Sunday, 14 October 2018

Clarence

Ronnie Barker was a regular face on the UK’s light entertainment scene throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The Two Ronnie's was a riotous success and through sitcoms such as Open All Hours and Porridge he perfected his craft of comic delivery and timing. This is, however, one little sitcom that’s been oft’ overlook’d and is worthy of mention as I have recently reviewed it on DVD.

Ronnie Barker wrote Clarence himself under a pseudonym of Bob Ferris, a nod to Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais being the character name of one of The Likely Lads played by Rodney Bewes. The six episodes were screened in 1988 on the BBC in the UK and stand alone, never having been developed or extended. It was directed by Mike Stephens who has a chain of glowing credits in the genre and era including The Brittas Empire, Hi-de-hi and Allo Allo.

It is somewhat of a shame that not more were made, but maybe the same mentality was applied as was used for Fawlty Towers - leave it, before you run out of ideas and dilute the quality. And one could argue that that was a good idea, as much of this sitcom is based around one visual joke (or series of jokes) relating to the short-sightedness of the titular character. Much of it is near slapstick and developed from that one aspect of his shortcoming.

The series is set in 1930's England and Clarence was a near-blind removals man who at the age of 55 met a maid, played by Josephine Tewson (most famously Hyacinth Bucket’s neighbour later in Keeping Up Appearances), with whom he clicks. They decide to move out to the countryside to a cottage she’s been bequeathed. Much of the show could easily have been born of the stage as the tight script and interaction between the leads is often inside the cottage, much like Steptoe and Son and the like. It's closed-in and focused on the characters, relying on sharp dialogue rather than locations or special effects.

As you might expect from a sitcom of this era, there’s loads of innuendo and predictable jokes, both verbal and physical, but the two leads make that palatable and enjoyable even though surprises are few and far between. It’s delivered expertly, particularly by Barker, so that even though you can guess what’s coming half the time, it’s still funny when it arrives because of the execution. He was a master of his craft.

The series was seeded in a short from some years previous called, I think, The Removals Man, but I can’t seem to track that down. The whole series can be viewed on YouTube for some regions or picked up now on DVD. It might not have the overt flair of some of his other work but in its own way it’s charming funny and for those who appreciate Barker, a delight to watch.

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