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Curry & Chips comes to DVD

Saturday, 24 April 2010 06:18

Written by Johnny Speight, creator of Till Death Us Do Part, and based on an idea by Spike Milligan, Curry & Chips proved to be one of the most controversial situation comedies ever made. Originally screened in 1969, the series featured Milligan as Kevin O’Grady, a man of mixed Asian and Irish descent who has just started his new job at Lillicrap Ltd, manufacturer of cheap novelty items and seaside souvenirs.

Inevitably, he soon becomes the butt of jokes from his resoundingly intolerant workmates. Speight’s determined attempt at confronting racism with its own conventions polarised critical opinion, although it was extremely popular with the viewing public and ended up in the ITV Top Ten. The character of O’Grady actually made his first appearance in an episode of Till Death Us Do Part.

Curry and Chips on DVDCo-starring with Milligan was long-term friend, writing partner and comedy legend Eric Sykes as shop foreman Arthur Blenkinsop. Kenny Lynch, Norman Rossington, Sam Kydd and Geoffrey Hughes played some of their narrow-minded workmates.

Reflecting the widespread and overt prejudices of its time, Curry & Chips attempted to confront bigotry in daily life by caricaturing it. Exploring similar territory to Speight’s Till Death Us Do Part, Curry & Chips inevitably has a shock value for modern audiences. Its language and single-minded focus on race was a reflection of the times – and all but the characters of Milligan, Sykes, and Fanny Carby as their landlady Mrs Bartok, were designed to be examples of different types of prejudice.

Indeed, most of those with prejudices represented here should live by the adage “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” – one being coloured, one a poor father, and another with considerable hygiene problems. These traits would have led them all to have been victims of prejudice themselves, but this does not stop them giving it out to others, in this case to Milligan’s O’Grady character.

Where Till Death Us Do Part had just the one monster in Alf Garnett, the biggest problem here is that when all but three of your characters are the villains, suddenly the side of good can be overwhelmed. Speight set up this format so as to expose the shortcomings of the majority of the supporting cast, and by holding a mirror up to the audience, the majority of which were reflected in one or other of these characters. Speight will have been as frustrated with the positive reaction to them as with the attitude of those who saw Alf Garnett as a shining example to follow!

Forty years after its initial screening, the series is now made available for the first time in DVD format. As a social document, it reminds us how far we have come since the show was broadcast. With the benefit of hindsight you can see what Speight and Milligan were trying to achieve, but unfortunately there is not enough significant comeuppance for the racists of all colours within the character roster.

That said, I regret to say that it is one of those guilty pleasures – you really know you should not be laughing, but the shock value gives some of the more extreme stand-up comedians of the 21st century a run for their money. The difference is that Curry & Chips had its heart in the right place, in trying to expose bigotry and racism. Unfortunately, in being a sit-com rather than what would now be called a ‘comedy drama’, it doesn’t have the sophistication and pathos to pull it off.

Guest appearances on the show include Petra Markham, pre Ace of Wands, as the sex obsessed daughter of one of the work colleagues, Sally James as a Secretary, and even Johnny Speight himself as a drummer!

As a special feature on the DVD, you also get “Saturday Night Theatre: The Salesman”, a one-off play by Speight from 1970, starring Ian Holm.

Curry & Chips is out now, with a running time of 150 minutes approx, and a ‘15’ certificate. The RRP is £14.99, or buy it for less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Curry & Chips – Episode Listing

Spike Milligan as Kevin O'Grady

Eric Sykes as Arthur Blenkinsop

Norman Rossington as Norman

Kenny Lynch as Kenny

Geoffrey Hughes as Young Dick

Fanny Carby as Mrs Bartok

Sam Kydd as Smellie

Barry Linehan as Police Sergeant

Jerold Wells as Tom

Patti Brooks as Norman's wife

Winnie Holman as 1st Woman

Jean Challis as 2nd Woman

Petra Markham as Norman's daughter

Ronnie Brody as Kelly

Fred Hugh as Publican

Sally James as Secretary

Julia Breck as Girl

Alan Clare as Pianist

Johnny Speight as Drummer  

Cliff Townsend as Sax Player

 

Episode 1

Original ITV Transmission: 20 November 1969

 

Episode 2

Original ITV Transmission: 27 November 1969

 

Episode 3

Original ITV Transmission: 4 December 1969

 

Episode 4

Original ITV Transmission: 11 December 1969

 

Episode 5

Original ITV Transmission: 18 December 1969

 

Episode 6

Original ITV Transmission: 26 December 1969

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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