As the '80's arrived, and alternative comedy got into full swing, a number of sitcoms appeared that were darker than the chirpy fare served up by the B.B.C. and I.T.V. in the '70's. Carla Lane gave us 'I Woke Up One Morning', a powerful, bleak show about men struggling to beat alcoholism, 'Affairs Of The Heart' starred Derek Fowlds as a man learning to cope with life following a heart attack, 'Dead Ernest' was a ( not very ) good attempt at black comedy from the writers of 'Brass', in which Andrew Sachs' character died and went to Heaven but refused to accept the situation.
Beating them all to the punch was 'Time Of My Life', broadcast in early 1980, written by Jim Eldridge, and directed by Martin Shardlow, who also helmed the first series of 'Only Fools & Horses' and 'The Black Adder'.
Mark Kingston plays 'Ken Archer', 49 years old, gainfully employed by the same company for 33 years, and happily married to 23 years to Joan ( Amanda Barrie ). One day, he is summoned to the office of his boss. "I don't quite know how to break this to you. You how hard it is to break bad news, such as you've only got two weeks to live, or you're pregnant, or you've been fired?". The truth dawns on Ken. "I've been fired?". His boss smiles. "Good man, I knew you'd spot it!".
Things get worse. He goes home and the first thing Joan says as he opens the front door is: "Ken, I want a divorce!". It turns out she has been conducting a secret affair with her son's best friend Stephen, 20 years younger than her husband and with a face that - according to Ken
resembles King Kong's! "So that explains those headaches you've been
getting every night for the past few weeks!", shouts Ken: "Stephen's been getting you. All I've been getting is Patrick Moore and the Epilogue!".
These events are the prelude to a series of catastrophes to befall our luckless hero. Over the next five weeks, he is mugged, taken hostage, forced to earn a living as a street busker, see his cheques bounce, is arrested, declared insane and sent to an asylum. Even his attempt at suicide comes to nothing. Nothing goes right for the guy.
All this was a bit strong for a prime-time B.B.C.-1 slot. Perhaps it would have looked more at home on B.B.C.-2 amongst the likes of 'Butterflies' and 'Roger Doesn't Live Here Anymore' ( written by John Fortune and starring Jonathan Pryce ).
It drew complaints from viewers who felt we were being invited to laugh at a man in serious trouble, but Jim Eldridge pointed out that its main theme was survival against the odds, one man staying intact despite his difficulties.
Magnificent performance by Mark Kingston as 'Ken', almost Hancockian in fact ( the show was produced by the legendary Dennis Main Wilson ). Like Anthony Aloysius St.John Hancock, Ken Archer becomes convinced the world hates him, and so he fights back using the one weapon he has - sarcastic wit. Eldridge gave him some cracking one-liners. For example, in the opening episode, Ken's secretary ( Avril Angers ) says: "My husband is very fond of the tea the chimps drink!" and Ken replies: "Judging from those pictures I've seen of him, I'm not surprised!".
In another, Ken is with an elderly couple who are watching 'Pebble Mill At One' ( a long-gone B.B.C.-1 daytime show ) featuring Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen. The old man ( Leslie Dwyer ) is slightly hard of hearing. "Look its Kenny Balls!". "No, dear!", replies his wife, "Its Ball!". "Eh?". "Ball, dear. He's only got the one.". "What?". The wife raises her voice: "I said he's only got the one ball!". The old man looks shocked. "Has he? I didn't know that? Poor man!".
Victor Spinetti popped up in one episode as an Italian waiter convinced that Ken fancied him. "He peeench my bum!".
Perhaps it was right to end this after only one run. After all, how many tragedies can one man endure in a short space of time? But it was a good laugh, and its status as a forgotten show is - in my view - wholly undeserved.
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