When it comes to comedy 2014 has been a year of revivals and remakes. You had the Monty Python reunion, ITV has revived Birds of a Feather, and on Radio 4 they brought back Dead Ringers and re-recorded some episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour that were missing from the archives.
On Boxing Day 2013 another classic comedy was brought back; Open All Hours. However, like with Monty Python there was the minor issue that one of the stars was now dead. Is it at all possible for such a show to maintain a high standard even when a major figure cannot be brought back? Judging by the viewing figures from last year, yes. The pilot for Still Open All Hours attracted over 9 million viewers. Given that this just about outdoes almost all other sitcoms around today, it is not surprising that a full series has been commissioned.
Still Open All Hours is still set in Arkwright’s corner shop in Doncaster, albeit with the late Albert Arkwright (Ronnie Barker) no longer behind the counter – although everyone seems to believe that his spirit and miserliness has become manifested in the shop’s dreaded till. Arkwright’s picture still hangs in the backroom of the shop, looking over everything and everyone. Now Granville runs the shop, inheriting his uncle’s miserly tendencies, assisted by his illegitimate son Leroy (James Baxter).
Granville is trying to woo his long-term love Wavy Mavis (Maggie Ollerenshaw), but her sister Madge (Brigit Forsyth) seems intent on preventing any relationship between the two. Granville still has some of his regular customers like Nurse Gladys Emmanuel (Lynda Baron), and the black widow Mrs. Featherstone (Stephanie Cole), who is constantly trying to court him. There are some other relatively new customers such as henpecked Wet Eric (Johnny Vegas) and intestine-troubled Gastric (Tim Healy).
This first episode of the new series, which like the pilot is on Boxing Day, confusingly is set on Valentine’s Day. In it Granville tries to have a night out with Mavis, while trying to match up Gastric with Madge in order to create more opportunities form himself and Mavis – this storyline become a recurring plot in later episodes in the series.
It has to be said that Still Open All Hours is rather good. While Ronnie Barker is of course sadly missed, much of what still makes the series funny is still around: we still have most of the main characters; many of the jokes are recognisable, but not too obvious; the new characters are also funny and played by reliable comedy performers. Aside from Vegas and Healy, there are also people as varied as Nina Wadia and Barry Chuckle (under his real name of Barry Elliott).
Much of the credit has to go to the writer Roy Clarke. It must be said I was slightly worried when he decided to revive Open All Hours originally, because while Clarke is a funny writer, he is not good at deciding when a project should stop. His other famous work is Last of the Summer Wine which may be the longest-running sitcom in the world and one of the most repeated shows on British television, but was past its prime a long time ago. Open All Hours suffers from this problem a lot less because there were only four original series, so when it was revived there was plenty of time to develop new ideas.
Many people complain that reviving such sitcoms shows a lack of imagination on the half of TV commissioners. I would argue that if this show can still pull in the viewers, modern comedy writers need to up their game in order to attract people’s attention.