Tag Archives: Simon Nye

Sex and the Sitcom: Ooh, er missus

Sex and the Sitcom examines how British sitcoms have dealt with the subject that brought Mary Whitehouse out in hives. This programme gave me pangs of nostalgia, particularly with regard to Butterflies and the wonderful Wendy Craig’s never-to-be consummated affair with Leonard. After the relentlessly male perspective of sexuality in sitcoms such as On the Buses and Casanova 73, it’s clear Carla Lane’s arrival resulted in a really interesting era of sitcoms with complicated and fascinating women characters. I watched every episode of Butterflies as a child, and somehow got caught up in colluding with the men, her boys and husband, that Ria was a bit daffy and a lousy cook. Now, watching a clip of it as an adult, I get a much sharper sense of her longing for something of her own, a relationship where she can feel attractive, noticed, away from the pleasant but stultifying home life where she’s endless washing Y fronts.

There were many other gems in this programme. I’d forgotten how refreshing the arrival of Agony was, with Maureen Lipmann and two lovely gay men (first in a British sitcom not to be Mr Humphreys camp or Frankie Howerd ‘straight’). I never had any interest in watching Men Behaving Badly, so I missed out on the ‘radical’ airing of porn mags and ‘sticky tissue on the face’ of Caroline Quentin Christmas Special wank scandal. I feel sure I can survive the disappointment (I should point out that I do rather love Martin Clunes in general, just not in this).

The programme featured intelligent, thoughtful between-clip discussions by some fine comedy writers, such as Simon Nye, Carla Lane and David Nobbs. Much was said about how British sitcoms traditionally relied on male characters who are somewhat inadequate, stuck, unable to communicate, and never able to have sex with the women that they fantasize about. And even if they do get the girl, they don’t actually know what to do with her. This was beautifully illustrated by a clip of the magnificent Leonard Rossiter being led by the hand to the bedroom, looking terrified, by Audrey from Corrie, in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

And an interesting fact I learnt – that Idris Elba appeared, as a tasty bit of trouser, in an episode of Ab Fab.

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Filed under Comedy, Documentaries

Just William: ‘Strordinarily good

I’ve categorised this under kids’ TV, because it’s being shown on CBBC, but having watched it with my eight year old (who thought it was funny, but sidled out of the room when William Brown was being toyed with by the Machiavellian six-year-old in petticoats Violet Elizabeth Bott), I think there may be an awful lot more adults watching it.

The stories have been taken from the books written by the dry, witty, and generally splendid Richmal Crompton (who is top of my fantasy, and I guess, ghostly, dinner party guest list) and turned into television scripts by the deft hand of Simon Nye. He has moved the action from the 1930s into the 1950s, and downgraded the social class of the Brown family a little. But it works. The stories are marvellous of course. And there are are some very good performances from the rest of the Brown family: minxy temptress, sister Ethel, trying-to-be-cool but failing brother Robert (last seen as Dudley Dursley –  and what a transformation), and the long-suffering parents, played nicely by Rebecca Front and Daniel Ryan.

And it’s a double treat for those of us who adore the perfect voice of Martin Jarvis above and beyond any other human being (he’s loaded on my MP3 player and ‘reads’ my bedtime/insomnia stories of PG Wodehouse and Just William), because he gets to narrate this too.

Many of us remember the memorably lisping Bonny Langford as Violet Elizabeth Bott in the TV series from 30 odd years ago. This time the formidable young miss is Isabelle Blake-Thomas. And, on balance, I prefer this equally terrifying, but slighter lower key version. Her parents are sauce magnate Mr Bott, and wife, in some damn fine hats, played by Caroline Quentin.

I’m not sure how many of these have been made, for they have gone straight onto my ‘favourite’ list on i-player. And William Brown remains my all time favourite boy character.

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Filed under Kids TV

Doctor Who (5.7): Back to reality

I haven’t seen enough zombie films to be sure (the first twenty minutes of Shaun of the Dead three times doesn’t really count as proper experience, anymore than my intention to definitely see 28 Days Later), but I can’t help thinking that Amy’s Choice was the DW team’s sly dip into the genre.

It’s a hard episode to pin down in many ways – overly simplistic or quite clever? A dig at the show’s critics or a love letter to the Doctor? Or perhaps both (twice – as it were).

The premise is that the Doctor, Amy and Rory are sharing a dream – but which experience is reality? Is it Upper Leadworth, five years in the future where Rory is now a doctor and Amy has, in the Doctor’s words, “swallowed a planet”.

Or is it a dead TARDIS drifting towards a cold sun that will freeze them to death before the ship plummets into it?

The Dream Lord commands them to choose a reality (each of which contains something potentially fatal) and die in it, in order to wake up in reality. Of course, if you die in reality, then you, well just die.

So, which is real? Simon Nye has his work cut out. This isn’t eight hours of Ashes to Ashes, it’s 45 minutes of TV for kids (and their parents). Both realities could be real (I wouldn’t put it past Rory to grow a ponytail that awful), but both have anomalies too. Choices, choices… all made harder by the Dream Lord popping up as they switch randomly between realities to taunt them (especially the “flop-haired wuss” of a Doctor:  “If you had any more tawdry quirks, you could open up a tawdry quirk shop.”).

Upper Leadworth is filled with very, very old people. The Doctor smells a rat: “Something doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick…” The ‘rat’ is, naturally, a bunch of vengeful aliens living inside the OAPs, and turning humans into medium-sized piles of dust. (Incidentally, the second Red Dwarf allusion here.) Rumbled by our time-travellers, the pensioners shuffle menacingly on sticks and Zimmer frames through the village intent on making our heroes look more like the content of a dustbuster…

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