Forget the strikes and the three-day week, the nadir of the 70's was 1977's Silver Jubilee ( sorry, Dominic Sandbrook ). For seven days, the country went insane. It happened again last week, although it was not so bad this time as we have the internet and D.V.D.'s to help us escape the nightmarish glop ( even Prince Philip's bladder couldn't stick it! ). Back then we had to make do with comics and books ( I was into 'The Godfather' by Mario Puzo at the time ). Amazing, isn't it? We live in a country which is so hard-up we are witnessing the greatest public spending cuts in living memory, yet the powers-that-be can miraculously cough up the cash to pay for extravagant rubbish. Did somebody find couple of million quid down the back of the sofa?
I haven't seen 'Tripper's Day' since its original screening in 1984. There are reasons why I've avoided the repeats ( such as those on U.K. Gold in the '90's ) of the Brian Cooke-devised Thames sitcom. It was between the screening of the second and third episodes that its star - the great Leonard Rossiter - died of a massive heart attack at the age of 57. That year had also seen the passing of Tommy Cooper and Eric Morecambe, so it was generally a rotten time for British comedy fans.
The show is set in Supafare, a London supermarket staffed by incompetents, such as chain-smoking, elderly security man 'Alf Battle' ( Gordon Gostelow ), man-mad canteen supervisor 'Hilda Rimmer' ( Pat Ashton ), jack-the-lad 'Laurel' ( David John ), union man 'Hardie' ( Philip Bird ) promotion-seeking trainee manager 'Mr.Christian' ( Paul Clarkson ), and sarcastic secretary 'Sylvia' ( Liz Crowther, daughter of Leslie ). Presiding over this collection of misfits is the harassed northern manager 'Norman Tripper' ( Rossiter ). The actor was attracted to the role because the other sitcom parts offered him had been largely 'Rigsby' and 'Perrin' clones. Tripper, on the other hand, was a 'Basil Fawlty' clone, although sadly lacking in that earlier character's depth and wit. The first episode sees Mr.Christian arriving at Supafare for the first time, Tripper catching Laurel, Hardie ( guess why those names were chosen? ) and Higgins playing cards in the stockroom, and an old tramp ( James Ellis ) wandering into the store and refusing to leave. The mix of characters was not strong - unusual for a Brian Cooke sitcom
and there were few genuinely funny moments. Particularly irritating
is David John as show-off 'Laurel' who, when he isn't juggling oranges is to be found chatting up the dimwitted checkout girl 'Marlene' ( Charon Bourke ). Thankfully, he would be gone by the time of the superior follow-up series, 'Slinger's Day', starring Bruce Forsyth.
Funniest moment - Tripper bragging to Mr.Christian about how kind he is to his staff. Alf then sticks his head round the door to complain about being relegated to the cheese section, and Tripper bellows: "Do as you're told or you'll be sacked!". It is vintage Rossiter.
Looked at now 'Tripper's Day' can be seen as the forerunner to the B.B.C.'s 'The Brittas Empire' starring Chris Barrie. Even down to the staff room meetings. But Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss' scripts were of a far higher standard, venturing occasionally into black comedy territory.
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