Once In A Lifetime (ITV, 1993)
There hasn’t been one for a while, so it’s time for another entry in the “were they any decent 90s ITV sitcoms?” series. This is one that I only vaguely remember from the time, but I was particularity interested in seeing it after finding a trail online, so I was very pleased to discover that it had recently turned up in full on YouTube, here’s the story of this one.
In February 1993, Carlton, in only their second month on air, launched a series called Comedy Playhouse that featured eight pilot episodes of sitcoms, the aim being that some of them would receive a full series. Once In A Lifetime was a sitcom about two women who had nothing in common, or at least that’s what they originally thought, until they discover a shock secret.
Helen (Maria McErlane) who is calm and well-mannered runs the Fountain Musical Academy, a school for the musically gifted. Also working there is Matron (Pam Ferris), who often addresses the camera to explain the situation. One day, Matron, Helen, and her solicitor boyfriend Roger (Ramsay “Guy Of Gisbourne” Gilderdale) are in the studio audience for the popular TV show Once In A Lifetime (that is somewhat similar to Surprise Surprise).
The host Bella White (Kate Robbins, in a Cilla Black impression) brings on to the stage Mojo (Lisa Maxwell, who was a TV presenter in the mid-80s on shows including No Limits and Splash, before becoming a comic actress and supporting the likes of Russ Abbot and Les Dennis and getting a comedy show of her own in 1991, and then going into straight acting and becoming a regular cast member of The Bill) who is a tattooed punk with a rebellious bad attitude.
Helen is then brought up on stage, and it is revealed that Mojo is her long-lost twin sister! They had been separated at birth. Well Helen can’t believe it, they are total opposites, and this is where the comedy comes in of course as the mismatched pair get to know each other. Mojo then moves in with Helen, and brings her baby with her. Although they spend a lot of time bickering at first, Helen and Mojo soon realise that they’re more similar than they could’ve imagined.
Once In A Lifetime was written by Nick Symons, Sandi Toksvig, and Joolz (a red-haired woman who is not to be trifled with). The show definitely had some potential to be explored further, with an enjoyably extrovert performance by Maxwell being a highlight, but it was not given a series, so we’ll never know what happened next as they were not seen again.
Two of the eight pilots did get a series though, The 10%ers (that I reviewed recently), and Brighton Belles (the British version of The Golden Girls) which was one of the biggest comedy flops of its era. About a year later, there was a BBC1 drama that featured a similar idea about long-lost sisters whose lives have gone off in different directions called Pat And Margaret that was created by and starred Victoria Wood, and was much more successful.