I’m a self-confessed book nut; I’m not really a novels man (though do enjoy a good read on holiday) but I love reference books. Art, design, architecture and photography books are my favourites but I also have a thing for listings guides. I’ve got them on films, music, album covers, jazz musicians, logos and letter-heads, football, artworks, classic cars (in which i feature!), skyscrapers, bridges, film scripts and so on. You name it I can study these for hours just assimilating fairly irrevelant data and images. Just for the hell of it. But one book is constantly open and I’ll dip into it most days – the Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy, written by Mark Lewisohn. It’s a few years old now but it’s just chocker with stuff that I find fascinating.
Anyway reading it this morning I came across a couple of listings which made me all reflective. The first concerned just about my least favourite comedy to appear on British tv in recent-ish years, the Upper Hand. I don’t know if you recall it but it featured a seriously wooden and non-comedic Joe McGann as an ex-Spurs footballer Charlie Burrows who’s become a sort of house husband/butler (as ex footballers tend to do) to attractive but divorced advertising executive Caroline played by Diana Weston, whose sex-mad mother lives in. Central issue; will rough-edged Charlie and sophisticated Caroline ever get it together? Of course they frigging do but it took 5 series to get there. Good grief.
It was a straight lift from a highly-successful American programme called Who’s the Boss? Apart from some local tweaks the scripts and sets were virtually identical to the original. Well it might have been funny and sharp in the US but over here it just seemed implausible, twee, laboured, predictable and gruesomely unfunny. I hated it. In the end they get married and for two series it stumbled along without the will they/won’t they intrigue. ITV finally consigned it to the relegation bin at the end of the ’96 season. I may have caught 3 of the programmes over 7 years and each one was truly grim. Have you any comedy memories as awful as this one?
Anyway that’s not really the main point of this posting. I was delighted to come across a reference to Richard O’Sullivan. You must remember the series he was involved with eg Man About the House, Robin’s Nest and Me and My Girl. Looking back now these programmes seem like gentle, make-you-smile kind of tv but they were quite cutting edge in some ways. In the first O’Sullivan plays Robin Tripp who after a wild party ends up sharing a flat with two sexy single girls. The will he/won’t he tension was at the heart of this scenario too but in the early 70’s this menage a trois scenario was edgy for tv comedy.
The programme then spawned two spin-offs, George and Mildred, who were the lesser character landlords in the original series but who became the best-loved characters by the end, and Robin’s Nest. In this O’Sullivan’s character is seen to have moved on several years and having graduated from his catering course, now opens up his own restaurant with his fiancee. This was the first British sit-com to have a couple co-habiting. It was an intelligent way to update a concept that had probably run its course. Both spin-offs became as popular as the original, perhaps more so. There was also the first move into off-screen marketing as O’Sullivan’s chef character brought out a successful cook-book called Man About the Kitchen. Neat eh!
A few years down the line and O’Sullivan had his 3rd major tv comedy series with Me and My Girl. Here he plays the advertising executive who’s bringing up a young daughter alone. He’s got a keen eye for the ladies (as with all O’Sullivan’s characters) and the humour comes from the tension points between the sensible life/love lessons he’s giving his daughter compared with his own indiscretions and actions. It was actually fairly gently stuff with hindsight and perhaps the least good of the 3 series. But it was certainly popular.
Then what? Richard O’Sullivan just seemed to disappear from view. He actually did another tv series in 1991 alongside the delicious Susan Penhaligon, called Trouble in Mind, playing a disaffected pyschiatrist. It bombed by all accounts and I have no recall of it. I always wondered what became of him and why someone as popular as he had been, never did any more tv work. Weird eh? In recent years O’Sullivan suffered a stroke and now lives in a retirement home for former actors, which sounds a rather sad conclusion for such a major tv star of the 70’s and 80’s.
Anyway, which programmes do you remember which have become largely forgotten now but touched a nerve with you at the time?