"If I see your cat again, I'll have his tail for a lavatory brush!"
Let me get one thing straight - this is not the B.B.C.'s 'Born & Bred' from a few years back, but a Thames comedy series written by Douglas Livingstone. It ran from 1978-80 and centred on the exploits of two London families - the poor Tonsleys, among them grumpy ex-music hall artiste Tommy ( the priceless Max Wall ) and the well-off Benges, headed by the ultra-snobbish Frank ( James Grout ).
I recently acquired the second series, of which this is the first episode. Marge Benge ( 'Love Thy Neighbour's Kate Williams ) is at a railway station, having walked out on dopey husband Ray ( Gorden Kaye ). She ( literally ) bumps into an attractive young woman named Nina Farthing ( Sally Grace ). Nina recognises Marge from an old family photo. She has come to visit Tommy, who is her real father, and whom she has not seen since she was eight.
Tommy's wife Rose ( Constance Chapman ) is quite happy at having her husband's long-lost illegitimate daughter living with them. Their own daughter Iris ( Susan Tracy ) has gone on a cruise. "She always did like sailors!", says Rose.
Meanwhile, Frank Benge is organising his grandchildren's christening as though it were a military campaign, with guests being designated code names and numbers. The new area manager of Frank's insurance agency has agreed to be the godfather ( Frank hopes he will get promotion for this ). Everyone is naturally confused by his plans. Frank has not invited the Tonsleys. But when Rose turns up unexpectedly and begins nosing around, he has no choice but to relent.
Rose goes home to tell Tommy, who is not at all pleased. He has made alternative arrangements for the christening day. Without telling his wife, he has sold their home and bought a new flat. The first Rose knows of this is when a removals van pulls up outside the front door. Horrified, she looks herself in the toilet and refuses to come out.
Tommy goes off to Molly Peglar's pub with Ray, Paul Redstone ( Ian Redford ) and Stephen Benge ( Richard O'Callaghan ), the naive young man who nearly married Iris ( and got cold feet at the altar ). Paul is depressed at the thought of losing his individuality by being part of the Benge clan. All proceed to get legless.
Angered at the absence of his son-in-law ( and most of the other invited guests too ) from the christening, Frank decides to that it should proceed regardless.
More troubles ensue for Tommy when he arrives at the new flat only to find the owner ( Paul Luty ) has changed his mind about selling. Tommy orders that all his furniture be put back in his old house. This in turn brasses off the man who had bought Tommy's house - he had planned to move in that very day. Luckily Nina is on hand to administer some of her legendary 'Personal Services'...
Though my copy was not terribly good ( containing some iffy editing around the commercial breaks ), I found it an absolute joy to watch. The cast are uniformly great, with Max Wall and James Grout fabulous as 'Tommy Tonsley' and 'Frank Benge' respectively. And though it is a large cast, no-one gets sidelined. All play their roles to perfection.
A critic at the time likened this to 'Till Death Us Do Part' but personally I found it closer in style to 'A Bit Of A Do'. Whereas that David Nobbs-scripted show was hampered slightly by the format ( the same people meeting each week at different social functions ) that was not a problem here.
The christening scene is hilarious; as it proceeds, the drunken guests enter the church one at a time and annoy the vicar by providing explanations for their lateness.
So that is one episode down. I've five more to go. I cannot wait to see them.
( If you're reading this, Tim Beddows of 'Network', please push this show up in the D.V.D. release schedules a bit quicker, would you? )
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