The Dawson Watch on DVD

Thursday, 11 April 2019 00:55

‘Them’. The ‘Faceless Ones’. ‘Enemies of Mankind’. The ‘Aliens’. No, this isn’t David Icke on one of his lecture tours.  This is one of our most iconic comedians placed into a high-tech humour format. Les Dawson is a legend, much remembered for his deadpan style, curmudgeonly persona and snide jokes about his mother-in-law. The BBC series THE DAWSON WATCH saw Les tackle a different subject in each episode, with his unique approach framed in an intriguing comedy vehicle.

It ran for 19 episodes between 1979 and 1980. When you tie this into his work as a novelist, we can see that here was a man who knew far more about what was going on in the world, and in his book “A Time Before Genesis” he even predicts the future in a way that might just be coming true, right here, right now. Apply this thought to watching this series and added layers of interest are exposed.

Unlike his variety shows, the format was a weekly investigation into the nation at large, addressing subjects ranging from Education, Housing, Transport and Health to the Environment, Law, The Family, Crime and The Media.

Les focused on one subject in each episode, opening with a monologue before moving onto a variety of short sketches interspersed with his sharp observations as a stand-up comedy routine.

Housewives Cissie Braithwaite and Ada Shufflebotham are regulars, appearing towards the end of each edition, and always on hand to give their take on the theme in question. Sketches featuring these two (played by the ever-present Roy Barraclough and Les - suitably attired) see them with arms folded, occasionally adjusting their bosoms with an unsubtle hoist of their forearms. As we’ve come to expect from previous appearances in earlier shows, they speak some words aloud but silently mouth those pertaining to women’s bodily functions and sex.

It’s a testament to the talents of Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough that their female alter-egos are instantly recognisable – and are as comical as ever – more than 30 years on from their first appearance on television.

The set is suitably future-looking, and in the first series you have to wonder if some of the items on display are appearances once more for set items from the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson show UFO – if they’re not, they were certainly inspired by them.

Series 2 sees Vicki Michelle in residence as Sandra, one of the Dawson Control staff – mostly cast members without lines to say, but Vicki was given plenty to do in terms of dialogue and action.

Guest stars to look out for include Michael Keating (Vila in Blake’s 7) as a travel agent in the episode “Holidays” and a scientist in “The Future”. Also making appearances are Johnny Ball, David Lodge, Andrew Sachs, Bill Pertwee, Burt Kwouk, John Junkin, Patrick Newell, Donald Hewlett, Carol Hawkins, Valerie Leon, Jacqueline Clarke, Sheila Steafel, Bella Emberg, Michael Ripper, Tim Barrett, and Kirsten Cooke.

Series 1 screened on Friday nights at 8.00pm, moving to Thursdays at 8.30pm for Series 2, and back to Fridays, now at 7.30pm for Series 3. Each series was six episodes long, and a Christmas episode (screened Tuesday 23 December 1980 at 8.30pm) was broadcast in 1980, making 19 episodes in all.

New opening credits appeared from Series 2 Episode 2, although they reverted on episode 4, and then one or other were used during the rest of the episodes, not following any specific pattern.

“Laugh with Les”, was a 12” vinyl LP featuring sketches from the series (REB 346), which was also available on cassette (ZCF 346).

Having mentioned that Les was a writer, there’s actually far more to tell, which ties in with the bottom, line of The Dawson Watch. Les wrote an SF novel called “A Time Before Genesis – A Novel of the Future’s Past” which was published by Elm Tree Books in 1986. It looked ahead ten years to the world of 1995, but immediately grabs your attention by stating that the assassination of JFK was not as we have had it described in the mainstream history books. 

Straight away, your preconceptions about Mr Dawson are swept away, as he writes an alternative timeline from the 1984 Miners’ Strike onwards. He suggests a new political party rising to power, across a political spectrum of extremes, with the national press no longer being a peddler of the truth, and just like TV pandering to the lowest common denominator. As Les says in the book: “No programme on television attempted to raise any subject above the mental level of an eleven-year-old child, and before long, anything remotely cerebral was banished.”

Street gangs ruled the cities. Bartering replaced currency. To the disaffected youth, marriage became something done only by a previous generation. The police were small in number and ineffective. People no longer went on holiday as they worried that they wouldn’t have a home to return to. Courts would side with burglars who were hurt or killed by property owners. If you tried to discipline your child, the State would take that child away from you. Book burning became the norm (the equivalent today being the censorship of the internet).

With an echo of the latest legislation, currently being pushed through Parliament, “… any comedian who dared to make jokes about the Government or ethnic groups found himself behind bars… Laughter was frowned upon by Authority especially when it poked fun at the grey institute.”

The ‘Common Market’ collapsed, but Great Britain fared much better than the rest of Europe. Natural resources were tapped into once again, allowing the UK to be self sufficient, even turning a profit in comparison. The USA split into factions, and Russia was introducing euthanasia for its elderly, whilst fighting an ongoing war with China over territory.

Les published this novel 33 years ago, and it’s scary to see that what he envisaged is still moving closer and closer to reality. There’s more to the man than just telling mother-in-law jokes, and it would be fascinating, if he was still around, to ask what he made of the world of 2019. Certainly, there are clues in The Dawson Watch, in some of his turns of phrase, which showed he knew more about how the world worked than most gave him credit for.

Not to invoke even more conspiratorial leanings, but up until just a few days ago, the copies you could get of “A Time Before Genesis” on the second hand market were available for upwards of £75.00 each. Luckily for me, some cheaper options have suddenly appeared, meaning that this extra insight into Les Dawson and his outlook could be cemented into place.

In terms of other writing projects, his first novel, “A Card for the Clubs” was described as “a searing indictment of the conditions in working men's clubs”, and became a best-seller. He also wrote romantic novels under the alias Maria Brett-Cooper (“An Echo of Shadows”).

In summary, The Dawson Watch has more layers than your traditional comedy show of the era. Some of the humour has dated, and the PC brigade will no doubt twitch and get triggered by some of the sketches. For the rest of us, it’s excellent nostalgia with plenty of giggles.

The Dawson Watch is out now as a three DVD set from Simply Media. It has a running time of 560 mins approx, a ’12’ certificate, and a RRP of £29.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

The Dawson Watch – Episode Guide

With Roy Barraclough

Gordon Peters (1.1, 1.3, Series 2, 3.3, 3.5, 3.7)

Vicki Michelle (as Sandra - Series 2, Guest Star in 3.5)

Daphne Oxenford (Series 2, Guest Star in 3.7)

Writers: Les Dawson, Andy Hamlilton, Terry Ranvenscroft, Tony Magee-Englefield (1.1), Eric Green (1.2-1.3), Peter Robinson (1.2), Colin Bostock-Smith (1.3)

Script Associate: Ian Davidson (1.1-1.5)

Producer: Peter Whitmore

Costume designer: Doreen James (Series 1), Jackie Southern (Series 2), Pat Fisher (Series 3)

Production Assistant: Bill Wilson (1.1 - 1.4), Gordon Elsbury (1.5 - 1.6), David Taylor (Series 2, 3.1-3.4 – becoming Production  Manager 3.5-3.7), Janet Bone (2.6), Gabrielle Vernon (2.6), Lesley Langan (3.6, 3.7)

Design: Ken Ledsham (Series 1), Geoff Powell (1.2, 1.4), Tony Burrough (Series 2), Diane Menaul (2.2, 2.4, 2.6), Bruce Macadie (3.1, 3.3, 3.5, 3.7), John Stout (3.2, 3.4, 3.6)

 

1.1     “Housing”

Guest Starring: Tim Barrett, Neville Barber, David Gooderson, Brian Jameson, Hilary Martin, John Owens, Michael Sharvell-Martin, April Walker

Original TX: 23 February 1979

 

1.2     “Transport”

Guest Starring: David Lodge, Andrew Sachs, Sam Kelly, Derek Seaton, Johnny Wade, Johnny Ball, Roger Avon, David Rowlands, Debbi Blythe, Mimi de Braie, Michael Cresden, Paddy Joyce

Original TX: 2 March 1979

 

There was no show on 9 March 1979, its place taken by Top of the Pops – moved from its usual Thursday slot which had been in turn taken by A Song for Europe.

 

1.3      “Money”

Guest Starring: Bill Pertwee, Tony Caunter, Burt Kwouk, Derek Seaton, Peter Bland, Simon Barry, Debbi Blythe, Michael Sharvell-Martin, Anthony Woodruff, Norman Atkyns, Michael Booth, John Pennington, Brian Jameson

Original TX: 16 March 1979

 

1.4      “Leisure”

Guest Starring: John Junkin, Patrick Newell, Robert East, Brian Jameson, Ralph Watson, Anthony Millan, Debbi Blythe, Heather Bell, April Walker, Josephine Gordon, Vilma Hollingbery, Paul Luty, Larry Martyn, Peta Barnard, Carolyn Simmonds, Martin Carroll, Norman Hartley

Original TX: 23 March 1979

 

1.5     “Law”

Guest Starring: Donald Hewlett, David Battley, Tony Caunter, Jerold Wells, Roland MacLeod, Debbi Blythe, Michael Sharvell-Martin, Neville Barber, Gordon Salkilld, Lindy Alexander, Jennifer Watts, Iris Fry

Original TX: 30 March 1979

 

1.6      “Family”

Guest Starring: David Battley, Carol Hawkins, Johnny Ball, Michael Knowles, Roland MacLeod, Valerie Leon, John Pennington, Raymond Mason, Debbi Blythe, Stuart Sherwin, Colin McCormack, Ann Curthoys, Michael Halsey, Gordon Salkilld, Marie Claire, Doreen Purchase, Dafydd Hywel

Dawson Control Staff: Jacoba, Penny Kendall, Susie Silvey, Mark Allington, Mike Mungarvan

Original TX: 6 April 1979

 

2.1      “Crime”

Guest Starring: Roland MacLeod, Jerold Wells, Neville Barber, Roger Avon, Stuart Sherwin, John Pennington, Tony McHale, David Rowlands, Jay Neill, Philip Ryan

Original TX: 22 November 1979

 

2.2      “Health”

Guest Starring: Ian Lindsay, Stuart Sherwin, David Gooderson, Lindy Alexander, Kirsten Cooke, Christopher Lawrence

Original TX: 29 November 1979

 

2.3      “Media”

Guest Starring: John Junkin, Peter Blake, Peter Bland, Brian Jameson, John Pennington, John Owens, Lindy Alexander, David McNally, Jay Neill

Original TX: 6 December 1979

 

2.4      “Education”

Guest Starring: Jacqueline Clarke, Patrick Lau, David Rowlands, Bella Emberg, Judy Gridley, Tommy Barnett

Original TX: 13 December 1979

 

2.5      “Environment”

Guest Starring: Sheila Steafel, Peter Bland, Roy Holder, Michael Stainton

Original TX: 20 December 1979

 

2.6      “Entertainment”

Guest Starring: Robin Parkinson, Michael Ripper, Steve Veidor, Rex Robinson, Jay Neill, Stuart Sherwin, Ivan Hunte

Original TX: 27 December 1979

 

3.1      “Politics”

Guest Starring: Neville Barber, Jeffrey Segal, Michael Ripper, Tony Millan, Dominic Letts

Original TX: 17 October 1980

 

3.2      “Culture”

Guest Starring: Robin Parkinson, Jay Neill, Jeffrey Segal, Barrie Gosney, Mike Lewin, Harry Fielder

Original TX: 24 October 1980

 

3.3      “Holidays”

Guest Starring: Peter Blake, Debbi Blythe, Michael Keating

Original TX: 31 October 1980

 

3.4      “Communication”

Guest Starring: Kirsten Cooke, George Sweeney, Robin Parkinson, Michael Stainton, John Pennington, Michael Sharvell-Martin

Dawson Control Girls: Lindy Benson, Ruth Burnett, Monica Teama

Original TX: 7 November 1980

 

3.5      “Love and Marriage”

Guest Starring:  Peter Bland, Jay Neill, Kirsten Cooke, Bella Emberg, Ruth Burnett, Claire Neilson, Michael Sharvell-Martin, Stella Tanner, Norman Hartley

Original TX: 14 November 1980

 

3.6      “The Future”

Guest Starring: Tim Barrett, Michael Keating, Nicholas McArdie, Kit Thacker, Raymond Witch

Dawson Control Girls: Lindy Benson, Ruth Burnett, Monica Teama

Original TX: 21 November 1980

 

3.7      “Christmas”

Guest Starring: Roger Avon, Bella Emberg, Robin Parkinson, Michael Sharvell-Martin, April Walker

Dawson Control Girls: Lindy Benson, Ruth Burnett, Monica Teama

Original TX: 23 December 1980

 

 

 

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