maurice Cole, a much-loved comedian, DJ and TV personality from Liverpool. His career began in radio, including pirate stations, Radio Luxembourg and the fledgling BBC Radio 1. TV work gradually followed, and he made three series for LWT in the early 1970s - now sadly wiped. Kenny was a big fan of tape recorders, using them to create sound effects, high-speed voices and comedy jingles. It was this skill, combined with his irreverent and camp comedy persona that fed into his TV work. Thames offered him his own late-night sketch show in 1978: here are two openers from the second series in 1979.

Click for larger image The Kenny Everett New Year Daze Show
1980
Click for larger image As you'll have seen, Kenny's shows opened with a fast-paced onslaught of silly voices and speeded-up photographic montages. He made three series in this way, and a few specials too, such as this one for New Year's Eve 1980. He starts by humming the Thames ident tune and rabbiting through a sequence designed to freak out anyone who is seriously drunk, not that many would have been watching! Look out for the punk rock photo of Angela Rippon... TX: 31/12/1980

Click for larger image The Kenny Everett Video Cassette
1981
Kenny's final ITV series in 1981 was called The Video Cassette. Other than a name change, there was little difference between this series and its predecessors. It contained just the same mixture of anarchic comedy and popular music. One innovation was a spoof game show called Star Quiz, in which Kenny would trick celebrity guests into failing a general knowledge quiz and thus end up covered in green gunge. Each week, the star would narrowly miss scoring the 31 points needed to keep out of danger, after correctly answering three questions worth ten points each! The victims included Lennie Bennett, Michael Aspel and Terry Wogan. The two clips here are from the series' debut episode, and feature Thames announcer Philip Elsmore being attacked by the SAS! TX: 16/04/1981

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Click for larger image Love Thy Neighbour
1972 - 1976
Always pause before judging 70s sitcoms. Consider them in the context of their times. This was a barnstormer, from the same writers as Bless This House. Jack Smethurst, Rudolf Walker, Nina Baden-Semper & Kate Williams were the stars. It ran to eight series, a Christmas special, a feature film in 1973 and spin-offs in both Australia and the USA. But it reveals a lot about our viewing tastes back then. The pleasant, suburban title sequence and jaunty theme, sung by Stuart Gillies, lead us down the garden path into what we think is traditional sitcom fayre. Then the big twist is revealed: a black Tory couple moves into an all-white street - SHOCK HORROR! - and falls foul of the Trade Union activist next door.

Click for larger image Love Thy Neighbour
1972 - 1976
Titles from the seventh series. There's little difference when compared with the original, above; still a montage of house photographs, although the sky is now blue and sunny, and the right-hand house has been re-glazed and shed its old bay window. Sadly the characters didn't show such reforms: Eddie Booth (Smethurst) remained a bigot. Had the script been blessed with the genius touch of writer Johnny Speight and exposed him for what he is, fair enough. Alf Garnett had been on TV for some six years by this stage. But Booth is the sympathetic hero: "Hello, is that the Race Relations Board? I'd like to complain about the nig-nog next door..." A dozen of these gags pepper every scene. The black character Bill (Walker) certainly gives as good as he gets, often outwitting Booth, but he still seems to be the under-dog. It seems tasteless to modern eyes.

Click for larger image Man About The House
1973 - 1976
Now THIS is a comedy great! Paula Wilcox and Sally Thomsett are two flatmates sharing a London flat. After a wild party, they find catering student Richard O'Sullivan asleep in their bath. He's invited to stay when they discover his cooking beats theirs. The landlords, Mr and Mrs Roper, only agree to this arrangement after the girls trick them into believing that Robin is homosexual and that there will be no hanky-panky in the flat! The original titles, filmed almost entirely outside Waterloo tube station, are highly amusing and were used for both the first two series. Notice how Thomsett's name appears over a shot of her wiggling bottom! Meanwhile, the groovy end credits are very evocative of 1973; the hairdryers and platform shoes are particuarly kitsch. The memorable theme tune, by Thames ident composer Johnny Hawksworth, is a KPM library track called 'Up To Date'.

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Click for larger image Man About The House
Series 3 & 4 Titles, 1974
Click for larger image Series three and four had different, yet similar titles; both involved the stars paying a trip to London Zoo in an old car, and they both seem to have been filmed on the same day, judging by the clothes the cast are wearing. The differences are most evident during the shots over which their names appear. During the series three titles, they find themselves with creamy moustaches after sipping pints of Guinness; for series four, their eating habits are contrasted with those of the zoo animals. It was around this time that producer/director Peter Frazer Jones had himself credited on the closing titles, under a picture of a cock between two pussies...

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Click for larger image Man About The House
Series 5 & 6 Titles, 1975-6
Click for larger image Like the two previous series, the titles for five and six shared the same premise: a boat trip on the Thames, with O'Sullivan at the wheel. Again, there are variations in the scenarios; for instance, Thomsett's bikini is whipped off by a fishing line in one, and in the other she laughs when her beer can hits a diver. One has a weird purple logo, with crazy jungle lettering; the other drops it in favour of a plain font, of the kind that could be found on many an American police series at the time. At least Hawksworth's excellent 'Up To Date' tune was retained for all six series.

Click for larger image Man About The House
07/04/1976 - Final episode
Click for larger image All good things come to an end. Man About The House concluded in April 1976 after 39 episodes. Robin's brother Norman (Norman Eshley) appeared throughout the final series and fell in love with Chrissy (Wilcox). The finale was devoted to their wedding and involved guest appearances by Leslie Sands as Robin's dad, plus Glyn Owen and Daphne Oxenford as Chrissy's parents. George and Mildred Roper (Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce) were about to transfer into their own spin-off series (see above) while O'Sullivan was about to take his old character into Robin's Nest (see below).

Click for larger image Men Behaving Badly
1991 - Hartswood Films for Thames
In 1996, the flatsharing comedy Men Behaving Badly was voted Best Sitcom in the BBC's history, during the corporation's 60th anniversary celebrations. On air from 1991 - 1998, everyone thinks of it as a defining sitcom of that decade. But few remember, or probably care, that it started its life at Thames, made by the independent production company Hartswood Films. It was created as a vehicle for Harry Enfield, who starred along with Martin Clunes as beer-guzzling flatmates Dermot and Gary. Leslie Ash played Debbie, their upstairs neighbour, with Caroline Quentin as Gary's sharp-tongued girlfriend Dorothy. The series was created and written by Simon Nye, based on his 1989 book of the same title.

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Click for larger image Men Behaving Badly
1992 - Hartswood Films for Thames
Click for larger image Alas, Harry Enfield felt out of place and left, apparently saying that "a proper actor would do the job far better". That's why Neil Morrissey joined in series two, as Tony Smart. With a strong cast in place, what could go wrong? Thames TV lost its franchise in 1992 and ITV decided to cancel the series, that's what. Nye believes the channel's decision was partly influenced by Enfield's departure, also by poor viewing figures. It was not until 1994 that the show was picked up by BBC1. The potential for post-watershed language and behaviour meant its success was assured!

Click for larger image My Name Is Harry Worth
1974
Click for larger image The Barnsley-born comedy actor Harry Worth is probably best remembered for the title sequence of his 1960s BBC sketch show. He was filmed standing by a shop window in Manchester, raising his left arm and leg to create the optical illusion of levitation. He had developed a bumbling, accident-prone persona, which he brought to his role as a salesman in this sitcom. Other than his landlady, played by Lally Bowers, nearly everyone who meets him finds him very frustrating! There was just one series (22/04 - 17/06/74) and the simple music and graphics suggest the gentle nature of the comedy on offer, possibly a little passe even by the standards of 1974...

Click for larger image Never The Twain
1981 - 1991
Click for larger image I got rather bored by Never The Twain towards the end, but I did like it a lot in the early days. Its success in eleven series (66 episodes and a 1989 Christmas special) was almost entirely the result of the great on-screen chemistry between stars Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies, as former business partners in the antiques trade who can no longer stand the sight of each other. The comedy arose as each struggled to outdo the other and failed. Davies in particular was famous for his chortling, cheesy performance as Smallbridge, honoured in 1991 by the comic Sean Hughes, who contrived to appear in the bath with Davies in his Channel Four series Sean's Show.

Click for larger image Odd Man Out
1977
Click for larger image Running from 27/10-08/12/1977, this series ran to just seven episodes - and it's not hard to see why. Frankly it's terrible! It was designed as a star vehicle for John Inman, in his first leading role since achieving fame in the BBC sitcom Are You Being Served? In this case the vehicle is a rusty scooter whose wheels fall off within minutes of starting up. Inman is undoubtedly more effeminate in this than in AYBS, while Josephine Tewson and Peter Butterworth deserved much better material for their talents.

Click for larger image The Plank
1979
Click for larger image A masterclass in visual humour from Eric Sykes, who wrote and directed this dialogue-free caper. Sykes needs one last plank of wood to complete a flooring job, and the film follows its thrill-packed journey from timber yard to building site. He stars with Arthur Lowe, and the wonderful guest cast includes Deryck Guyler, Frankie Howerd, Hattie Jacques, Diana Dors, Reg Varney and Charles Hawtrey, tx 17/12/1979. Sykes aficionados will remember that this is actually a remake of his 1967 film of the same name, which co-starred Tommy Cooper and was produced by Thames' antecedent ABC-TV.

Click for larger image Robin's Nest
1977 - 1981
Click for larger image The second spin-off from Man About The House, after George and Mildred. Robin Tripp (Richard O'Sullivan) was once a catering student who shared with Chrissy and Jo. By this stage he's the Man About His Own Restaurant. His fellow characters are Vicky (Tessa Wyatt), his new girlfriend who later becomes his wife, plus father-in-law to-be James Nicholls, played by the incomparable Tony Britton. Robin and Vicky are sometimes helped, but usually hindered by Albert Riddle (David Kelly), their one-armed kitchen hand. Kelly is best known for playing the rotten Irish builder O'Reilly in Fawlty Towers.

Click for larger image Shelley
1979 - 1992
Click for larger image Unlike Men Behaving Badly, Shelley definitely wasn't coming back after Thames lost its franchice. But by then, it had already become one of ITV's longest running sitcoms. Created by actor/writer Peter Tilbury, 71 episodes were made between 1979 and 1992. Welsh actor Hywel Bennett starred as the idle graduate James Shelley, who ambles through life making "blink and you miss 'em" laconic remarks. In this first series, he directed most of them at his landlady (Josephine Tewson) and girlfriend (Belinda Sinclair).

Click for larger image The Steam Video Company
1984
Fresh from their success at LWT with End of Part One, writers Andrew Marshall and David Renwick gave us this surreal sketch show, a kind of low-budget ITV version of Ripping Yarns which spoofed celluloid thrillers. It wasn't always funny, but there are plenty of memorable moments. Besides, I'm prepared to forgive a show ANYTHING if the legendary William Franklyn and Barry Cryer are among the cast. The rest of the ensemble is a weird mix of traditional, alternative and... er... soft-core porn! Jimmy Mulville appears alongside Bob Todd, Anna Dawson and Madeleine Smith. Look out for the Hitchcockian Thames end board. (tx dates 19/01 - 23/02/1984)

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