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Monday, April 27, 2015

Television comedy 'Outside Edge'

I'm currently watching one of my favourite television comedies of the 1990's called "Outside Edge." It's being shown on ITV Encore. Actually I'm downloading it from ITV Player. I remember it with a certain affection from when it was originally shown, but I think I must be watching later episodes which I've never seen before. It was based on a stage play, also called "Outside Edge" and written by Richard Harris (I don't think it was the actor of the same name who wrote it, but perhaps it was, but I can't be sure of that.)  It was first staged at the Hampstead Theatre, London on 24th July 1979 and then transferred into the West End, at the Queen's Theatre on 11th September 1979. The cast for that production were: Roger- Richard Kane; Miriam- Julia McKenzie; Kevin- Ian Trigger; Maggie- Maureen Lipman; Bob- John Kane; Ginnie- Susan Carpenter; Dennis- Julian Curry; Alex- Martin Wimpish; Sharon- Natalie Forbes.The original one-off television play was  broadcast on I.T.V. on 19th December 1982 and produced by London Weekend Television. In the cast were cast with Paul Eddington as Roger (best known for his roles in "The Good Life" and then "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister.") Prunella Scales as Miriam, Jonathan Lynn as Kevin and Maureen Lipman as Maggie.) The television series  version was produced by Central Television. 

The series centres around Roger Dervish (Robert Daws) as the pompous captain of a minor Sunday League cricket team. He likes to think of himself as the 'driving force' behind the team, yet he isn't really much good at organisation.

Most of the real work is actually done by Roger's ever-efficient, long-suffering wife, Miriam (Brenda Blethyn, currently seen in "Vera" on ITV).
Kevin Costello (Timothy Spall) is a bit of a slob. He's also probably the nearest thing Roger has to a friend.

Kevin is married to the lovely Maggie (Josie Lawrence), a very outgoing, affectionate woman. She adores Kevin and has a seemingly insatiable appetite for sex (as long as it's with Kevin). They are desperately trying to have a baby, without much success. The series was made entirely on location, and on film, which adds to the reality of the whole thing. Also, it doesn't have a studio audience cackling on the soundtrack and also it uses a clever mix of different classical music excerpts which also adds to the mix very successfully. I remember seeing an amateur version a few years ago as well as a touring version of the play at the Derngate in Northampton, but I think that the television version is better than the original play as there is room to develop the characters and plots further as well as the ability to show the actual cricket matches they play because in the stage version from what I remember the matches are 'off-stage.' Cricket isn't really what it's about, it's the interaction between the characters that makes it interesting.It's very subtle and some of it verges on the tragic-comic, particularly the scenes between Kevin and Maggie, played to perfection by the brilliant Timothy Spall and Josie Lawrence. In some ways it has a lot in common with a lot of Alan Ayckbourn's plays which seem to centre on a set of similar characters and situations which have a good deal more depth to them than your average comedy, television or stage.

A shame that today's television hasn't got the imagination that it had when this series was first aired. Even with umpteen channels we get a very narrow choice of programming. In the 1970's and 80's there were only four television channels, but you did seem to get quite a good mix of what you could watch. In one evening you'd get children's programmes such as 'Blue Peter' and 'Magpie' and later on a sitcom such as "The Good Life", 'Fawlty Towers" or "Yes, Prime Minister." A good one-off drama at least once a week in strands such as "Play for Today" where such writers as Dennis Potter or Alan Plater would give cutting-edge drama, and you could see things like "Vote, Vote For Nigel Barton", "The Singing Detective", "Kathy, Come Home" and so on. It seems that today every day is the same on television. The schedules are exactly the same for each day of the week. You know that 'Pointless' will be at 5.15 every day, and there's going to be an episode even at the weekend. 'EastEnders' is on several times a week, getting more and more monotonous and depressing as the weeks go on. When "Outside Edge" was made, I.T.V. was still made up of smaller companies such as Anglia, London Weekend Television, Central, Granada, Tyne Tees etc etc. Then it became possible for the larger companies to gradually take over the smaller ones, such as Granada and Carlton, until in the early 2000s the government allowed them to merge to just become one conglomerate, I.T.V. plc and run from one place and making somewhat bland programmes. Beforehand, each company had it's own individuality, some having a particular speciality such as Anglia, which made wildlife documentaries such as "Survival."
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