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Mes amis!, I suspect anyone encountering 3-2-1 for the first time via this episode may well be confused by Ted's reference to a chauffeur called George who couldn't make the show due to appearing in a national beauty contest that week. George's absence, and the episode's Paris theme, does mean though that Madame Allonville gets more screen time than usual, no bad thing as that accent of hers does bring sexiness to the most mundane thing- such as summaries of the lives and occupations of 3-2-1 contestants- and the comedy faux-pas keep on coming, check out her order to "stand up when you toast the lady", which due to her accent sounds more like "stand up when you toss the lady".
With regard to the hostesses, it does occur to me that early 3-2-1 is not unlike Val Guest's Au Pair Girls, its the world as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged crumpet chaser, one that can only view women in one way, but does at least place women of different nationalities and skin colour on an equal level of attractiveness and desirability (and in a further nod to multi-cultural Britain this episode also includes the revelation that Dusty Bin has a black Uncle). Elsewhere audience members- seemingly cloned from Mary Whitehouse- constantly stare upwards and contestants with umbrellas on their heads toss toy frogs into pans, to misquote a famous Kinks song "its a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Tula".
A Touch of the Other (1970)
aka House of Hookers
A latter day effort from Primitive London director Arnold Louis Miller, A Touch of the Other (aka House of Hookers) stars Kenneth Cope as Delger, a cheeky chappie who goes around Soho advertising himself as "the man who gets things done". It not clear what this means, but judging by the Bogart picture in his office Delger appears to fancy himself as a private eye. His cryptic message however only results in the interest of Soho heavies who threaten to beat him up. It slowly, and rather confusingly is revealed that Delger has acquired his Soho office from its last occupant, a friend of his who he got out of dept to gangsters, and has now decided to investigate the bad guys further. When he is not following up on the case though Delger is bed hopping in-between his two neighbours, both of whom are prostitutes but offer him 'freebies'. Elaine (Shirley Anne Field) "gives French lessons without knowing a word of French" while Wendy (Helene Françoise) is a black masseuse who Delger refers to as "my coloured supplement". A vaguely coherent plot line finally emerges when Elaine and Wendy's pimp, an old queen nicknamed Lady Max, offers Delger the job of slipping a bribe to an ex-prostitute called Sheila (played by Cope's real life wife Renny Lister). Things don't exactly go to plan though, and the kinky finale involves -in this order- a mass catfight, women being tied up and a threesome.
A Touch of the Other, is well, a bit of an odd one, curiously entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) being terrible in most departments, and with a personality that is truly all over the place. Cope seems to be playing the film for comedy and having fun with his randy private eye wannabe character, but the 'underworld' elements of the film are played straight, and things get quite nasty at times, Delger is viciously beaten up in his office by a Milton Reid type while Lady Max is bloodily shot to death in bed (causing the poor actor to lose his wig in the process). Its not especially sexually explicit by 1970s standards, save for some minor nudity by secondary actors that got the film a write up in Cinema X, yet the atmosphere remains decidedly sleazy with the low, low budget no doubt necessitating the film be shot on authentic locations including a dingy Soho office (given so much screen time you wonder if it could possibly be Miller's own?) and a strip club, complete with girl and snake striptease act and a dwarf barman. The whole film feels curiously out of time, with swinging sixties type library music bursting onto the soundtrack at regular intervals, while Cope wears bright frilly shirts that look like they too belong in the Primitive London era ("Kenneth Cope's costumes supplied by Lord John, Carnaby Street, London" boast the credits) and Field and Françoise walk around in lingerie as if they were in a 1960s 8mm glamour film.
Miller's direction is as usual shockingly bad, on the level of very early Pete Walker, I'm thinking here of Walker's I Like Birds/School for Sex period. Walker can at least lay claim to being inexperienced when he made those films, Miller's direction here seems even more amateur than Secrets of a Windmill Girl made several years before. The only vaguely stylish bit is a freaky dream sequence where Delger imagines the film's main characters- and a man in drag- running towards him in slow-motion. (Miller would go on to direct the ultra-obscure Sex Farm, which was rejected by the BBFC in 1973, and produce the notorious "Growing Up", a sex education film for schools.) In a rare lead role Cope gamely tries his best (he also sings the comedy theme tune) but most of his dialogue seems nonsensical rather than funny "take your clothes off I want to talk to you
put them on again I can't hear you" he tells a confused Shirley Anne Field, and often Delger is irritating on an almost Alan Lake/David Galaxy level. For all of Cope's best comedic efforts though, the film's comedy highlight for my money belongs to an absolutely hopeless actor playing an elderly northern football fan who repeatedly stares at the camera and flubs his lines. Where on earth they got this actor from I don't know, but his character is written into the film as one of Shirley Anne Field's customers, who when asked why he is paying her entirely in spare change tells her its because his mates at the pub had a "whip round" for him to go to a prostitute. To add insult to injury, he refuses her offer of sex and asks if she could sew a button onto his coat instead!!!
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 9 ('The Milk Cup Runneth Over')
THE MILK CUP RUNNETH OVER The less than memorable final episode of Bottle Boys sees football mad Dave attempting to get hold of a ticket to see his beloved Chelsea side, a task he is not helped in by the rest of the dairy, as they're all Arsenal supporters. With the elusive ticket being passed from character to character, Dave spends the episode pursuing it, a task that leads him to the Kings Arms (good god, they sure got allot of use out of that set). Another running gag in the episode has Dave accidentally bumping into and/or spilling the drink of a big, tough Arsenal supporter who takes one look at Dave's Chelsea scarf and grabs him by the collar. Thwarted at every turn, Dave eventually gets the ticket only to then be foolishly ripped off by a ticket tout and the series ends with both Dave and his Arsenal supporting rival being carted off by the police.
So is Bottle Boys a lost classic or deservedly despised?, probably neither actually, my scorecard for nine of the episodes, has four that are actually very funny and five that fall into being passable to pitiful, so maybe we should call it a draw. Powell obviously thought Bottle Boys could do for milkmen what On the Buses did for bus drivers and clippies. But while Reg Varney and Co may have got away with basing an episode around the horror at the idea of working with a woman in the early Seventies, the Eighties were a different kettle of fish, and in the age of alterative comedy and the Comic Strip its hard to deny that much of the material and attitudes here all seem very out of time. Dialogue that locks horns with the then current climate ("they'll be calling Manchester, Personchester next" moans Dave), just comes across as sour grapes, and only emphasizes how out of fashion, and under attack, this type of old school sitcom was. Bottle Boys isn't totally without charm though, Askwith is his usual entertaining carnal klutz self, and several of the supporting characters also become endearing over the episodes, David Aukers's Billy, a sort of mixture of George Formby and a darts player, makes for a good sidekick, and Eve Ferret's secretary is also value for money with her bad spelling and multiple boyfriends continually getting up the nose of the uptight Stan. Of course, surely the "worst ever sitcom" would be one that fails to have any impact whatsoever, and ignored by public and critics alike would never be given a second glance from either people wishing to sneer at the past, or those who genuinely delight in digging up all manner of British tat. Bottle Boys, can at least lay claim to dodging the completely forgettable category, and lives on in all its disputable infamy. If Miss Ferret's hairdo wasn't hard enough to forget there is also THAT theme tune, which has a habit of replaying in your head, Telefon style, every time the title, or literally anything to do with milkmen is mentioned. While certainly no classic, at the end of the day, surely its better to be remembered with an affectionate cringe, than not at all.
Bottle Boys: I Love Paris (1985)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 8 ('I Love Paris')
I LOVE Paris Dave and Billy win a trip to France, sadly the program makers clearly didn't get so lucky, so this episode takes place in an ITV budgeted Paris which consists of travelogue footage, British actors with OTT French accents and some location work at a grotty park which couldn't look less Parisian. Still there are some good laughs here due to the pair's pigeon French (particularly Billy's mispronunciation of Merci as "Murky") and since this is France, there's time for some French farce as well, when Dave accidentally ends up in the wrong hotel room and is then joined in bed by the female part of a honeymooning couple (played by Ann "Virgin Witch" Michelle) whose husband then walks in on them. There's also a rather bizarre period-dress "fantasy scene" which comes out of nowhere, and finds Dave about to be guillotined. All of which seems to exist purely to nick a gag from Carry on Don't Lose Your Head, as a messenger boy is told by Dave "put the letter in the basket, I'll read it later". Things come to a close at the Eiffel Tower, where Dave and Billy get locked in, with seemingly only the honeymooning couple being on hand to save them. What will happen next
. well nothing as the episode abruptly ends there, was the punch line too rude to go out? or did the episode go over budget? Your guess is as good as mine.
Bottle Boys: High Noon (1985)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 7 ('High Noon')
HIGH NOON The dairy's future is threatened by a rogue thug milkman (Don Henderson) who muscles in on their territory and challenges Dave to a fight at noon. Fairly standard sitcom fare, with the weakling pitted against the seemingly unmovable bully, and spending the episode trying to toughen up (cue Dave attempting to learn Kung-Fu and failing miserably to break planks of wood with his hands). Powell had himself used this plot in an episode of Mind Your Language that saw Barry Evans challenged to a boxing match against a rival teacher. The casting doesn't quite work as well here, mainly because Askwith was quite beefed up at the time, though Henderson makes for a convincing baddie. The payoff is entertaining enough however, with a confrontation shot like a western but with milkmen standing in for cowboys and "do not forsake me oh my darling" wafting on the soundtrack. All of course napped from Benny Hill's Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West from a decade earlier, but its funny enough for them to get away with second time round.
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 6 ('Out of the Frying Pan')
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN An episode that (correctly) works on the assumption that you can always get a cheap laugh out of seeing grown men dressed in silly costumes, not to mention grown men dressed as women, and grown men running around in their underwear, with Askwith gamely playing the fool on all three counts. Dave thinks he's onto a good thing when he gets an extra job promoting an egg marketing campaign, particularly as he gets to team up with Jennifer 'a posh bird'. Unfortunately his attempts to impress her are hindered by the fact that he has to dress up as a chicken and run around a shopping centre making chicken noises. Inspiring lots of "I'll give you a good cluck, darling" and "I'm really clucked off with this job" lines. To make matters worse, Dave finds himself locked out of the dairy and has to drive Jennifer around London while still dressed as a chicken, sight of which causes a vicar to do a double take then fall off his bike and into a lake (a quite good stunt actually). Things take a turn into "Confessions" territory when Dave is nearly caught changing in Jennifer's apartment by her wrestler husband, causing Dave to flee into her wardrobe in his underwear. The suspicious husband however gets a far bigger shock than finding a half naked man in his wife's bedroom, when minutes later, out from the wardrobe emerges "Linda", a.k.a. Dave in drag, complete with wig and fake tits. Its an image you won't forget in a hurry, Askwith makes for one scary looking woman. The episode ends with Dave and Joe getting a new job this time promoting a milk marketing firm "so I don't have to get dressed up as a chicken this time" says Dave, cue worried looks from Dave and Joe, and a final shot of them dressed as a pantomime cow!!!
Bottle Boys: I Got a Horse (1985)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 5 ('I Gotta Horse')
I GOTTA HORSE A "runaround" episode where Jock develops a "sixth sense" for betting on horses, but when the rubbish TV set Dave has bought to watch the race on breaks down its a mad rush around town as the gang try and find out the results of the race, only to instead find a succession of TVs that don't work, public phones that people are using, etc, etc. Its an episode more admirable for the physical demands it puts on the cast, than the comedy, with them required to jog around sets, scream, screech, break into opera, and generally act at a hysterical pitch. Ol' Vince Powell sure got his money's worth out of them that week. Speaking of the cast, at this point curiosity about them leads me to the IMDb, which revealed that sadly Phil McCall who plays Jock committed suicide (hanging) a few years back, making the earlier reference to his character being "constantly hung over" seem a bit unfortunate, while it turns out that David Auker was something of a Confessions veteran, having played Kipper band member "Zombie" in Pop Performer and "Alberto Smarmi" in Holiday Camp, never realized they were one in the same.
Bottle Boys: One Good Turn (1984)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 4 ('One Good Turn')
ONE GOOD TURN After a few dud episodes this turns out to be a genuinely funny outing, featuring "guest artiste Bernie Winters", who (in the context of the show at least) is portrayed as an A-list, nay God-like, figure. Stan (a.k.a. the Welsh bloke from Please Sir) is under pressure to organize a concert at an old people's home, and Dave suggests getting Bernie Winters- whom he knows from his rounds -to compare the show. News that Dave knows someone as world famous as Bernie Winters, and can persuade him to turn up, is greeted with awe and amazement by his co-workers. Unfortunately Dave gets his wires crossed and instead accidentally calls up another of his customers, used car salesman Benny Winters, to do the show. With the show missing a star, its left to Dave to dress up as Bernie Winters, complete with buck teeth and giant stuffed Schnorbitz toy dog, and well he is not very convincing, as one character remarks he looks "more like Esther Rantzen".
At the same time however the real Bernie Winters, no doubt fresh from appearing in Mary Millington's World Striptease Extravaganza, just happens to turn up at the Kings' Arms, to a huge round of applause from the shows audience. He's less familiar, however, to the barman who mistakes him for Ken Dodd, and adding insult to injury he just happens to be the customer Dave decides to try out his bad Bernie Winters impression on. A very funny scene, mainly due to the fact that Winters (understandably) cant keep a straight face upon meeting this mutation of Askwith, himself and Esther Rantzen. Sensing the audience's amusement, a mischievous Askwith pokes and prods Winters with the giant Schnorbitz toy dog, every time Winters tries to deliver a line. After refusing Dave's offer to impersonate Bernie Winters for three quid, Winters storms off doing an impression of Ken Dodd.
With no Bernie, Dave mournfully takes to the stage to tell a packed audience the bad news. But as "Bernie didn't want to let the old folks down", he and Schnorbitz turn up at the last minute to save the day. Such is Bernie's popularity that Charles and Diana also show up, but much to Dave's horror get turned away at the door (and no wonder, the actors playing them are rubbish look-alikes)
Bottle Boys: All in a Day's Work (1984)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 3 ('All in a Days Work')
ALL IN A DAYS WORK Another fairly laugh free episode in which Jock is ill and cant get out of bed. Dave pops round, only to be accidentally mistaken for the sick man by a female doctor (Mind Your Language's Zara Nutley). When it turns out Jock is merely hung over, his battleaxe wife goes crazy and Dave, Joe and Billy make for the lift, which then breaks down. Thus this becomes the obligatory "characters spend the episode trapped in a confined space" with no shortage of cringe worthy moments, as Joe suggests they will have to eat Billy to stay alive, Billy tries not to wet himself, and Dave tries to open the lift doors. "I can see a chink here" says Dave peeking through the door, "well ask him to phone the police" wails Billy. Of course Askwith has an extra incentive for getting out of that lift, as the ITV voice-over man reminds us for the umpteenth time over the credits, he has a London production of Run For Your Wife to get to.
The Bottle Boys Diaries part two (Danger Women at Work)
When the oldest of the milkmen is pensioned off, Stan replaces him with -shock, horror- a woman, which all the lads object to. Naturally the woman in question is a ferocious butch feminist in the Carry on Girls tradition, played by Pam St. Clement a.k.a. Pat Butcher, in a role she'd probably like to forget. "I wouldn't say she's ugly, and I wouldn't say she's pretty" says Dave "I'd say she's pretty ugly". They then hatch a complex scheme to get rid of her, which rather drastically involves Dave coming onto her and proposing marriage. Anyway to cut a long story short, she eventually leaves the job anyway, gets wise to Dave's scheme and the episode ends with Askwith getting a pint over his head. One tiny observation; despite the cartoon opening, the story lines don't often actually seem to have much to do with them being milkmen, or ahem "milk" the comic possibilities of the job that much. Instead most of the episodes, like a good many British soap operas, centre around the characters drinking at the local pub The Kings Arms, rather than doing any work, almost giving a comic double meaning to the "bottle boys" of the title.