I have made mention of this little gem of a sitcom in the past:
and as all the world surely knows by now, a metal detector is the piece of kit but the person operating it is called a detectorist.
Detectorists is now back for a third series and though it’s still consigned to the relative backwaters of BBC 4, the Beeb is finally promoting it. I wasn’t quite sure about this series at first: Andy and Becky are back from Botswana where Andy was working on a dig; they have no money and are living with her mother whilst saving for a house. Andy ends up quitting his job on a local dig because his boss doesn’t give a toss about Roman floors; meanwhile the field where they have been detecting for years, is under threat of development.
But from a rather slow start the series has built to last week’s stonking episode. I won’t give it all away since it may still be languishing on your ‘downloads’ list or you may yet have to catch up on the series as a whole: suffice it to say that everything comes together and rather than the gentle comedy which usually prevails, this episode is a firecracker. There’s one brilliant joke after another; the best one being when the pals decide to save a tree by putting a bat box in it. For more information they phone the Bat Action Line which turns out to be staffed by none other than their arch-rivals, the Dirt-Sharks (aka Simon and Garfunkel) who happen to be in a nearby field. The dialogue goes like this:
Phil: could you turn off your phone please? It’s interfering with my detector.
Paul: I’ve had a call.
Phil: So? Just turn it off
Paul: But it’s on the bat-phone!
Sheer genius. Much more than this is afoot and I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds next week. In the meantime, here’s the episode in question:
As long-time readers of this blog will know, I am a great fan of sitcom. I consider it to be one of the great art-forms of our age. It’s not just about making people laugh: it’s about creating believable characters and a world where those characters are at home. In these worlds you need to have key settings: the vestry in The Vicar of Dibley and Rev; the home or the pub in Ever-Decreasing Circles; the garden or the kitchen in The Good Life; the hotel reception in Fawlty Towers. This is the home scene; the place you keep coming back to – and in Open all Hours – now resurrected as Still Open All Hours – it’s the shop.
I have to admit, I was a little dubious when I saw this being revived. Could they possibly do it without Ronnie Barker and his stammer? The answer is, they could and they did. Still Open All Hours moves forward to the present day. Granville has inherited the shop and taken on all the crafty, greedy and ultimately doomed tactics of his uncle. Stooge to his shopkeeper is his son, Leroy. Abandoned by his mother after a one-night stand, Leroy is just as oppressed as Granville himself once was.
But what’s brilliant about the update is the range of characters they have. Roy Clarke’s writing is as delicious and inventive as ever, and all the better for having ditched the misogyny which blighted it in the original: in this version women as well as men mull over the characteristics they like in the opposite sex, and bemoan the lack of passion and romance in their lives. ‘There’s nothing wrong with plain – especially in subdued light,’ says Mavis.
But the best thing about this series is the re-emergence of forgotten comedy actors: in episode six we have revived Liver Bird Paula Wilcox, plus regulars Brigit Forsyth who was in The Likely Lads; two of the Goodness Gracious Me team (Gulvinder Ghir and Nina Wadia) and a cameo from Mark Williams of The Fast Show. Plus of course old favourites Stephanie Cole and Lynda Barron as Nurse G-Gladys.
With a photo of Arkwright presiding over the shop and the till still refusing to relinquish money, this is a terrific remake and I hope they do more.
Cap’n Peacock, he of ‘Are you Being Served?’ fame. I really hated that series – as I did all sitcoms penned by Perry and/or Croft subsequent to ‘Dad’s Army’ – and I’m still trying to work out why it is that the same writing duo can go from subtle and intelligent comedy to crap that beats you about the head, in the space of about five minutes.
Jimmy Perry and David Croft came to fame with ‘Dad’s Army’. Though some of the plot rested on slapstick, what saved it from the predictability of later series was the subtle interplay of class and character: Sergeant Wilson being more intelligent and higher social status than his Captain. The characters were also more rounded: though they had their own oft-repeated tropes, they were believable as characters in their own right; they had range and humanity. We cared about them, just as Mainwaring – for all his pomposity and blundering – cared deeply about them, and about winning the war.
But subsequent sitcoms the pair were involved in tended to hit the viewer over the head. There was no subtlety in ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’, no nicely-nuanced social observation in ‘Allo-Allo’ or ‘Hi-de-hi’, and if I have to hear one more joke in the whole of my life about Mrs Slocum’s pussy I will go stark staring bananas. They left behind the good stuff and just went with the obvious slapstick.
It’s very disappointing. So I can’t find it in me to mourn too deeply for Cap’n Peacock’s demise. But there you go – he’s dead. I’m tempted to say that he died as he acted – peacefully in his sleep – but that would be cruel.
Today I shall be mostly… sweating at the laptop-face.
Listening as we speak to Beryl Vertue on Desert Island Discs. I knew the name and when they started talking I realised I’ve seen her on the credits of loads of sitcoms, including Black Books, Steptoe and Son and Men Behaving Badly. She seems to have had an interesting career, starting as a secretary (basically, making tea for Spike Milligan) * and spanning the decades between ‘traditional’ sitcom to more modern and anarchic stuff. I like Desert Island Discs, though it often transpires that the most interesting people have awful taste in music, choosing lots of opera or stuff from musicals. I really can’t understand how anyone can listen to opera, let alone pay hundreds of pounds to go and see one. Still, de gustibus and all that… Anyway, opera music notwithstanding, Beryl did a good thing: she altered Terry Nation’s contract so that he kept all the money made from his creation of the Daleks.
I have never owned a Dalek as I think they were not widely available when I was a child; not that I think I’d have gone for one as they scared the c**p out of me, though not so much as the Cybermen who actually did send me skulking behind the sofa (when I grew up I couldn’t believe everyone else had done this too). I’d probably have gone for a Tardis or something – or a scarf like Tom Baker’s. Come to think of it, I did have such a scarf in the era of maxi-scarves, though the one I had was brown and not multi-coloured. Still I can go and visit the Daleks any time I like as I have a free pass to Skaro. Just don’t ask me how I got it…
*This reminds me of Wendy Cope’s book, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis.
For some reason I was thinking of the Liver Birds this morning, and that set us thinking about the history of the actual Liver birds. Apparently the concept dates from 1350 (didn’t know Carla Lane was that old, LOL) and was supposed to be an eagle but then became a cormorant (“many people feel the Liverpool cormorant does not play an important part in the life of the city, but I would remind you…”) In 1688 they were called The Leaver Birds, though the Liver Building wasn’t constructed until 1911. They are a pair of birds, the female looking out to sea and the male looking towards land. One of them has something in its mouth thought to be lava, so maybe that’s where the name originated.
It’s hard to imagine Liverpool without the Liver Birds: they seem to much the guardian spirits of the city. Of course if you type the words ‘Liver Birds’ into a search engine in the UK you’re quite likely to get this:
They’re not quite looking in different directions, but almost: here are Beryl and Sandra, the Liver Birds of the sitcom. Now, what I want to know is this: what does the little dialogue at the end of the theme tune mean? I can understand the rest – ‘what’s got four arms, loves to grab ya? answer is, two Liver Birds’. But what about this:
What does this mean? Does it mean, ‘yes I’ll dance with you’ or does it mean ‘I’m already dancing so no thanks’ or maybe ‘I’m dancing anyway so you can join in if you want’. Which is it? Or is it none of the above?
I think we should be told.
It’s at the end of this clip:
Btw the song was sung by the Scaffold and here’s the full version:
You must be logged in to post a comment.