The YouTube Files – Mr Don And Mr George.

Mr Don And Mr George (Channel 4, 1993)

This is yet another sitcom that I have wanted to see for a long time, and once again I was pleased to discover that every episode is on YouTube so I could finally see it for myself and write about it on here. A while ago I reviewed the Channel 4 comedy sketch show Absolutely, that I thought was great, it ran for four successful series from 1989-1993.

The story didn’t end there though, as two of the most popular characters got their own spin-off sitcom. Mr Don And Mr George was written by and starred Jack Docherty and Moray Hunter (who also wrote for lots of other comedy shows in the 80s and 90s). Docherty played George McDiarmid, and Hunter played Donald McDiarmid (no relation), who memorably used to wear a bowtie and some rather odd glasses. vlcsnap-00576

Trying to give some further explanation to what actually happened in the show isn’t that easy really, as this pair were rather odd. A lot of the episodes took some bizarre twists and turns, such as Don and George joining the army, going on holiday, or buying too many boxes of corn flakes, but I do feel that they were funny. I’ve always been fond of entertainingly silly shows, and this was definitely one of them. There was also an early TV appearance for Ben Miller in an episode. vlcsnap-00574

Mr Don And Mr George only ran for six episodes in one series that was shown rather late at night on Channel 4, and I’m not sure if it was ever repeated. It seems that it has been released on VHS, but it wasn’t included as part of the Absolutely DVD release. The characters did also turn up in an advert for crisps that was as odd as anything in their sitcom. However, after this show ended, Docherty and Hunter did work on a few more things together, including the late-90s/early-2000s BBC2 sitcom The Creatives (that I plan to review soon too). vlcsnap-00571

And of course thinking about this show reminds me again that in 1997 that Docherty was chosen to be one of the people to be part of the launch of Channel 5, with his own late-night show going out five nights a week at first. I was pleased that Mr Don And Mr George turned out to be as odd and enjoyable as I hoped it would be, and I imagine that thanks to this show, many people 25 years on still shout “get to Falkirk” at one-another.

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The YouTube Files – A Prince Among Men.

A Prince Among Men (BBC1, 1997-1998)

This is a sitcom that I do remember watching at the time, and I have wanted to review it for a while, and this is why. In the 80s, Chris Barrie came on to the comedy scene and appeared in various TV shows, he was also an impressionist and provided some of the voices on Spitting Image, most memorably the one of President Reagan.

He then went on to have success in the sitcoms Red Dwarf and The Brittas Empire, so when it was announced that he would be starring in a new sitcom on BBC1 in 1997, there was a lot of interest. Would this character become as popular as the likes of Rimmer and Brittas… well as it turned out, no, not really. Some of the episodes have recently been uploaded to YouTube so I thought I would take a look. vlcsnap-00543

A Prince Among Men was written by Tony Millan and Mike Walling, who were behind ITV’s sitcom Not With A Bang (that I reviewed on here recently), and they also wrote five episodes of The Brittas Empire. Barrie starred as Gary Prince, an ex-footballer who considers himself to be among the best that England has ever produced (although many don’t agree with him), but now he has retired, and he has decided to do something different with his life and try to give something back. Barrie also picked up a perm and a scouse accent somewhere along the way to play the role. vlcsnap-00545

But no, he doesn’t join Sky as a pundit as most ex-pros seem to do now, he has become a successful businessman who manages to irritate everyone around him. Gary now lives in a nice house with his glamorous German wife Lisel (who he met while he was playing for Bayern Munich), and he often spends his time opening supermarkets and attending award ceremonies. Also appearing are the dozy secretaries Sonia and Beverly, his agent Mark, and Vincent who discovered his talent. Minty off EastEnders turned up too so it can’t be all bad. Des Lynam also made a guest appearance in an episode as himself. vlcsnap-00561

A Prince Among Men was something of a flop with viewers and critics, but in 1998 it did return for a second series. Most people remained unimpressed though, and halfway through the run it was moved to Sunday afternoons, meaning that the 12th and final episode kicked off at 3:45pm, and it has practically never been seen or spoken of again since. To add to the disappointment there has been no DVD release either. vlcsnap-00544

The YouTube Files – Me, You And Him.

Me, You And Him (ITV, 1992)

It’s time for another entry in the “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series. This is a sitcom that I don’t really remember watching first time round, but it’s another that I had been interested in seeing for a while, so I was pleased to discover that all the episodes have been uploaded to YouTube by “British Comedy Rarities”, and credit goes to them.

Me, You And Him was a sitcom that was written by and starred the double-act of Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis (best known at the time for being part of sketch show The Mary Whitehouse Experience, and a couple of years after this they would go on to have their own show on BBC1 that I reviewed a while back), along with Nick Hancock (who would go on to host Room 101 and They Think It’s All Over). vlcsnap-00522

The idea of the show was that Punt, Dennis and Hancock played three friends who have known one-another since they were at school together, although they don’t seem to have much in common or get on that well. John (Hancock) is a lazy PE teacher who lived by himself until businessman Harry (Dennis) returned from living in France for a few years to move in. Also frequently turning up at the flat was Mark (Punt) who was trying to get away from his parents and find a job. vlcsnap-00526

The only other main cast members were the neighbours Todd and Helen, a reformed criminal who had married his probation officer (Helen was played by Harriet Thorpe who is best known for playing Carole in The Brittas Empire), and Clare who was an old girlfriend of Harry who unexpectedly returns into his life. There were plenty of jokes about TV shows, including one scene where they are all watching Blockbusters and getting the answers wrong. Also making a brief appearance was Danny Baker, sending up his advertising campaigns for Daz that were on TV at the time. vlcsnap-00531

Me, You And Him was a sitcom that had some rather unusual moments (for example there was a fantasy sequence where John imagined he was playing football for England at Wembley), and it wasn’t entirely clear whether it was an attempt to parody the run-of-the-mill flatshare sitcom or not. It was produced by Thames and ran for only one series, it seems that it got rather average reviews from critics at the time, and it hasn’t been released on DVD. Watching some episodes did remind me of Men Behaving Badly a little, this was around the time that ITV rejected a third series of that sitcom, I wonder if this was an attempt at a replacement of sorts. vlcsnap-00529

The Comedy Vault – Smith And Jones.

Alas Smith And Jones (BBC2, 1984-1988)/Smith And Jones (BBC1, 1989-1998)

Not The Nine O’Clock News was one of the most successful British comedy shows of its era, and among the cast of this groundbreaking show were Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. After that show ended in 1982, they decided to continue working together and form a comedy double-act, and in 1984 the first series of their sketch show launched on BBC2, when it was known as Alas Smith And Jones.

They were a double-act that didn’t consist of the usual funnyman/straightman roles, they were able to play a wide range of characters, and they would begin most shows by coming on stage to introduce themselves. Most of the sketches were about contemporary life, and there were many parodies of various TV shows and films. Lots of guest stars turned up to help out with the sketches, Mel and Griff were also among the writers, and their production company TalkBack made the show. vlcsnap-00518

But what the show is best remembered for is the head-to-head discussions, where they would offer their views on life, but they never really seemed to be sure what the other one was on about. Because of this, Smith and Jones had become rather popular, and around this time they appeared in the films Morons From Outer Space and Wilt, and Smith also directed a few films including the first Mr Bean film. vlcsnap-00510

Also in the 80s Smith and Jones worked on a few other projects including the BBC2 Smith sitcom Colin’s Sandwich, and ITV’s The World According To Smith And Jones, plus lots of adverts. So after four series, in 1989 the show was promoted to BBC1, this time simply called Smith And Jones, although it really carried on in the same style. There were six more series, with the tenth and final one being in 1998. Some critics felt that the show was a little past-it by then, but there had been plenty of highlights over the years. vlcsnap-00517

Bonus points also go to the show’s rather bizarre opening sequences which in the 80s included a parody of BBC1’s ident, and in the 90s and parody of BBC2’s ident. In 2006 they reunited for a BBC1 series called The Smith And Jones Sketchbook where they took one last look back at the funniest moments. You would expect that there would be some demand for these shows to be released on DVD, yet the situation is rather curious. vlcsnap-00493

There were plans to bring some series out, but then this seemed to be abandoned. However, a DVD was released featuring the first four series, but these had been condensed into two half-hour compilations, meaning that about four or five editions’ worth of sketches from every series aren’t available on the DVD. What are included though as extras are the 1987 Christmas special The Home-Made Xmas Video, the 1988 Christmas special Alas Sage And Onion, and the 1989 BBC2 series Smith And Jones In Small Doses, consisting of four 20-minute comedy-drama films. A decade on we still await the second volume containing anything from the 90s shows (although some were released on VHS), they definitely deserve a release.

The Comedy Vault – Hot Metal.

Hot Metal (ITV, 1986-1988)

This is an ITV comedy that was shown in the 10pm on Sunday slot that I don’t remember watching first time round. I first came across it when I was watching some old TV clips online, and I noticed one of them featured Geoffrey Palmer, who it is always a pleasure seeing. This turned out to be the 80s sitcom Hot Metal and I decided that I wanted to discover more.

Hot Metal was a sitcom that was created and written by David Renwick and Andrew Marshall, who were also behind other unusual comedy shows including End Of Part One and Whoops Apocalypse (which I plan to review soon too), before they went off to have further success separately. Hot Metal was about something that could seen as beyond satire really, a look behind the scenes of a tabloid newspaper. Naturally, the characters and plots were rather outrageous. vlcsnap-00485

The Daily Crucible is a faltering newspaper, so the owner of Rathouse International Terence “Twiggy” Rathbone (played by Robert Hardy) decides to take it over and relaunch it as The Crucible with a new downmarket look that really will go to any lengths to get an exclusive, and take the old saying that you shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story to its extreme. The outgoing editor is Harold Stringer (played by Palmer), but he is kept on and moved to a new role, with his office now in the lift. vlcsnap-00486

Rathbone decides to bring in the little-known South African Russell Spam as the new editor (who looks suspiciously like Rathbone somehow), and he hires various reporters including Greg Kettle, who works hard to find the first sniff of a scandal to expose, hoping that this along with more pictures of ladies in a state of undress will result in a big rise in sales and for its readers to unconvincingly say “er, I only ever buy it for the bingo numbers, honest”. vlcsnap-00489

After the departure of Stringer, at the start of the second series the former TV presenter Richard Lipton (played by Richard Wilson who would work with Renwick again a couple of years later on One Foot In The Grave) is brought in to try and improve the newspaper’s image, but he is more often to be found in the Blue Peter studio in his birthday suit (it’s a long story). vlcsnap-00490

Some of the more bizarre moments that I remember amused me in Hot Metal included in series one a parody of Spitting Image (featuring Stringer in puppet form), and when in series two they try to upgrade The Crucible to being put together using computer technology, and the first cover is just a mess featuring all the wrong letters and pictures. Hot Metal ran for two series, and both have been released on DVD, and there was also a short special as part of BBC1’s Comic Relief night in 1989 to finish things off.

The Comedy Vault – The Spa.

The Spa (Sky Living, 2013)

This is a sitcom that was shown on Sky Living, a channel that I actually don’t have access to, because I only have Freeview. So why did it attract my interest, and why did I want to add it to my comedy DVD collection even though I never saw it at the time? Well when I saw some publicity for the show, one of the things that I thought was interesting was who played the main character.

It was Rebecca Front, who is someone who has appeared in a lot of comedy shows over the years, including the classic The Day Today. I also remember seeing her in the BBC3 sitcom Nighty Night (that I also plan to review soon) where she played a rather put-down and timid chracter, a huge contrast to her feisty and bossy character in this show, she looked totally different too, I could barely believe that it was the same woman (although this may be down to something that I believe is known in the TV industry as “acting”). vlcsnap-00478

The Spa was created and written by Derren Litten, who was also behind Benidorm, the sitcom that ran successfully on ITV for about a decade. I have never had the experience of going to a health club myself, but I hope that it’s nothing like this, as it featured a typical sitcom ensemble of people who are amusingly useless at their jobs. Front starred as Alison, who is in charge of the spa and has a vision to be successful, but the staff usually hold her back, and they are rather low on visitors. vlcsnap-00479

Staff include the scatterbrained receptionist Sally, and the aerobics instructor Marcus (played by Litten). Also featuring is the handyman Eric who is always having an embarrassing shorts malfunction, and Davina and Vron who try (and fail) to get people into shape. Making guest appearances in the show were Bradley Walsh (with a beard), Bonnie Langford, and the one and only Chesney Hawkes. vlcsnap-00477

The Spa ran for one series and a special, but only the series has been released on DVD, and there are also some extras featuring the cast in character talking about their jobs. There were some good moments and it did seem to go down rather well with critics, with one saying that it was “genuinely funny” (well that is most probably because it was a sitcom). vlcsnap-00483

I do remember when Sky started to make some of their own quirky sitcoms in the early-2000s including the likes of The Strangerers and Time Gentlemen Please, and The Spa was another enjoyable one, I think that it was definitely good enough to have got on BBC2 or Channel 4 and it was a disappointment that it didn’t return for a second series. Hopefully Sky will continue to make some more comedy shows that’ll catch my eye.

Game Show Memories – Pop Upstairs Downstairs.

Pop Upstairs Downstairs (UK Play, 1999)

One of my favourite channels in the early days of digital TV was UK Play. I thought it was so great that one of my first blog pieces on here was a look back at some of the most memorable shows because I felt that there should be more about them online, I can’t have been the only person to have watched them. UK Play featured a mixture of music and comedy shows… there was also an attempt at a few game shows, including this one.

Pop Upstairs Downstairs was hosted by the double-act Mark And Lard who were on BBC Radio 1 at the time. I didn’t hear their earliest shows including their short stint in the breakfast slot, I first came across them when they moved to weekday afternoons in 1998, where I enjoyed the top-quality items along with the bangin’ tunes. Mark And Lard hosted a few shows on UK Play including Having A Pop (that I reviewed on here a while back) along with this one. pop1

The format of Pop Upstairs Downstairs was a little like University Challenge… well, actually it was just about the same as University Challenge. Two teams of three took part (also, I couldn’t find any clips of the show online, and I didn’t keep the few bits that I recorded myself, so the pictures in this piece are taken from the http://www.ukgameshows.com website, and credit goes to them) and all of the questions were about pop music, so get ready to tell us what you know about Britney Spears. pop2

The two teams really were sat on top of one another, with Mark representing the supposedly posh team sat on the top, and Lard the common team on the bottom. A starter question was asked on the buzzer for 20 points. Whatever team got it right were then asked three supplementary questions (or “suppository questions” as Lard called them) for ten points each, before the cycle started again. There would also be a question set for the viewers to ponder during the break. pop5

The final round was on the buzzer, with Mark And Lard alternating in asking the questions, with ten points for a correct answer, and five taken away for an incorrect one. It had to be noted that the posh team often romped away into a big lead, and if his team were faltering, Lard with give his team a quick pep talk by shouting at them “get a grip!”. I also remember one edition where Lard got so frustrated at his team not getting any starters right, he just grumpily walked off while Mark’s team continued to get endless answers right and won by a huge margin. I don’t think there were any big prizes on offer though. pop6

I also remember that there was a celebrity edition where one of the teams was the indie band Astrid who also provided the show’s theme music, and once again as they were on Lard’s team they were beaten by a rather big margin. I’m not sure how many editions of Pop Upstairs Downstairs were made (it did have something of a “ten editions made in one day” feel to it, and there was almost certainly no live studio audience present), and it seemed to be shown endlessly in the early days of UK Play, not that I’m complaining, it was great.