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Thursday, November 03, 2016

Comedy- Best Medicine- 2

I mentioned 'The Goon Show' in my last blog post. These, and many of the classic BBC radio comedies, are broadcast regularly on the digital station BBC Radio Four Extra. Not only 'The Goons' but 'Hancock's Half-Hour,' 'Round The Horne,' 'The Men From The Ministry,' 'I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again,' 'The Burkiss Way,' Radio Active' and many more.

Quite a few comedies start life on Radio Four (the main channel) and then get transferred to television. The most famous of all must be Hancock's Half Hour, which made the transfer in 1956, hence the 60th anniversary of this fact this year. As a result they did a series of revivals and one-offs of famous sitcoms, such as 'Are You Being Served?", "Porridge", "Goodnight Sweetheart" and a 'prequel' of "Keeping Up Appearances" called "Young Hyacinth" with the character, originally played by the brilliant Patricia Routledge,  by Kerry Howard. I didn't see it, and, frankly, didn't see the point. Why can't the BBC come up with new sitcoms? In the 1960's they used to do a series called "Comedy Playhouse" which generally consisted of what were, in effect six pilots for potential series. This is how shows such as "Steptoe and Son" began. They also did another series called "Six of One" which were, again, pilots for shows which starred Ronnie Barker. Two became series, one being "Porridge" and the other "Open All Hours." A couple of years ago they did a one-off called " Still Open All Hours." Having Googled this just now, it appears that they are making a third series of this. Personally I don't see the point, when it can't be as good as the original because Ronnie Barker, who made Arkwright, the central character in the original series, died several years ago, and no matter how good David Jason is in it, it can never be as good as that 1970s series. Still, I suppose if it gets the BBC high ratings, that can't be a bad thing.Perhaps it's the nostalgia of the thing that attracts such a big audience, the security of something familiar in a fast-changing world. ITV revived "Birds of A Feather" with similar high audience figures and it seems to be as popular as it was when originally shown on the BBC in the 1990s, and with most of the original cast members in place. Mention of Ronnie Barker reminds me that he was born in Bedford, about a 20-minute drive away from where I live, here in Milton Keynes. He also began his professional acting career in repertory theatre in Aylesbury, another 30 minutes away from here in the other direction, and when the newly-opened Waterside Theatre was opened there a few years ago, a statue of him was unveiled outside, sitting on a wall outside which means you can see him at street level, rather than up on a plinth. His comic timing and acting ability must have been learned because of his time in 'rep' due to him having to play a wide range of characters over a long period, do doubt doing weekly 'rep', meaning playing one show during the evening whilst rehearsing another during the day. All good experience for a young actor. He appears regularly in episodes of "The Navy Lark," yet another brilliant sitcom which is broadcast on Radio Four Extra, alongside another comedy legend, John Pertwee.

So, what exactly constitutes a 'sitcom'? There are a few key criteria I would suggest. They normally run for no more than 30 minutes, although there are examples of sitcoms running to 50 minutes or so. A sitcom is generally set in what I would call a 'closed world,' for example, a prison ('Porridge'), a department store ('Are You Being Served?') or a family ('Bread', 'My Family', 'Two Point Four Children', 'Outnumbered.') etc. The characters don't always get on with one another. This creates friction, conflict. There is generally a hierarchy, class divisions ("Keeping Up Appearances,' the class-snobbery of the Patricia Rutledge character thinks herself far above her relations, Onslow and Daisy, who she looks down at as they are 'working class' while she thinks of herself as 'Middle Class.' In 'Dad's Army' Mainwairing sets himself up as the platoon leader, because he is a bank manager, but has a chip on his shoulder because his Assistant in the bank, Wilson, went to a public school while he went to a state school.

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