As retro shows never tire of telling us, there were an awful lot of strikes in '70's Britain. 'Up The Workers', an A.T.V. sitcom that ran for two seasons ( '74 and 76 ), tried to extract comedy from the tangled web of industrial relations. The idea came from its star, Lance Percival, but the actual script writing was done by Tom Brennand and Roy Bottomley, famed for their work on 'Nearest & Dearest' and 'Not On Your Nellie'.
Set in a Midlands car factory called 'Cockers Components Ltd', the ongoing battle between management and unions formed the hub of the show. The former, represented by sneaky Richard 'Dicky' Bligh ( Henry McGee ) and ditherer Bernard Peck ( Percival ) had a tough time trying to stop Sid Stubbins ( Norman Bird ) and Bert Hamfitt ( Gordon Rollings in the pilot, Dudley Sutton in the first series ) from throwing down their tools whenever there was a major football match on television they wanted to see or if the tea in the canteen was not to their liking. The factory's owner, Sir Charles ( Charles Lloyd Pack, father of Roger ) was a lovable old buffoon who did his best to stay out of the conflict. In one episode, he commissioned his workforce to make a life-size replica of 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' as a present for his grandchildren. Ah! Isn't that sweet!
The stereotypical depiction of the trade union movement as a lazy, good-for-nothing bunch of Marxists was prevalent in comedy at that time, and one which the Conservatives exploited relentlessly in their quest to stay in/regain power. Vote for us, they said, or else watch the country go down the plughole under union-dominated Labour. A year after this ended, L.W.T.'s revival of 'The Rag Trade' picked up the theme.
Peck wanted a pay rise in one episode, but did not know how to go about getting one, so he consulted Stubbins, who told him to think of a figure, double it, halve it through protracted negotiation, and let the bosses think they have won when actually he, the employee has won. If this failed, issue an ultimatum - give me a pay rise or I resign. Unfortunately, the twit handed in his notice without remembering to ask for the pay rise first. In another edition, H.R.H. Princess Anne visited the factory. A buffet was laid on, and when she failed to appear everyone laughed about what a fiasco it was and started tucking in. Well, blow me down, she then turned up ( not played by the real Royal, I should add ), and poor Sir Charles was forced to welcome her whilst chewing on a chicken leg.
It was pretty dreary stuff, and not helped by the annoying laugh-track ( which A.T.V. used on all their sitcoms ). None of the characters could be remotely described as likable. It was not so much 'I'm All Right, Jack' as 'I'm Not Laughing, Jill'. There were a succession of pretty secretaries flitting about, providing an excuse for some good old fashioned "Cor, look at those knockers!" type gags.
The public showed no great enthusiasm, and it failed to get a third season. Lance Percival was later quoted as saying: "both series were not quite what I had in mind. I still think there's room for a good comedy series set in a factory.".
Season 2 exists in the archives, and if it appears on D.V.D. someday I do not think anyone will rush to acclaim it as a forgotten comedy masterpiece. It will probably be rightly regarded instead as a colossal waste of talent.
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