The BBC’s sitcom season is one that I’ve treated with some trepidation. I’m not keen on bringing back all of these old sitcoms for fearing the new plots and stories will cheapen the original shows.
The Lost Sitcoms differs however, as they are not creating new stories. Instead they are recreating episodes missing from the BBC archives. The first to get the treatment in this series is the controversial sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, with Simon Day taking the lead role of bigoted Alf Garnett, formerly played by Warren Mitchell.
In this episode, “A Woman’s Place Is in the Home”, Alf is at home distraught: is his dinner is burned, the fire has gone out, and his “silly old moo” of a wife Elsie (Lizzie Roper) is out. Elsie returns home and tells Alf that she, daughter Rita (Sydney Rae White), and her “stupid Scouse git” husband Mike (Carl Au) have been to the pictures. Alf thus gets into a temper arguing that Elsie should be staying at home and looking after the house rather than having fun. Things get worse when Alf learns that the rest have bought fish and chips, but didn’t get any for Alf because they assume he would have eaten. This leads to Alf trying his best to place an order at the local chip shop using the public phone box on his street.
While there were some laughs, especially in the phone box scenes in which lines get crossed, the episode did feel at times rather pedestrian. You get the feeling that of all the episodes the BBC could have picked to remake, this was one of the lesser ones.
While Till Death Us Do Part was known for its colourful language, don’t expect anything racial or sexual to be said in this episode. There is certainly talk of sexism due to Alf’s belief that Elsie should be at home, but other than this the main highlight concerning bad language is a heated-discussion about the use of the word “bloody”, which at the time the show originally went out was the height of rudeness.
One thing that some people have commented on, unfavourably, is the way that the programme began by showing an aerial shot of the studio set, reminiscent of Mrs. Brown’s Boys today. One of the biggest signs of the way the studio is designed is the phone box scenes, where one wall of the phone box has been cut away, like the wall of the Garrent’s front room, so that you can see clearly the actors inside making the calls. Why they needed to do this is not that understandable. It feels a bit gimmicky and cheap.
When it comes to comments from other people though, the one that annoyed me most was The Spectator’s James Delingpole, who said that more repeats from politically incorrect sitcoms should be shown. While I have no problem with this claim, and I myself would like to see more sitcoms that are controversial now to be given an airing to see what people think today, I was annoyed by some of examples of what he claimed the BBC would no longer repeat. One was ‘Allo ‘Allo! which actually was repeated on the BBC last year several times and is still repeated on the partly BBC-owned Gold and Yesterday frequently. Two others were On The Buses and Love Thy Neighbour, but I can think of another reason why the BBC doesn’t repeat them aside from political correctness – they were ITV sitcoms. Indeed, On The Buses is still often repeated on ITV3.
However, I think the main reason why sitcoms like Till Death Us Do Part are not repeated is nothing to do with political correctness. It is because they were made in black-and-white. Nearly all the BBC sitcom repeats are in colour. It would be good if the BBC were to show something older, regardless of the technology.
The Lost Sitcoms is on BBC Four at 22.00 on Thursdays.