Thursday, 30 May 2013

Lucky Feller

During the first series of Only Fools and Horses, there’s a moment in the episode ‘A Slow Bus To Chingford’ where Del Boy exclaims "Déjà vu! It’s made to measure!".  A better use of the French phrase would have been “Déjà vu! It’s me, my brother, a silly car and a barrel load of scrapes again!”. 

We’re referring to the fact that several years before OFAH first entered our consciousness, ITV had aired a sitcom which, although not a doppelgänger (yes, we’re going multilingual today), was certainly a close relation.

Genre: Comedy
Channel: ITV
Transmission: 03/09/1976 - 26/11/1976

Lucky Feller was a 13 episode sitcom screened by ITV in 1976 and produced by the network franchise LWT.

Set in South East London, the show revolved around the titular ‘lucky feller’ Shorty Mepstead (David Jason) and his brother Randy (Peter Armitage).

Shorty was the more sensitive brother, more likely to be found wearing the male perfume 'Sinew' and driving around in a red 'bubble' car. Randy, on the other hand, was more a jack the lad character who cleaned up with the women.

Still living at home with their dear old mother (Pat Heywood) they divided their time between running an electrical/plumbing/anything repair service and romancing Kathleen (Cheryl Hall). 

No father was present as he had drowned at work. In a brewery. In a vat of milk stout.

Brothers In Arms

Written by the talented hand of playwright/novelist Terence Frisby, the series’ first incarnation was as a one-off pilot in June 1975. A year later, the series was filmed at Kent House studios and transmitted by ITV in Autumn 1976 in a 7pm slot.

Terence Frisby has since gone on to say that it was LWT’s most successful show of the year, but it would fail to build upon its early success and never saw a second series or even a repeat. 

It wasn’t until 2012 that episodes surfaced online after Dominic Frisby – son of Terence – found a dusty VHS upon his father’s shelf which contained three episodes.

Terence Frisby was asked to write a second series, but requested the original series be repeated first. Due to the machinery of ITV at the time, this simply wasn’t possible.

Several years later, the chance to repeat the series came up; David Jason, by then a huge name, decided to veto this opportunity(1). This brings us to an interesting area of David Jason’s career and his desire for a Stalinist rewrite of his career.

The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs is another 70s Jason vehicle which has similarly been denied repeats or any commercial releases, whilst a 1986 repeat of Do Not Adjust Your Set had to be abridged to remove all trace of him.

Exactly why this occurred is not clear – it may have been down to dissatisfaction with the shows or simply wanting to avoid overexposure. At least he's not in it for the money, but then there was The Royal Bodyguard...

Myths abound that the similarities between OFAH are so incredible that there's even a scene where a character falls through a bar whilst trying to impress a girl. Was one of the most famous scenes in British comedy the result of intellectual property theft by John Sullivan?!

We queried this with Dominic Frisby and he has pruned this scandalous grapevine by advising "I haven't seen it. Apparently there was a scene in a pub with lots of slapstick, but not that actual gag."

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother
Like the majority of the British Isles, Curious British Telly loves at least one David Jason show, so taking a look at Lucky Feller was a no-brainer. To understand the basic premise of the series, we also booked in at the BFI Archive to view the pilot episode which they hold.

The first thing that struck us, apart from the OFAH similarities, is that it’s a very 70s sitcom packed full of farce and slapstick.

The main thing to look for were laughs and we were left chortling several times throughout an episode. The farce isn’t as manic as, say, Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em, but scenes such as the flooding launderette in episode 9 are entertaining and well written.

The female characters are the weakest areas of the writing. They aren’t given the most empowering of roles and do, at times, veer into stereotypical female behaviour, when they’re not gossiping, they’re waiting for men to sort everything out.

Kathleen, at least, is given some power by flitting between Randy and Shorty, but this aside she does veer towards ‘dolly bird’ territory.
We all know that David Jason can act, so there’s little point in eulogising his performance too much. He hasn’t quite hit the heights of Del Boy or Pa Larkin yet, but he’s easily the best actor in the series.

Much like his burly frame, Peter Armitage brings the necessary manly feel to the role of Randy. The thought of him doing anything less than drinking a pint of brown ale and scanning the football results is terrifying.

Pat Heywood and Cheryl Hall are the main female roles, but neither actress gives a performance that arches it's neck above the pulpit of mediocrity.

A few guest starts of note pop up in the episodes that we’ve seen, Saeed Jaffrey displays his usual middle class Anglo-Indian charm in episode 9 and Prunella Scales lands the best female role in episode 12.
The pilot episode is essentially the same as episode 2 from the series proper. The opening credits are different and seem to feature rather a lot of diesel trains and no bubblecar.

A couple of the cast also differ – Randolph is played by Nicky Henson, Mrs Mepstead as a much more no-nonsense matriarch is taken on by Elizabeth Spriggs and Sylvester McCoy (credited as Sylveste McCoy) plays Randolph’s drunk friend, Sylveste.
Curious British Telly feel that this is a sitcom that should surely be featuring in Network’s current DVD roster. Due to David Jason’s reluctance, however, it isn’t and this is a real shame.

Lucky Feller is by no means perfect, for one thing there isn’t enough focus on family in the episodes we’ve viewed.

However, the writing’s sharp enough to warrant more than a forgotten footnote in David Jason’s career. Hopefully it will see the light of one day, but for now head to Dominic Frisby’s site at to see why it should be elevated above the murky depths of forgotten British television.
1. - accessed 30/05/13

*****As of 22/09/2014 Lucky Feller is now available on DVD!!!*****


It's been a busy month for Curious British Telly as we've been working hard to bring some interesting bits and pieces to the blog.

First off, we went to the BFI Archive yesterday to view three shows. One of these was Mike, Mop and The Moke which we have updated on the Mop and Smiff blog, the next was David Jason's 70s vehicle Lucky Feller which should be uploaded later today and finally we watched 1986's Scragtag and his Tea Time Telly. We're currently awaiting the results of an interview for Scragtag, so that will probably be up in the next week.

We've been to the British Library as well to unearth some more articles on a few of our listed shows and these updates are listed below.

Paris - Today's Choice article from Radio Times
Fox Tales - TV Times cutting for the first episode
The Flipside of Dominick Hide - Radio Times article on the show and Peter Firth
Mop and Smiff - Interview with Mike Amatt and updated details on Mike, Mop and the Moke
Sebastian the Incredible Drawing Dog - Some minor details about our neverending quest to discover more on this show

Not many exclusives at present, but hopefully something will turn up soon.

Monday, 13 May 2013


Do you remember that Channel 4 sitcom from the 90s about priests? There were four of them living in a flat in Northern Ireland and they were always saying "Game on, mate!". Oh what was it's name? One Foot in the Bishop? Reverends Behaving Badly? Archdeacon Sweetheart? We're being silly, honking geese, of course, as we all know it was Father Ted and was written by the mercurial partnership of Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews. It was the sitcom that propelled them into the big league, but just six months prior to the airing of Father Ted, their debut sitcom Paris had sunk without trace.

Genre: Comedy
Channel: Channel 4
Transmission: 14/10/1994 - 18/11/1994

Paris starred Alexi Sayle as Alain Degout - a struggling, talentless artist living the dream in 1920s Paris. Degout strove to be regarded as a reputable artist, but this credible facade would soon crumble once money was mentioned. He was, in some respects, a prototype for the hypocrisy of Father Ted Crilly. Surrounded by idiots such as Rochet (Neil Morrissey) and Beluniare (James Dreyfus), Paris took satirical sideswipes at the era's rapidly changing views on arts and politics.

Linehan and Matthews had been honing their trade on sketch shows for several years such as Alas Smith and Jones, and The All New Alexei Sayle Show. The time had come to make the move from three minute sketches to full on sitcom episodes, so in 1994 they made a break for it. Channel 4 were delighted, as ever, to get their hands on something based in the arts and duly commissioned a series; It was transmitted on Friday evenings between October to November 1994.

Even before Paris was first aired, Linehan felt that "We knew that it was going to get badly reviewed. We had this little tiny bit of hope in us – ‘Maybe we were wrong, maybe it’s good, maybe it’s just us"(1). Matthews was also concerned that it was going up against the colossus that was Harry Enfield and Chums (2), a show that they would also write for. Their fears were realised when the show came in for scathing reviews from the critics and the public alike. There was no repeat airing and the show has never been released - not even on Channel 4's On Demand service which houses literally everything else. For those desperate to watch the series, we recommend searching through Google to find copies being sold at "Rare TV" type sites.

Curious British Telly approached Paris with some trepidation. The works that Linehan/Matthews are most famous for are Father Ted and Big Train. What with these being the very pinnacle of British comedy, we didn't want to sully this view. Our mind also turned to our childhood trips to Paris and that neverending hike up to Montmarte for a fantastic view of the lovers city and the impromptu trip – guided by school teachers – through Paris’ red light district. Could Paris really match up to that Paris?

There’s certainly a lot of laughs in Paris with trademark Linehan/Matthews dialogue such as Eleanor Bron as a court judge remarking “Attempting to kill a judge in court? I’m no expert on the law, but I don’t think that’s allowed.”. Moving nerdishly aside for a moment, we must also point out a nice bit of Eleanor Bron trivia. Not only did she appear as a guest star in Paris in Paris, she also guest starred in the 1979 Doctor Who serial City of Death which was, as you should have guessed by now, set in Paris. Moving back to a less tangential position, Linehan/Matthews also showcase their adept skill with surreal and cartoonish flourishes such as the violent and bizarre relationship between music teacher Minotti (Allan Corduner) and his pupil Madame Ovary (Beverley Klein).

The casting director has - Alexei Sayle aside - gone for a number of newcomers who add a verve to the series. A number of them such as Patrick Marber, Rebecca Front and David Schneider were from the Armando Iannucci/Chris Morris stable. This particular collective had, earlier in the year, landed on BBC2 with The Day Today and were helping to usher in a new era of British comedy. Neil Morrissey plays the part of an impressionable fop with some élan and against the the laddish roles he would become typecast with. Allan Corduner also puts in a rich performance by bringing to life the wise and eccentric aspects of Minotti - he is also one of the few performers to adopt an accent in the series. Alexie Sayle is, however, the weak link. He’s just too shouty and gurny. This was fine for The Young Ones where he had only fleeting appearances, but here it begins to grate especially against the other more assured performances.

The plots are perhaps one of the weaker elements of the series. They aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but they never really sprout wings and soar. We put this down to the isolation of the characters. Degout, Rochet and Beluniare are kept apart for the majority of the stories, but we feel trapping these three together would have created greater conflict and thus more driving plots. As it is, Degout usually has a little adventure and Rochet pops up here and there before Beluniare gets some egg on his face at the end.

Overall though, Paris very nearly matches up to our childhood memories of Paris, but with less prostitutes obviously. The comedy alone makes it worthy of watching a few episodes and if you’re a fan of Linehan and Matthews brand of humour, you’ll enjoy the whole series. It’s a shame that no second series followed as there was potential to iron out the creases, but the Father Ted phenomena had started gathering pace and Channel 4 obviously wanted to concentrate on this.

(1) - Retrieved 13/05/2013
(2) - Retrieved 13/05/2013


Radio Times 08 - 14 October 1994

Today's Choice

Manic comedian Alexei Sayle turns up in an unlikely new setting tonight. Hard as it is to picture the loud-mouthed Liverpudlian in the bohemian café society of Paris in the 1920s, that’s just where you will find him, in a new six-part comedy series directed by Drop The Dead Donkey’s Liddy Oldroyd.
Sayle plays Alain Degout, a larger than life painter convinced that success is just around the corner. More often than not, he is to be found at the Café Hugo, where his acquaintances include a dandified painter (Neil Morrissey), a suicidal poet (Liz Kettle) and a passionate, nay hysterical , Italian singing teacher (Allan Corduner). Written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, the duo behind last year’s Smith and Jones and The All New Alexei Sayle Show, Paris also features guest stars including Eleanor Bron, John Bird and Windsor Davies.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Arrivederci Millwall

Riding high on the jingoistic pride of winning the Falklands War, England got their 1982 World Cup campaign off to a blistering start in Bilbao. Scoring the then quickest goal in World Cup History, Bryan Robson put England 1-0 up ahead against France after just 27 seconds. In contrast to Captain Marvel's fortunes, a gang of football hooligans (one clad in that wonderful, wonderful Admiral kit) were holed up in a sweaty prison. It's a funny old game. Apparently.

Tackling it's way onto BBC2's screens on 03/01/1990, Arrivederci Millwall was a one off, 50 minute short film which followed a small gang of Millwall FC fans on their way to the 1982 World Cup in Spain. It's fair to say that dining on the local tapas and, say, visiting the Museu Picasso were the last things on their mind. Smashing up a plate of calamares fritos before putting a boot through something from Picasso's blue period would be more their cup of tea.

Genre: Drama
Channel: BBC2
Transmission: 03/01/1990

Thrust to the forefront of the film is Billy Jarvis (Kevin O'Donohoe) - the stereotypical 80s football hooligan clad in an array of polo shirts and Argyle jumpers. When he's not practicing his own brand of stanley knife inspired plastic surgery or taking care of drug dealers, Billy finds time to conduct an affair with the girlfriend of his sailor brother Bobby (Brian Lawrence). Despite the ease with which he sets about betraying his brother, Billy - in true arrogant arsehole style - loses his tiny mind when Bobby is killed in the Falklands War. Billy’s original plan for the 1982 World Cup – namely stamping Millwall's hooligan credentials all over it – are then revised to include avenging Bobby’s death. Travelling to Bilbao with his violent, skull cracking buddies, events take a tragic turn.

The film was transmitted under the Screenplay Firsts banner which set out to bring attention to up and coming directors. Charles McDougall was the fresh faced director, straight out of Beaconsfield's National Film and Theatre School, making his directorial debut with an adaption of Nick Perry's stage play of the same name. Arrivederci Millwall was first staged in 1985 at The Albany Empire, Deptford and was Perry's first play. The play was a small success and was honoured as joint winner of the 1986 Samuel Beckett Award which was given to promising new writers. Perry was also behind the screenplay for the TV adaptation. McDougall fulfilled his early promise and went on to direct episodes from US TV shows such as The Office, Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives. Perry continues to write for stage, screen and radio - his most recent production being a 2012 BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of Jack's Return Home.

Ever since the early 00s, there's been a gamut of British football hooligan flicks carving their way onto our cinema screens like a Chelsea smile. Curious British Telly was intrigued to see whether Arrivederci Millwall would offer a less glamorous, less cliched take on the genre. Originally written when hooliganism was still rife amongst the terraces - the Heysel tragedy being still fresh in the mind - Perry's script avoids the two dimensional constraints that plague The Football Factory et al. Sure, there's the cliche take on 'looking after our own' with the rather redundant thread concerning Terry (Tim Keen) and his classically 80s heroin habit. More interesting, is Billy's descent into a xenophobic rage which is a nice nod not just to the 'Rule Britannia' mood pre-Falklands and his skinhead makeover hints at National Front leanings.

Football hooligan's aren't the nicest of chaps, so there's an inevitable gritty edge to the proceedings. The scene where Terry is egged on by a wildly manic Bobby to cut the face of a rival hooligan took us rather by surprise due to it's graphic depiction. There's also time for a - rarely heard on British TV - quick uttering of "Cunt!" by local gangster Harry Kellerway (David Barrass). The 16mm filming format also helps to heighten the grimy and claustrophobic feel of the South London streets chosen to house Billy and his gang.

The acting on present is one of the lowpoints and although several of the actors have carried on acting, they've failed to set the screen alight since. Playing Billy's gangmember Mal, Stephen Marcus has probably had the most successful career starring in several international films as well as TV roles. Compared to The Firm, which had aired the previous year, the acting truly was well below par. The other issue we're going to take umbrage with is the length of the piece. At 50 minutes everything is far too rushed when you take into account the number of characters. We only get to know Billy whereas the rest of the characters are forgettable.

Arrivederci Millwall is available on DVD and also on YouTube as well as various torrent sites, so it's readily available and we recommend searching it out, but there are definitely better hooligan films to watch such as The Firm and I.D. Still it's only 50 minutes of your life and it's a nice addition to the genre.