Never The Twain (ITV, 1981-1991)
ITV has always found it rather difficult to produce long-running sitcoms, when compared to the BBC, who have had several. But this is one of the few ITV sitcoms that did seem to come back year after year. Never The Twain centred on the rivalry between Simon Peel and Oliver Smallbridge. They used to work together in the antiques business, but then they went on to work individually.
But the reasons that they have to stay in contact with each other are firstly because they are next door neighbours, and in the first series, Simon’s son reveals his intentions of marrying Oliver’s daughter, and you can imagine how well that goes down (they later have a child together). They continue to run an antiques shop on their own, and naturally Simon thinks he offers far superior items to anything that Oliver’s has to offer.
But Oliver isn’t helped by the rather useless shop assistant Ringo, who partly seemed to be there so that customers could do a “you look different from when you were in The Beatles” joke in every other episode. This means that Simon and Oliver end up wanting to compete against each other in everything that they do, way beyond the world of antiques, and there were a huge amount of putdowns along the way.
But what really lifted Never The Twain into being a durable and watchable sitcom was that the lead roles were played by Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies, two celebrated actors who made performing in a comedy show look easy and fun (and it helped that they both had lovely voices too), and they were trusted enough to keep the idea going long into the “blimey, is that still going?” point with viewers.
There were 67 episodes of Never The Twain in 11 series, and so many variations on the rivalry were explored, that by the final series Simon and Oliver were competing with each other to get satellite TV first. All of the episodes have been released on DVD, and there have also been repeat runs on various channels including UK Gold and ITV3, which definitely brought back some memories.