The YouTube Files – The Wolvis Family.

The Wolvis Family (BBC2, 1991)

I am always on the lookout for bizarre and long-forgotten shows to review on here, and this is a perfect example of one. This is how I discovered it. A while ago I was watching a BBC2 continuity clip on YouTube (well, when aren’t I), which featured a slide promoting something that appeared to be a game show. However, it turns out it that wasn’t a game show at all, but something called The Wolvis Family. What could this be? I wanted to discover more, and I found some episodes on YouTube.

It’s a comedy show with a rather unusual idea that is difficult to describe, but here goes. The Wolvises used to be a happy family. Indeed they used to be so close they once appeared together as a team on the long-running game show Ask The Family in the 80s (which explains what was happening in the BBC2 slide). But things have started to go rather wrong for them since then. vlcsnap-00400

The Wolvis family consists of the father Herbert, the mother Sylvia, and their two teenage children, the rather bratty daughter Wendy (who I couldn’t help but notice has something of a Strawberry Switchblade look about her, oh yes), and the son Stuart (played by a young Charlie Condou who in more recent years has appeared in various shows including Nathan Barley and Coronation Street). vlcsnap-00397

Now there’s a problem with Stuart, as he doesn’t talk to the rest of his family any more. He hasn’t left home or lost contact with them, he just simply doesn’t talk any more, not even to his friend Spencer. The children have transformed from being well-behaved into rebellious teenagers, and the Wolvises seem to have become something of a dysfunctional family that would make even the Simpsons or the Griffins blush. So they have decided to do something about it. vlcsnap-00405

They will air their problems with one another (or not in Stuart’s case)… on the TV. They have agreed to work with Dr Graham Wilcockson, and as the six episodes progress we see him use various techniques to try and help them out. Can they finally settle their differences? The set design is very basic, it’s just six chairs and a table. Oh, and a jug of water too. The show starts off in a fairly straightforward style but starts to get increasingly unusual, with the family eventually opening up and revealing bizarre things about themselves, and going a little “I will release my anger… through interpretive dance!” by the end. Come on don’t be shy, better out than in! vlcsnap-00408

The Wolvis Family really is a show that is rather unique in TV. It was a scripted comedy (it was written by Tom Lubbock and Roger Parsons), but not like any other that I’ve seen. What was it trying to achieve? It seems to be a satire of the “making troubled people sob on TV” genre before it even existed. It was shown once on BBC2 fairly late on Saturdays, never to be seen again. Did anyone watch it at the time? vlcsnap-00411

It pretty much goes without saying that The Wolvis Family doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry and there has been no DVD release, and there is very little about it online, but it was a great example of those shows that used to come and go around this time on BBC2 and Channel 4 that tried to do something a little different, and I definitely feel that it’s another lost curiosity that deserves some reappraisal.

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The YouTube Files – It’s A Mad World World World World.

It’s A Mad World World World World (BBC2, 1993)

When the digital radio station BBC7 (now BBC Radio 4 Extra) launched in 2002, it was an opportunity for me to hear some programmes from throughout the years that I didn’t remember from first time round. One that I rather enjoyed was the comedy sketch show And Now In Colour (that originally ran on BBC Radio 4 for two series from 1990-1991) which was often compared to BBC Radio 1’s The Mary Whitehouse Experience that ran around the same time.

And Now In Colour was written by and starred a comedy quartet known as The Throbbs (Tim Firth, Tim de Jongh, Michael Rutger and William Vandyck), and the show had a regular feature where the cast would take the studio audience on an adventure with them. In 1993 there was an attempt to transfer the show to TV as It’s A Mad World World World World which was shown as part of BBC2’s Comic Asides series of comedy pilots. I have wanted to see this for a while so I was very pleased when it recently turned up on YouTube, and credit goes to the uploader “VHS Video Vault”. vlcsnap-00381

Although all four members of the And Now In Colour cast wrote the show, only de Jongh and Vandyck appeared in the sketches (and it was a great experience to finally put some faces to the familiar voices). Also in the cast was Flip Webster, and there were some early TV appearances for the soon to be big names in comedy Alistair McGowan and Caroline Aherne. vlcsnap-00394

Among the various sketches in the show were the strangest snooker match ever played, the invention of earthquakes, the reveal of the new James Bond theme, and a parody of The Open University. Another thing that I noticed was that most of the sketches were recycled from the radio version. Also, the way that some of the sketches played out made me think that one influence could’ve been Channel 4’s great comedy show Absolutelyvlcsnap-00396

It’s A Mad World World World World did not return for a full series, so we won’t ever know how many characters or catchphrases could’ve developed (BBC2 did finally find a successful sketch show format about a year later with the launch of The Fast Show). However, the cast did go on to have further success in more recent years, having written various award-winning plays and novels, and some of them also contributed to ITV1’s surreal comedy show Dare To Believe (although the less said about that the better really). vlcsnap-00367

The Comedy Vault – The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin.

The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (BBC1, 1976-1979)

I’m not really that big a fan of 70s sitcoms (before my time etc), but this is one of my favourites from that era, and here’s how I discovered it. In the early-90s something rather strange happened to BBC1, they seemed to have run out of comedy shows, and around this time a lot of old ones were repeated in primetime. These included Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and Citizen Smith, well over a decade after they had ended. Another sitcom given this treatment was The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin which I remember had something of an impact on me has I had hardly seen another comedy show like it.

Reggie (played by Leonard Rossiter) works in an unrewarding role as a manager at Sunshine Desserts. His routine is always the same. We see him walking along the same streets, he always arrives to work 11 minutes late because of a problem with the train, he always has to deal with his boss CJ whose observations on life are rather baffling and he uses the show’s most famous catchphrase “I didn’t get where I am today…” by justifying them. He also has to put up with his family including his wife Elizabeth and his brother-in-law Jimmy who has always “had a bit of a cock-up”. vlcsnap-00225

At the age of 46, Reggie is beginning to get rather frustrated with where he is in life. He begins to have increasingly odd thoughts about his wife and his secretary Joan, and he is losing his grip on reality. This leads to some strange fantasy sequences including imagining his mother-in-law as a hippo. He has had enough of being trapped in this never-changing world of nonsense, train delays, and tiresome yes-men who think that everything is “super” for what becomes weeks, months, and eventually years, and he finally decides to do something about it. vlcsnap-00344

So one day Reggie fakes his own death by leaving some clothes on a beach and walking off to a new life. He does eventually return to his family however and starts a new business selling useless items, and the show eventually ran for three series as he struggles to try and make some sense of his life. Around the same time as this show Leonard Rossiter was also starring in Rising Damp (widely regarded as one of ITV’s greatest sitcoms), but I always preferred his performance in this show myself. vlcsnap-00206

After concluding in 1979, in 1996 it was decided to revive the show as The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin. Reggie has died for real now and most of the original cast (and catchphrases) returned to discover that they could only inherit his money if they combined to do something absurd. This series was something of a letdown by comparison though. All of these series have been released on DVD, and extras include the Comedy Connections documentary made about the show. vlcsnap-00322

The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin was based on a book that was written by David Nobbs, who went on to further success by creating more comedy shows including Channel 4’s Fairly Secret Army (starring Geoffrey Palmer in a role very similar to his Jimmy character) and ITV’s A Bit Of A Do (which starred David Jason). He was also behind a sitcom on BBC Radio 4 called The Maltby Collection that I enjoyed listening to recently which again showed how good Nobbs was at capturing the British eccentric and their strange turns of phrase. vlcsnap-00362

In the 80s there was a short-lived version on American TV called Reggie, and about a decade ago the series was revived again on BBC1, this time called Reggie Perrin and starring Martin Clunes in the lead role. This was justified by saying that the struggles that the original Reggie went through are still as relevant today, but it just wasn’t in the same league as the original and it ended quietly after two series.

The YouTube Files – The Office (ITV).

The Office (ITV, 1996)

Time for another edition of my “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series. Now this one is rather interesting because it is called The Office, but it has no connection with the much-praised BBC series that launched in 2001. This seems to be an attempt at a “look at how crazy our office is”-style sitcom five years before Ricky Gervais came along, so it was good to finally track it down on YouTube and discover what it was all about.

The Office was written by Steven Moffat who worked on some other comedy shows around this time, before going on to become the executive producer of Doctor Who of course. Robert Lindsay (someone who I have a very vague connection to, as my mum went to school with his ex-wife, I’ve explained more about that story in my review of Lucky Feller) starred as Norman, who worked at a company called Trans Atlas International. vlcsnap-00836

Norman is someone who will go to rather extraordinary lengths to impress his boss Hillary. After getting the wrong idea following one of her comments, he happily decides to take most of his clothes off and lie on her desk hoping for her approval. After he then realises what she actually meant, he can’t get his clothes back and he is left in a rather embarrassing situation (cue laughter). vlcsnap-00833

However, his scatterbrained temporary secretary Pru (played by Rebecca Front of The Day Today fame among other things) is of no help to him. How will he get out of this one? Norman has to make a very important speech, all the top people are going to be there including the CEO and he mustn’t let them down. He can’t exactly do it in the nude can he! vlcsnap-00837

He initially tries to dress as one of the company’s dispatch riders but is caught out by Nigel (played by Stefan Dennis, of Neighbours fame). By this point Hillary has no idea what Norman is up to. As a last resort at trying to get dressed in time he ends up doing his speech whilst wearing women’s clothes, but everyone applauds him anyway for his effort, much to his relief (cue even more laughter). vlcsnap-00840

It seems that The Office was designed to be an intentional one-off, with no plans for a series however well it did, and the episode was played out as something of a farce. It was shown on ITV in July 1996 and unlike its BBC namesake is now rather forgotten and it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. It was also nominated for an award that it didn’t win. I suppose it made the most of its good cast though and played the absurd situation for all the laughs it could get.

The YouTube Files – Married For Life.

Married For Life (ITV, 1996)

Here’s how I chose the next show to review in my “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series, following on from Sometime, Never and Not With A Bang. One thing that ITV tried throughout the 90s was adapting American sitcoms, and they managed to have success with The Upper Hand which was the British version of Who’s The Boss? and ran for seven series. So maybe it was time to adapt another American sitcom?

One American sitcom that I am a fan of is Married… With Children which was shown a lot on ITV in the early-90s, although I first saw it on Paramount about a decade later. In 1996 ITV launched their own version called Married For Life. I don’t remember watching this first time round, but I have wanted to see it for a while, so again I went on YouTube and I was pleased to discover that the majority of the episodes are on there.

One thing that is notable about Married For Life is who plays the lead role. Throughout the 80s Russ Abbot had been a popular comedy figure on TV, and he also had a Top Ten hit single, appeared on the cover of Radio Times a few times and starred in cigar adverts. But a decade on his comedy show (which had moved from BBC1 to ITV) was faltering, so maybe it was time to try something a little different. vlcsnap-00681

In Married… With Children, the Bundys were considered to be the most outrageous family on TV until The Simpsons come along, and in Married For Life they were re-imagined as the Butlers. Russ Abbot played Ted (Al in the American version), who worked in a shoe shop and was rather unhappy with where he was in his life. His wife Pam (the Peggy role, played by Susan Kyd) was rather glamorous and spent most of the little money he made. vlcsnap-00678

They had two teenage children, Nikki (Kelly/Lucy Blakely) and Lee (Bud/Peter England). The next door neighbours were the Hollingsworths (instead of the Rhoades), Steve (Steve/Hugh Bonneville) and Judy (Marcy/Julie Dawn Cole). One thing that was notable about Married For Life was that the scripts were recycled from the American version, with some localised changes. vlcsnap-00676

One problem with this was that the reworked episodes were taken from the early series around 1987/1988, so by the time of this version they were almost a decade old which made things seem a little dated. So how well did Married For Life end up doing for ITV? There is one fact that tells you all you need to know: there were over 250 episodes made of Married… With Children, Married For Life came to an end after seven. vlcsnap-00675

Married For Life turned out to be a big flop and there has been no DVD release, although it does have a Wikipedia entry. It is notable that it is rather strange seeing familiar episodes being played out with a different cast, but the humour seemed to make no impact with viewers, and it disappointed in just about every department compared to the original. However, later in the 90s ITV adapted some more American series that they hoped would do better, and I might review those soon too.

The YouTube Files – Not With A Bang.

Not With A Bang (ITV, 1990)

Here’s the next in my “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series. Having recently looked back on here at Sometime, Never, I wanted to discover more, so here’s why I chose to review this one. A while ago, I was going through some old tapes to see if there were any continuity clips on them that were worth putting online, and one of the tapes in the collection was from 1990.

This one was just about the oldest tape that was in the collection, so I very much hoped that there would be some adverts on it and the like. On the tape was a trail for a show on ITV called Not With A Bang. I really had no idea what this show was, I didn’t watch it at the time, and I knew nothing about it at all. I had wanted to track it down for a while. So once again, I thought, “is this on YouTube?”

And well would you believe it, all seven episodes are on there in full, so thanks to the uploader “jaredyjaredy” for letting me finally discover what this show was all about. It turns out that Not With A Bang was another flop ITV sitcom that was shown in the Sunday 10pm slot, and it was set in a post-apocalyptic world. It was written by Tony Millan and Mike Walling, who later went on to write some episodes of BBC1’s The Brittas Empirevlcsnap-00655

The first episode opens with an edition of the popular BBC1 science series Tomorrow’s World… er, I mean the entirely different LWT production for ITV The World Tomorrow which is hosted by Judith Hann. Whilst demonstrating an experiment on a live edition, Judith drops a beaker of green liquid on the floor and says “oh bugger” (another impressive use of the sitcom device of a celebrity guest unexpectedly swearing there), and she is reduced to a pile of ash. vlcsnap-00659

Then everyone else in the studio turns to ash… and eventually everyone else in the world (cue shrieking LWT studio audience). And that’s it, the end of human civilisation. However… we join the story about a year later seemingly somewhere in the UK, when we meet four people who have somehow survived this, and as the episodes go by we see how they have adjusted to this new world. vlcsnap-00661

They are Brian (Ronald Pickup) who tries to take charge of things, and Colin (Stephen Rea), who still likes to go to the pub, and he is mildly obsessed with rugby league, which is a shame as there is no-one around to play the game any more. They were then joined by the married couple Graham (Mike Grady) and Janet (Josie Lawrence), who have been searching for survivors and realise that they need start repopulating the world, although Graham is finding it hard to admit that he’s having some problems in the bedroom. vlcsnap-00663

Not With A Bang ran for only one series and there has been no DVD release, but it does have a Wikipedia entry. I seem to have a fondness for unusual post-apocalyptic shows, having been a big fan of The Tribe and Dark Angel, and this show falls into that category. For most of the episodes Brian and Colin pondered if there really is still anyone else out there. But it seems that the viewers weren’t and that was it. vlcsnap-00664

You might not like to know that the theme music to Not With A Bang is available to buy now on vinyl. vlcsnap-00665

The YouTube Files – Sometime, Never.

Sometime, Never (ITV, 1995-1996)

Here’s a story of how I get the ideas for my pieces. Recently I got hold of some more old TV magazines. These included a pullout which previewed various programmes that were coming to the screen around late-1996/early-1997. On the page about comedy shows we were told that there would be some popular series returning including The Thin Blue Line, 2Point4 Children, Drop The Dead Donkey, and others.

Also on the page was a new sitcom called Sometime, Never (which I don’t remember watching first time round) which was described as “embarrassing” (which was surprisingly critical by TV Times‘s standards), and concluded that there was no chance of this show being a success. So after reading this, once again I became intrigued and had that thought again… is there any of it on YouTube?

One of the aims of this blog is not only to share memories of shows that I remember that people might find interesting, but also to track down long-lost series and see if they are worthy of a reappraisal and more information about them being online, or if they are better off left in the past. And I’m sure you’ll appreciate that I don’t want to review shows on here that I didn’t like, so I hoped that this would be worth watching.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that there isn’t a Wikipedia entry for this show, and there has been no DVD release, but it seems that there are two of the eight episodes that were made online. So if people do want to know more about this show I thought I might as well explain. Firstly, one of the things that made me interested in watching Sometime, Never were the two main cast members who I had heard of.

Throughout the late-80s/early-90s the comedy double act Sara “the blonde one” Crowe, who had the squeakiest voice on TV this side of Sandra Dickinson (ask your dad) and Ann “the brunette one” Bryson appeared in a popular long-running TV advertising campaign for Philadelphia cheese. I presume at some point someone thought that they might like to appear together in a sitcom, and of course I have admitted on here that I am fond of quirky female duos. vlcsnap-00646

In 1995 the pilot episode of Sometime, Never was shown as part of the Comedy Firsts series, and it seemed to do well enough to earn a full series that was shown in 1996 (and was a lesser-spotted Meridian presentation for ITV) in the Sunday 10pm slot, which for about a decade was the time was where ITV’s more alternative comedy shows were shown, including the likes of Hale And Pace and Spitting Imagevlcsnap-00653

So what was the idea behind Sometime, Never? Was there anything here to give the likes of French And Saunders a run for their money? It seems that it was sold as a female version of Men Behaving Badly. Maxine (Crowe) is a teacher who has just reached her 31st birthday and was single with no children, while her friend Bernice (Bryson), stays at home to raise her two children and has become bored with her life, and it seems that they wished that they could swap places with one another. vlcsnap-00654

The two episodes that I watched featured Maxine bickering with the school staff including the younger teacher Louise and the absentminded headmaster, as well as the pupils, while Bernice was having trouble with her children and her useless husband. I didn’t think it was that bad really, but it was far from a classic, and the fact that it didn’t return for a second series probably isn’t too much of a surprise. I wonder where they are now? never0001

If I can find any other interesting shows online I’ll try and continue this “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series soon.