Thursday 20 June 2013

A Part of British Heritage I Can Live Without

The TV Sitcom is a many splendoured thing.
From the great (eg Hancock, Steptoe and Son, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Porridge, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder) to the watchable (eg Just Good Friends), to the unwatchable, but you can understand why some people like it (Last Of The Summer Wine) to the absolute dross (eg Bottle Boys, Brighton Belles).  It's what has been filling up our TV screens since they first flickered into life.

But why, when cinema audiences were on the downturn in the 1970s, did the film companies decide to make feature length versions of the lower end of the Sitcom spectrum?
  • Are You Being Served?
  • Bless This House
  • Father, Dear Father
  • George and Mildred
  • The Lovers
  • Love Thy Neighbour
  • Man About the House
  • On the Buses (which somehow managed 3 films!)
  • Please Sir!
Can you spot a theme here?  None of these were that funny as a sitcom, so who thoughn they could be expanded to a 90 minute cavalcade of comedy?
Was there an excess of cheap celluloid in the 1970s, and the ethos was "bung any old crap out, at least we'll get rid of the stockpile"?

Fraankly, I can live without this collection of mirthless trash, even if ITV2 continue to show them back-to-back EVERY Bank Holiday weekend.
So, in my new World Order, these films will be cast into the pit and lost for all eternity.

But its not all bad - being the benevolent dictator that I will undoubtedly be, some of the film from that period of cinematic daftness will be saved:
  • Carry On Behind, Carry On England and Carry On Emmanuelle - despite being the three worst films to bear the name Carry On, they are saved for no other reason than they are Carry On films.
  • Rising Damp, Till Death Us Do Part and Dads Army occupy that unique position of being top-notch sitcoms, but generally so-so films (ie not bad, but not that good either) - so they're safe
  • Steptoe and Son goes a stage further - both the films are emminently watchable, but just fall short of greatness when operating outside the usual 30 minute time period. - saved
Also saved from eternal damnation are two of the best of the sorry crop:
  • Porridge
  • The Likely Lads.
The known characters, situations and frustrations from the TV series remained, but both seamlessly made the transition to cinema.  This, I think, is due in no small part to the writers (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) whose later work including Auf Wiedersehen Pet, The Commitments and Flushed Away showed they were equally comfortable operating in a longer form, and not just in the defined 30 minute sitcom timeframe.

This pecualir folly of turning unfunny sitcoms into unfunny films stopped in the early 80s - good job too, otherwise the great viewing public may have been "treated" to feature length versions of 'Allo 'Allo and Hi-De-Hi.

But now it seems the idea of turning TV sitcoms into films is back, albeit with limited success.

The Thick Of It was a part scripted, part improvised political satire.  Hidden away on BBC4, and then transferring to BBC2, it was thought provoking, possibly savage, and in some case probably VERY close to the truth.  The film version "In The Loop" was a pale imitation of the TV show.
And in August, the long awaited (maybe only by me) Alan Partridge film - Alpha Papa - is to be released.  One can only hope that this film occupies the Porridge/Likely Lads territory, by being a valid addition to the AP cannon

Also in August, the second installment of a Touch Of Cloth will hit the TV Screens (as long as you have Sky One).
Written by Charlie Brooker and Dan Maier, the first installment debunked the TV Detective drama, icoporating just about every cliche and predictable plot evelopment going.  Also, stuffed full of as many bad puns, sight gags and general silliness as past masters suchas Airplane, Police Squad and Naked Gun.

Yup, it's looking like August is going to be a fine month (unless of course ITV2 decide to air one (or more) of the films mentioned above))

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