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'One-Upmanship' is probably unique in the annals of television in that
its Christmas Special preceded the series by over a year. Richard
Briers portrayed Stephen Potter, ex-B.B.C. broadcaster and college
lecturer, and author of the spoof manuals 'Gamesmanship',
'Lifemanship', 'One-Upmanship', 'Supermanship', 'Anti-Woo' and 'The
Complete Golf Gamesmanship'.
What is 'One-Upmanship'? Well, nothing less than the art of getting one up on your opponents at all times. As Potter succinctly puts it: "The world is divided into two types of people - winners and losers, the one-up and the one-down. He who is not one-up is surely one-down'.
The books had previously been done on radio and formed the basis for an excellent film starring Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim entitled 'School For Scoundrels' ( 1960 ). Here they were adapted for television by the irreplaceable Barry Took, and took the form of witty sketches depicting various social situations. As well as Briers, the late Peter Jones played the snobbish 'Gatling-Fenn', with the late Frederick Jaegar - replete with monocle and buckteeth - as the Bertie Wooster-like 'Cogg-Willoughby'.
I cherish a wine-tasting scene in one episode where the latter employs a pen torch to evaluate the contents of his glass. The gathering then try to outfox one another with unintelligible comments such as: "Too many tram lines for me!".
But it was Briers' wry asides to camera ( many lifted from the books ) that got the biggest laughs from me. The humour was altogether very English. Instant Sunshine provided the theme music.
'One-Upmanship' is one of those wonderful B.B.C. shows which appears alas to have vanished into television oblivion. Surely with such a fine cast and strong writing it deserves a D.V.D. release at the very least?
Few people of the last century can have been responsible for introducing so many everyday words into the English language as Stephen Potter. Gamesmanship, Oneupmanship, Lifemanship, Ploy... all in everyday use. The books by the author remain readily and cheaply available everywhere, but alas, out of print now. The film "School for Scoundrels" very cleverly adapts the books to the screen, in a film which I believe to be both Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas's finest work. Alastair Sim is priceless too, as good as in "The Green Man",where T-T features too. I remember the BBC series "Oneupmanship" with great nostalgia, and still hum the theme tune to this day. With the advent of such circulars as The Idler, I wonder that Potter's work isn't as well known as it ought to be. Well-written comedy at its best. In this cut-throat world, Potter's ploys provides the perfect foil for the enthusiastic amateur Lifeman to wend his merry way, non-plussing the self-appointed experts, stopping the flow of the overweening boor, ready to take on the trumped-up aficionados of rhubarb with a well-stocked arsenal of counters, ploys and devices. Never tricks, mind, never tricks. Will some kind angel at the BBC hear my prayer and see if the "Oneupmanship" programmes could be put onto DVD? Pretty please?
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