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Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney's 'The Rag Trade' broke new ground when it first appeared in the '60's in that it was the first sitcom to be made up of an almost entirely female cast. It focused on the lives of a group of working class women who worked for a clothing factory named Fenner Fashions, run by the permanently harassed Harold Fenner. Like Wolfe and Chesney's later 'On The Buses', 'The Rag Trade' was 'the workers against the bosses'. Trade unions came in for a battering too. Basically, it was 'I'm All Right, Jack' with women.
Fenner's staff include dippy Carole Taylor ( Sheila Hancock ), nervous Lily 'Little Lil' Swan ( Esma Cannon ) and militant shop steward Paddy Fleming ( the late Miriam Karlin ) who uses any excuse possible to blow her whistle and screech ''Everybody out!'' to bring the staff out on strike. Reg Varney played Fenner's foreman Reg Turner who tried his best to keep the girls under control but instead found himself under their spell each and every time.
Various women came and went over the course of the show's run, among them were Barbara Windsor, Toni Palmer, Wanda Ventham, Ann Beach and Gwendolyn Watts. Irene Handl later appeared as Reg's mum who ended up working as Fenner's bookkeeper.
Three series were made in total, after which the BBC decided to close the door on Fenner's Fashions. Groundbreaking and well performed though it was, sadly 'The Rag Trade' does not stand up so well when viewed these days, with strikes and trade unions now no longer prevalent in sitcoms. The show was later revived in the late '70's, this time shown by LWT, with only Peter Jones and Miriam Karlin returning from the original series but it was unsuccessful and after two series was axed. Looked at now, 'The Rag Trade' can be viewed as an interesting insight into what clothing workshops used to be like.
The existing episodes from the first two series have been released on DVD but sadly the third series is missing from the BBC archives. Not a classic, but amusing enough.
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