Friday, 16 January 2009

Fun With Dick, George & Mildred

While The Two Ronnies, Morcambe & Wise and Benny Hill are endlessly repeated, you will seldom see a repeat of either The Dick Emery Show or sitcom George & Mildred, yet in their day they were just as big, winning massive ratings for their channels.

I don't know why either Dick Emery or George and Mildred should have left such an indelible impression on a young child but they did. Perhaps because they contained such colourful characters and Dick Emery and Yootha Joyce (aka Mildred) had such wonderfully mischievous smiles with matching glints in their eye.

For a while it was impossible to obtain even tribute videos/DVDs, though these are at last available.

Watching them now it is easy to see why Dick Emery has fallen out of favour as his shows lampooning the little-Hitlerdom of railway station masters (oh where have they gone now we need them?), his man-eating females, insincere vicars and outrageously cliched homosexuals have dated badly, cutting-edge though they may have been when he first rose to stardom in the late 1950s. On the other hand they are also uproariously un-PC, and to be fair to Mr Emery, he always wanted to be more adventurous and develop his comedy more innovatively but a staid BBC refused to let him take risks with one of their biggest hit shows, insisting he carry on churning out comedy for mass consumption, forever employing his cast of tried and trusted characters. However Harry Enfield has more than once generously credited Dick Emery as his greatest inspiration, and when you watch Mr Enfield's shows you can see the comedy lineage. Here is a clip of 'Hettie' unselfishly thinking of others.

George and Mildred was a spin-off from hit-com Robin's Nest and G&M were originally cameo characters who played the neighbours of man-about-town Robin who rather daringly (for the 1970s) shared a flat with two hot chicks, albeit neither of whom actually fancied him, much though he tried to pretend otherwise to the world.

Mildred was the undisputed Queen of Brentford Nylon, childless and sexually frustrated and forever trying to seduce her hapless, sexually-terrified and underachieving husband George, whose job it was to try and dodge her amorous advances. A loveable monster, Mildred was a curious hybrid of traditional and liberated woman who aspired to better things but could never quite escape the 'you've made your bed so you must lie in it' doctrine of her parents' generation and admit that she'd married the wrong man. However she did break free when it came to fashion, wearing the most extraordinary clashes with her equally-loud floral wallpaper and wafting about in aforementioned glamorous negligee's of the nylon persuasion, teamed with colourful plastic earrings and occasionally macs as she led a life of loud-but-quiet desperation. George too managed to be so much more than a foil and was funny in his own right, and secretly caring and loyal too, despite living in fear of his overbearing wife. They had equally memorable neighbours in the 'perfect' middle-class Fourmile family who seemed to have everything Mildred had ever aspired to, including an absurdly precocious son Tristram, and to whom Mildred alternately sucked up and was green with envy towards. Here's a cute YouTube clip of George & Mildred babysitting, posted by the young actor featured.


Nota Bene said...

They do still manage to make me laugh, but in a slightly 'oh dear'sort of a way.

G&M was never much appreciated in our family, but Yootha Joyce was brilliant. Robin's Nest was ace...but only I suspect because boys of my age lost their hearts to the blond girl, whose name I can nearly remember. Saw her on TV recently, and she still looks the same.

My Dad enjoyed Dick Emery, but for me the show was always cringe-worthy.

Funny how comedy can mature into a fine vintage, or end up as vinegar.I wonder what we'll be looking back on in 30 or forty years and either hailing or dismissing?

Steve said...

George & Midlred was a great favourite in our house when I was growing up and and I can recall my mother being very upset at Yootha Joyce's death. For some reason their annoyingly yuppie neighbours stick in my mind more - particularly the boy, "Tristram Fourmile"?

Lucy Fishwife said...

We had the absolute classic prohibitive "No ITV" upbringing, and my mother was absolutely opposed to TV comedy in all its forms - I missed out on so much! - although weirdly she made an exception for "It Ain't Half Hot, Mum". Considering the atmosphere of almost palpable lentil-eating Guardian-readingness I grew up with I still find it very strange. Dick Emery was a guilty pleasure at other peoples' houses...

Wisewebwoman said...

Not familar with either of these Laura but was reminded of cringe-inducing Benny Hill and Hyacinth Bucket - I must say I adored Hyacinth and her long suffering spouse.

garfer said...

Yootha Joyce was toothy, but it's still Una Stubbs for me.

I don't know how Cliff restrained his urges.

teeni said...

I've never seen these before but I can appreciate them. There is a certain nostalgia for that type of comedy and the shows of today are just so different.

Steerforth said...

I think G&M contained that essential ingredient of nearly all successful comedies (Father Ted, Steptoe, Hancock, Rising Damp etc) which was that it was about someone who aspired to climb the social ladder, but every attempt ended in frustration and humiliation.

Father Red wanted a better parish, Hancock fancied himself as an intellectual, Rigsby suffered from the delusion that he was a gentleman and Mildred believed that she was really middle class.

Yooth Joyce's portrayal was absolutely perfect. She made Mildred both domineering and vulnerable at the same time and watching her desperate attempts to ingratiate herself with her neighbours was painfully funny. I loved watching George's delight as he sabotaged Mildred's plans.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with Nota Bene. I liked Robin's Nest at the time, but when I watched it last year I thought it was shite. The main 'humour' seemed to revolve around a rather dim, one-armed Irish dishwasher - not the stuff of great comedy.

The woman was Tessa Wyatt, who famously dumped Tony Blackburn for Richard O'Sullivan.

Trivia fact: Richard O'Sullivan wrote the theme tune.

Geoff said...

People used to laugh differently in those days.

Good "family" entertainment which knocks the spots off the awfully middle class and awfully awful My Family which is meant for families to watch together but nobody actually watches it.

Reluctant Blogger said...

I don't think my mother can have approved of either of these as they were not watched in our house. I have seen some G&M but I presume that was in other people's houses. My mother was not a great fan of ITV so it may have been for that reason.

Mildred is such a horrible name!!

Can Bass 1 said...

Insincere vicars? Perish the thought!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Nota Bene - I think it is Sally Thomsett you are trying to recall (the camera followed her bottom walking along the street in the opening credits of each Robin's Nest!). George and Mildred were by far my favourites though as they just had so much more character and scope for comedy than a good-looking guy sharing a flat with two good-looking girls. Dick Emery had his moments, even among the clips that have dated beyond salvation and is good for the quaintness. Funny how much of Benny Hill is just as dated though yet has endured, still to be forever repeated in different countries - perhaps because it was more visual and everyone likes the chase scene at the end.

Steve - yes the Fourmile Estate Agent neighbours of George & Mildred were wonderfully-drawn cameo roles in their own right - epitomising everthing Mildred had ever wanted for herself, the highlight being their swatty smart-alec pre-Geek young son Tristram, and their parts became larger and larger as the series went on.

Lucy, my parents initially tried to ban ALL TV for me and my sister in their bid to breed nobel-prize winning scientists, only we had the good luck to move into a house where the previous owners had left one behind. Once
my father grew addicted to all the cop chase shows and my sister and I were thoroughly into the kids stuff (and old WIll Hay films they always used to show afterwards on BBC2), there was world war 3 when it broke, until eventually and bedgrudgingly another black and white set was hired. Now ironically my mother watches as much TV as anyone and has about 1000 unmarked VHS tapes full of stuff she has never had time to watch but will 'get round to one day'.

WWW - Benny Hill was not a great favourite of mine, much though his continued worldwide success 15years after his death fascinates me when his stuff is so dated. I did like his early (cleverer) stuff though, which is of course the stuff never repeated now.

Garfer, ah but Una wasn't as FUNNY as Yootha! Nor could she do malevolent, mischievous, vulnerable and sexy all in the same moment I doubt. Re Cliff, wasn't he having a white-hot affair with Sue Barker at the time? ;-)

Teeni - so who were your comedy favourites stateside? We got re-runs of Mister Ed, Bewitched and I Love Lucy over here, which I always enjoyed. Then the more contemporary stuff such as Taxi and Cheers were imported.

Steerforth, yes we have a fine British comedy tradition of celebrating failure and the dysfunctional underdog forever aspiring to better, but constantly being thwarted, as you finely illustrate. Mind you, the Americans have also produced Married With Children, The Simpsons and My Name is Earl as their celebrations of Heroic Failure and characters NOT on wonderful salaries. But they still like their heroes to triumph in the end (and be on a good salary), whereas ours can only ever be allowed pyrrhic victories/their salaries vary widely. I do like the NZ comedy Flight of the Conchords though which is also a great skit on heroic failure by the self-deluded. I think that's why I could never take to 'Friends'. They all earned way too much money, had annoyingly great hair and didn't know what a real problem was! Nor did they particularly need to aspire to anything as they had it all already. Even the sofa as 'Central Perk' was always kept vacant on the offchance they would pop in and want to sit together to discuss their latest bed-hopping misunderstanding.

Geoff - and having only 3 channels in the 70s, 4 in the 80s meant that all shows had far larger audience shares than they have now, with the consequence that many people would have watched the same show the previous night to discuss at work or school the following day. This cohesion has all gone. And for what? The programmes don't get any better because there's 100 channels rather than 4. Quite the opposite as we've seen. But yes, programme-makers did observe the 9pm watershed in the past and no child had a TV/computer in their room to watch adult-content after bedtime either.

RB - No, you don't hear of many youngsters called 'Mildred' these days, but it suited Yootha Joyce's character down to the ground as her husband George could have just called her 'Dred' for short! Aside from our looking down on 'Magpie' as a poor-child's substitute for 'Blue Peter' I cannot recall antipathy toward ITV, except for my mother's original intention that we were to be denied ALL TV (see my reply to LucyFishWife above)

Can Bass 1 - yes I cannot imagine how Dick Emery dreamed up 'insincere vicars' - the very idea! And ironically this character has dated the least!

Henry North London said...

Oooh you are Awful But I like it...