Friday 8 September 2023

Remembering Paul O’Grady’s Cheeky Forgotten Sitcom “Eyes Down

Welcome to The Rio bingo hall in Liverpool. It’s where short-tempered manager Ray Temple (Paul O’Grady) tries to corral his lackadaisical staff and impress the elderly collection of customers who frequent his establishment. To top it off, this curmudgeon hates them all. All the while he’s dealing with self-loathing that produces outbursts that’d make Lily Savage smile from ear to ear. The Rio isn’t Ray’s Ritz and he’s quite disappointed about it.

Eyes Down was a 2003 sitcom that lasted for two series. Broadcast on the BBC, it was written by Liverpudlian actress-turned-writer Angela Clarke and starred O’Grady alongside Rosie Cavaliero, who recently appeared in The Power of Parker, Neil Fitzmaurice and Edna Doré. A young Sheridan Smith, fresh off her breakthrough in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, was also part of the talented ensemble cast.

Source: Unsplash

It’s Paul O’Grady’s show

It is, of course, the late O’Grady who shines. His rendition of Tony Christie when the PA system goes down in episode 3, “Stars in Their Eyes”, is a highlight. As is his panic in “The Clairvoyant” after a fortune teller predicts his death the following night.

There’s also Series 2’s opener, “Next Big Thing”, which features a giddy Ray excited about his new game, “Guess the Ball”. He realises that while bingo remains rooted in its traditions, there’s always room for a quirky innovation. Just look at today’s live bingo online and the amount of game variations you see, such as Buzz Bingo’s Double Bubble which boosts your prize if you claim any double numbers. For Ray, however, his new game is short-lived after he gets distracted by a dishonest photographer promising Sheridan Smith’s Sandy a shot at a modelling career.

Although Eyes Down enjoyed reasonable ratings, the BBC decided not to renew it for a third series. While it enjoyed the presence of sitcom veteran Christine Gernon in the director’s chair, Angela Clarke’s script lacked the spark of her obvious inspirations. Victoria Wood’s smart observational comedy and the quirks of Peter Kay are present in Clarke’s work but aren’t as tightly constructed. Her characters are also a bit one-dimensional.

Source: Pixabay

Lots of things to like

That’s not to say the cast don’t do their best. O’Grady had the chance to take off the Lily Savage wig and make-up and showcase all of his talent. Just like much of his work before and since, he’s a joy to watch. Doré, perhaps best known for her role as Mo Butcher in Eastenders, is also wonderful as the kindly bingo hall cleaner, Mary. She’s particularly good in “Thief”, an episode in series 2, when she’s the unlikely hero after Ray gets cornered following a robbery.

As well as other standout performances, especially from Rosie Cavaliero, Eyes Down has plenty to like. It is also unique in its bingo hall setting. Other popular sitcoms of the 1990s and 2000s like Phoenix Nights (working men’s club), Early Doors (pub), and The Royle Family (terrace house), are fondly remembered partly because of where their stories took place. While Eyes Down can’t class itself in the same league as the aforementioned classics, it is nevertheless an entertaining and consistently amusing alternative that's now been sadly forgotten about. 

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