Comedy gems, Part 4


WELCOME to the final instalment of my comedy catalogue, starting with a visit to the grim Craighill estate in Glasgow, home of elderly friends Jack Jarvis and Victor McDade.

Still Game ran for nine series between 2002 and 2019. It was initially shown only on BBC Scotland but made it to BBC2 by season 4 and thereafter to BBC1.

Jack, played by Ford Kiernan, and Victor (Greg Hemphill) are two codgers in their seventies. They are seen mainly at their adjacent flats in a tower block, the grotty local pub, the Clansman, with its abusive barman Boabby Taylor (Gavin Mitchell), and the corner shop run by Naveed Harrid (Sanjeev Kohli). Naveed is constantly arguing with his wife Meena, whose ample bottom often features but whose face, so far as I am aware, is never shown.

Time hangs heavy on the old guys’ hands as they try to avoid giving information to their neighbour Isa Drennan (Jane McCarry) who prides herself on knowing everything about everybody.

In my view the early programmes are the best, concentrating more on the beautifully observed verbal sparring between the characters. Still Game actually started as a stage play featuring Jack and Victor stuck in a flat with their friend Winston Ingram owing to a broken lift.

One of my favourite scenes comes in series two and involves a little garden which the residents have constructed on a balcony high in the sky. This is meant to provide a refuge from the ‘neds’ or yobbos who plague the area. One day two neds invade the garden with a vicious dog and start to stir up trouble. When Winston, played by Paul Riley, waves his stick at them and tells them to clear off, a ned snatches it off him and throws it over the parapet. The dog follows, keen to fetch it back, and hits the ground with a thud several seconds later. Here is the full episode with the scene I mention right at the end.

You can watch Still Game on BBC iPlayer and Netflix, while the complete collection including Hogmanay specials can be bought on DVD for £30.

In 2008 the E4 channel showed the first episode of The Inbetweeners, a story of four hapless sixth-formers constantly on the pull but always being frustrated. It gained poor reviews and a tiny audience. However, within three years the programme was winning Bafta awards, the critics loved it and a spin-off movie was a worldwide hit.

The narrator is Will, played by Simon Bird, who has had to move from private school to a bog-standard comprehensive. There he meets the boastful Jay (James Buckley), lovelorn Simon (Joe Thomas) and thick-as-two-short-planks Neil (Blake Harrison). Will’s friends all lust after his gorgeous mum Polly McKenzie, portrayed by Belinda Stewart-Wilson, and continually embarrass him by making salacious remarks about her. Here are some classic moments from Series One, and Series Two. 

The beauty of The Inbetweeners is that although the boys (incidentally, all played by far older men) are foul-mouthed and sexually obsessed, there is an essential innocence to them. Among the critical verdicts, one said the programme ‘captures the pathetic sixth-form male experience quite splendidly’ while another added that its ‘exquisitely accurate dialogue’ perfectly portrayed the feel of adolescence.

Three series were made between 2008 and 2010, when it was decided to call it a day, partly because of the difficulty of men playing boys. The Inbetweeners movie, set on holiday in Crete, was followed by a sequel in 2014. Everything is available on DVD while the TV shows are free to view on the Channel 4 website. 

Back to the late Eighties and early Nineties for The New Statesman, starring Rik Mayall as Alan B’stard, a young Tory MP who will do anything, including murder, to reach the top.

He continually voices his contempt for the working class and suggests that NHS waiting lists can be eradicated overnight by shutting down the health service, thereby killing poor people and wiping out poverty.

Here are a few choice moments. 

The B’stard saga ran to four series on ITV plus two BBC specials and a stage show, which saw him defect to New Labour and toady up to Tony Blair. You can watch almost everything free on ITVX while DVDs are also available.

When Mayall died of a heart attack in 2014, aged only 56, New Statesman writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran penned this obituary of Alan Beresford B’stard.

When B’stard surfaced in 1987 there was public shock that an MP could be portrayed as behaving so badly. Some of today’s clowns in Parliament make him look like an angel.

Finally, it’s back to Scotland for Tutti Frutti, a six-part series written by John Byrne and first shown in 1987. This is the story of The Majestics, a rock and roll band fronted by singer Big Jazza McGlone, played by Robbie Coltrane. When Jazza is killed in a car crash on the eve of the group’s Silver Jubilee tour, his younger brother Danny (also Coltrane) is persuaded to take his place by their scheming and greedy manager Eddie Clockerty (Richard Wilson). Danny’s old schoolmate Suzi Kettles, played by Emma Thompson, joins on guitar.

There are moments of great hilarity in Tutti Frutti, and poignancy. Some of the most sparkling exchanges involve Clockerty and his lazy secretary Miss Toner (Katy Murphy).

It grieves me to say it, given her later luvviness, but Thompson is superb, winning a best actress Bafta for her performance.

The series is now available on BBC iPlayer. According to this 2009 Guardian article celebrating its long-awaited release on DVD, ‘Tutti Frutti works on so many levels: a pitch-perfect satire about faded talent and inflated egos in the music industry and a tender portrayal of the unusual love stories between Danny and Suzi and Clockerty and Miss Toner. For [writer John] Byrne, it was “about rock’n’roll and the part it played in the lives of that generation”. Most of all, though, it’s a damned near perfect comedy.’

That’s it for my comic selections, but not the end of the series. I’ll be covering some readers’ suggestions for programmes I have missed out, so keep ’em coming.

Deadly Derek

The death last week of former Kent and England cricketer Derek Underwood at the age of 78 reminded me of a surreal Sunday about 30 years ago.

The south-east London suburb of Beckenham, where we were living at the time, is blessed with a number of sports grounds including those of the major banks. The former Lloyds ground is now one of the homes of Kent CCC.

One sunny weekend I went for a stroll with our toddler, Jim, in his pushchair. As we passed the NatWest ground, which I had never visited, I heard a ripple of applause and noticed that the car park was full. In I went, to find a proper cricket stadium with bar, stands and the most perfect pitch, on which a match was proceeding.

The bowler, a blond chap with a lovely, loose-limbed action, looked strangely familiar. ‘Isn’t that Derek Underwood?’ I asked someone. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘And at the other end is John Snow.’

Had I stumbled into a time warp? No, it was a charity match between an Old England side and a NatWest XI. I stayed for a few minutes until Jim got restless (he has never been a cricket fan) and reluctantly dragged myself away. But I can report that even in his late forties Underwood, who took almost 300 Test wickets for England, was still earning his nickname of ‘Deadly’. Rest in peace, sir.

Old jokes’ home

Manager of Scottish restaurant asks customer: ‘Can I tempt you to a dessert, perhaps some apple pie or a meringue?’ ‘No, you’re quite right, I’d like some apple pie.’

A PS from PG

‘Suppose your Aunt Dahlia read in the paper one morning that you were going to be shot at sunrise.’
‘I couldn’t be, I’m never up so early.’

PG Wodehouse: Jeeves in the Offing

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