Following Alan Simpson's retirement, Ray Galton teamed up with 'Till Death Us Do Part' creator Johnny Speight. Their first collaboration was 'Tealadies' for the B.B.C.; in which a pair of mischievous tea ladies - played by Dandy Nichols and Patricia Hayes - waited on M.P.'s in the House Of Commons. It was to have been recorded close to transmission to enable topicality ( as was later the case with 'Drop The Dead Donkey' ), but never got past the pilot stage.
Crossing channels, they next gave the world 'Spooner's Patch'. A hybrid of 'Till Death Us Do Part' and the 1931 Will Hay classic 'Ask A Policeman', it was set in a country police station where everyone was on the take, and starred Ronald Fraser as the constantly spluttering Inspector Spooner, with 'Please Sir!''s Peter Cleall as T.V. detective-imitating Detective Con. Bulsover, Norman Rossington as the fascistic P.C. Goatman, and John Lyons as P.C. Killick, the show's only normal character.
In the first episode, Goatman arrests an Irish tramp ( Dermot Kelly ) and absent-mindedly locks him in the cell where Spooner keeps his wine collection. Before you know it, the corks are flying as the tramp embarks on what would today be termed 'binge drinking'. To make matters worse, Spooner cannot stop him as Goatman has lost the key. They put their thinking caps on:
GOATMAN: Why don't we hang him?
SPOONER: Don't be stupid. He'll be missed.
GOATMAN: No-one will miss him, sir. He's an Irishman.
Oddly, the comedy writing styles of Galton and Speight never seemed to mesh. The 'Alf Garnett' style attitudes of some of the characters sat uneasily alongside the show's slapstick approach. It drew complaints from viewers for being screened in peak-viewing time soon after the Brixton and Toxteth riots.
After one season, Fraser departed ( as did Rossington ). Donald Churchill replaced him as 'Spooner' and while he did not splutter quite so repulsively as his predecessor, his performance was not one of which he could have been proud. The first episode he did was a parody of the Western 'High Noon'. The marvellous Patricia Hayes also came aboard as traffic warden Mrs.Cantaford. Speight himself made the occasional guest appearance.
Despite the talent involved in its making, 'Spooner's Patch' never amounted to anything more than a misfire. How it ran to three seasons is a mystery.
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