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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having completed two seasons of 'Hark At Barker' for London Weekend
Television, Ronnie Barker's next offering was this six-part comedy
anthology for producer Humphrey Barclay, all featuring him as different
characters and set in different time periods. The first was '1937: The
Removals Person' which cast him as 'Fred', a short-sighted removal man
helping snooty 'Mrs.Vaile' ( Joan Benham, who was 'Lady Loftus' in
L.W.T.'s 'Doctor' series and 'Lady Prudence Faifax' in 'Upstairs,
Downstairs' ) to move to Rangoon during a Royal procession. He smashes
everything he touches, but fortunately acquires a new friend in the
shape of 'Travers' ( Josephine Tewson ), Mrs.Vaile's spinster maid. A
good script by Hugh Leonard, and some nice work by Barker ( even if he
was too young for the role ) and Tewson. It would not be until 1988
that he revisited the character of Fred for his final sitcom
'1899: The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town' is a wonderful piece of Goonish nonsense from the mind of the late, great Spike Milligan. Ronnie later expanded it for use in 'The Two Ronnies' 1976 season. '1970: The Odd Job' is a sparkling black comedy by Bernard McKenna casting David Jason as 'Clive', a creepy job man hired by the timid 'Arthur' ( Barker ) to kill him because his wife Kitty ( Joan Sims ) has left him and he hasn't the guts to kill himself. Some hilarious if macabre touches including breakfast cereal disintegrating in hydrochloric acid and a milkman ( Derek Ware ) hurtling down steps after encountering a trip-wire. Later made into a film - 'The Odd Job' ( 1978 ) with Jason reprising his original role and Monty Python star Graham Chapman as 'Arthur' ) - but the 'Six Dates' version is best.
After three excellent episodes, the show sadly took a nose dive in quality. '1915: Lola' is a poor World War 1 farce in which Ronnie drags up to impersonate dead German agent 'Lola Fisher'. Despite it being by Ken Hoare and Mike Sharland, it is marginally less funny than piles. John Cleese's '1971: Come In & Let Down' is better though alas outstays its welcome. Barker is a psychiatrist whose latest patient ( Michael Bates of 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum' ) keeps seeing a small man in a Robin Hood hat and with binoculars. It would have been twice as funny at half the length. The final edition sees us whisked off to the future world of '2774' for 'All The World's A Stooge', written by Ronnie himself under his 'Gerald Wiley' alias from a story outline by Wiley and Maurice Murphy ( the latter also directed the series ). In Happy Land, comedy has become the new religion, and everyone has to be funny at all times or else face re-indoctrination at the hands of 'The Arch Funster' ( the late Michael Hordern ). It is a good idea, and its heart is in the right place, but like the last episode, suffers largely from being overlong. A young Lesley-Anne Down played Ronnie's daughter, 'Princess Cheeky'!
'Six Dates' is currently on D.V.D., and is worth getting for the first three shows alone. Ronnie crossed over to the B.B.C. soon after to co-star with Ronnie Corbett in the long-running 'The Two Ronnies'. He later did another anthology show - the superior 'Seven Of One' - which gave birth to 'Open All Hours' and 'Porridge'.
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