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A.T.V.'s 'A Sharp Intake Of Breath' gave David Jason his first solo comedy hit following years of supporting roles in series such as 'Hark At Barker' ( in which he played 'Dithers' the 100-year old gardener ), the 'Doctor' series, and two failed attempts at a show of his own - 'The Top Secret Life Of Edgar Briggs' and 'Lucky Feller'.
It grew out of a pilot, shown as part of 'The Sound Of Laughter' ( I.T.V.'s answer to the B.B.C.'s 'Comedy Playhouse' ) on 28/7/77. Jason starred as 'Peter Barnes', middle-aged, happily married, a good man in an insane world. His life was one disaster after another, whether it involved going to the doctors, teaching his wife to drive, getting a suit to go to a wedding, or going on holiday.
Patricia Brake initially portrayed his wife 'Sheila', but after she went off to appear in Ronnie Barker's 'Going Straight', the role went to Jacqueline Clarke of 'Dave Allen At Large' fame.
Each week, the show opened with the title inside a deflating speech bubble, the air going into the mouth of a potato-headed man.
Alun Armstrong and Richard Wilson cropped up each week in a variety of authoritative guises - doctor, mechanic, bank manager, head waiter, railway ticket inspector and so on. The humour largely arose from poor Barnes' inability to cope with the horrors of bureaucracy. Whenever he asked somebody to do something, he would get a sharp intake of breath, followed by "Its more than my jobs worth.".
In a 'News Of The World' interview published around the time of the third season, Jason said: "I love old Barnsey. He's such a fool.". The show was devised and written by Ronnie Taylor, also responsible for the popular Leslie Crowther sitcom 'My Good Woman' ( which also featured Wilson ). Other episodes were penned by Leslie Duxbury and 'Randall & Hopkirk ( Deceased ) actor Kenneth Cope.
When Taylor died suddenly, the third season was cut short. The series returned with Vince Powell inheriting the writing duties. Powell's first script was a rehashed 'Bless This House' plot. The shift in styles of humour was noticeable. The Taylor-penned episodes were the best - in one, Barnes went to collect his car from a local garage, and almost had a nervous breakdown attempting to prove his identity. Jason's exasperated looks to camera were hysterically funny!
It would perhaps be stretching a point to describe this as 'satire' - there were elements of slapstick involved - but it was fairly close in spirit to Monty Python's famed 'Dead Parrot Sketch'. All over Britain you could hear the 'sharp intake of breath' in playgrounds and workplaces, a sure sign the show had caught on.
After a patchy first series ( further marred by annoying canned laughter ), the second tightened up the character of Barnes and, with its witty Mel Calman cartoons and chirpy Ken Jones signature tune, brightened up Monday ( later Friday, then Sunday ) evenings for the best part of five years, ending abruptly when A.T.V. became Central T.V.
In the early '90's, the newly-formed 'I.T.C. Home Video' label wanted to release 'Breath' on V.H.S., but Jason, for reasons best known to himself, objected. His decision was especially perplexing when one recalls his apparent pride in the show at the time. Whatever his reasons, the prospect of 'Breath' gathering dust in a vault somewhere for years while other inferior series come out on D.V.D. is depressing indeed.
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