End of Part One: Out on DVD Featured

Tuesday, 06 November 2012 14:48
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End of Part One - comes to DVD at last!There aren’t many shows which have become the stuff of legend. Little shards of memory amongst our collective consciousness, with the series title having been lost in the ether, seemingly forever.  For those of a certain age, who would tune in to ITV broadcasts on Sunday afternoons in 1979 and 1980, hopefully the penny will drop as we recount some of the sketches within the series known as End of Part One. Media Studies lecturers should be making it essential viewing for students, as it catches the zeitgeist of the real and perceived notions of quality within TV output of the time.

From the combined pen of Andrew Marshall and David Renwick – now the equivalent of ‘rock gods’ within the comedy writing profession - this was their partnership debut on television. The idea was to take their genre-busting comedy from BBC Radio 4, in “The Birkiss Way”, and add pictures. The satire on popular culture would become even more biting, while the impressions of celebrities were in the style of - rather than direct mimicry - and were all the better for it.  And for those of us who ‘get’ the references, the show is more laugh-out-loud today than it has ever been.

Of course, it had to be Network who would release the show to DVD. Anyone familiar with Monty Python will appreciate the neo-homage taking place in the format.  Sketches don’t all have punchlines, or an ending, they can simply move on as needs be. What is added is a savaging of formula television, whatever its genre. Nothing is safe from the typhoon of lampoonery, and no-one is spared from having their sense of self-importance being burst. Throw in some nods to Rutland Weekend Television, which was Eric Idle post-Python, and the hybridisation is complete.

Before we get on to the highlights of this collection of 14 half-hour episodes, it’s worth putting into context the body of work of the writers, for which End of Part One was very much the training ground. It’s also worth noting that both seasons were nominated for a BAFTA Award, so right from the off, the critics knew this was something special, despite its lousy scheduling on a Sunday afternoon (although LWT did repeat the first season late on a Friday night later on down the line).

As a television writing partnership, Messrs Renwick and Marshall worked together on Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night in 1978 as ‘Programme Associates’, along with other writers such as Barry Cryer, Garry Chambers and Colin Bostock-Smith. They would subsequently contribute to Not the Nine O’Clock News, of which they actually take a swipe at in End of Part One.

It wasn’t long before one of their most famous joint ventures hit the screens in 1982 – the six part comedy Whoops Apocalypse! for LWT, which featured the likes of Peter Jones, Ed Bishop, Barry Morse, John Cleese, John Barron and Geoffrey Palmer – a cast list which demonstrates that many a fine actor knew the quality of what was being offered to them. LWT realised the error of their scheduling ways and rightfully gave it a 10.00pm Sunday slot. A movie version backfired in 1988, as it tried to make its appeal trans-Atlantic, something of an impossible mission.

They went on to co-write the series There’s A Lot of it About in 1982, with Spike Milligan and Neil Shand – the mixture of surrealist humour being set to overdrive. In 1984, they worked with Thames on The Steam Video Company, another sketch show of their own which featured the likes of William Franklyn, Madeline Smith, Bob Todd, Jimmy Mulville, Anna Dawson and Barry Cryer. This is definitely another lost gem worthy of a DVD release, by the way. And at the end of the 1980s it was back to LWT, again in a 10.00pm Sunday night slot for Hot Metal, giving us two fine series lambasting and lampooning British tabloid journalism.

The partnership work continued into the 1990s, with the likes of Alexei Sayle’s Stuff and If You See God Tell Him, but the lure of solo projects was irresistible for both.

The major departure for David Renwick was to be One Foot in the Grave, and he was also Executive Producer of the American version of the format, Cosby, starring, you guessed it, Bill Cosby. He was also the creator and writer of Jonathan Creek and Love Soup.

Andrew Marshall wrote Sob Sisters for Central TV in 1989 which starred Gwen Taylor and Freddie Jones, penned a couple of Poirot episodes in 1991, before creating 2.4 Children for the BBC - which ran for the whole of the 1990s. The BBC would also let him loose with the sitcoms Health and Efficiency (1993-1995) and Dad (1997-1999). In 2003 he brought us the hugely under-rated supernatural comedy drama Strange.

Moving back to End of Part One, both seasons of seven episodes had a completely different flavour to them. The first series was produced by Simon Brett, while Humphrey Barclay took on the second series. All 14 episodes were directed by Geoffrey Sax – and in 1996 he would direct the Paul McGann Doctor Who TV movie.

The first series was shown on Sundays at 5.30pm from 15 April to 27 May 1979. The second series did even worse for a slot, being shown on Sundays at 4.00pm from 12 October to 23 November 1980. No surprise, therefore, that within the second run of episodes there are threats made to a Guinea Pig if the show’s scheduling isn’t improved.  We can only surmise that the poor Pig was sacrificed, as no time change happened.

Those first seven shows star the characters of Vera Straightman (Denise Coffey) and Norman Straightman (Tony Aitken). In their ramshackle house, their life is never found boring, no matter how much they’d like it to be.  Parodies of faces from the TV universe keep dropping by.  The final seven episodes would, if you could call it such, have more of a structure, and almost completely drop any reference to the Straightmans.

The 4’ 11” Denise Coffey previously had experience in comedies such as Do Not Adjust Your Set, The Stanley Baxter Show, and Girls About Town (with Julie Stevens of Play School fame). She wrote the children’s series CAB in 1986, and guest-starred on the likes of The Tomorrow People, T-Bag, and Mr Majeika, with her final TV role being in 1998 on Alexei Sayle’s Merry-Go-Round as Edna, Bobby Chariot’s Manager.  She has since moved to Canada and became a theatre director.

Prior to End of Part One, Tony Aitken had appeared in small roles on the likes of London Belongs to Me, Porridge, Open All Hours, Love Thy Neighbour and And Mother Makes Five. He would later appear in the TVS Saturday morning show No 73 alongside Sandi Toksvig, playing the likes of Bellows and Fred the Postman. His face is probably best known for Blackadder II, where he was The Minstrel and the Mad Beggar. He was most recently seen on a quartet of 2011 Coronation Street episodes, playing Ben Dean.

The cast also includes Fred Harris, of Play School and Ragtime fame, came across from “The Birkiss Way” and also featured in Chockablock and The Adventure Game. He was most recently seen on the British Forces Broadcasting Service, helming their children’s programming.

Sue Holderness, before national fame came her way as Marlene in Only Fools and Horses and The Green Green Grass took on the ‘babe’ role within the format, although her comic talent really shines through, with savage impressions of the like of Esther Rantzen and Sue Lawley. She had previously featured in Tightrope and Fly Into Danger, a pair smashing ITV children’s serials also available from Network. She went on to play Marianne Straker in eight episodes of The Sandbaggers, Liz in It Takes a Worried Man, and Joan in Revelations.

David Simeon is utilised within End of Part One for his vast range of plausible celebrity impersonations (Jon Pertwee, Donald Sinden, David Frost, Brian Walden and even Enoch Powell!). He is known to Doctor Who fans from the Jon Pertwee era as Private Latimer in “Inferno” and Alastair Fergus in “The Daemons”. He was also in Fawlty Towers, as Mr Mackenzie in the episode “A Touch of Class”. He played Mickey Finn for 38 episodes of Hunter’s Walk from 1973 to 1976.  Post End of Part One, he was David Farrell in Jury (13 episodes, 1983), Ken Cave in Moon and Son (3 episodes, 1992), and Ken Kennedy in Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married (16 episodes, 1999-2000).

Finally, the late Dudley Stevens provides support as a plethora of other range-stretching roles. In the 1970s era of Crossroads, he played a character called John Sackville, an upper-class landowner who wrought havoc among those who frequented that Midlands motel.  He was also a performer on late 1960s-early 1970s episodes of The Good Olde Days and had guest roles on the likes of Orlando, Mann’s Best Friends and Up the Elephant and Round the Castle. Tragically he died in 1993, at the age of just 57 from HIV complications.

He was one of the members of the Players Theatre Company, based in London in the early 1970s, amongst a cast that included Fred Stone, Maurice Browning, Robin Hunter, Sheila Matthews and Archie Harridine. He also appeared in the film musicals “Oliver!” (1968) and “Oh! What a Lovely War” (1969). In the theatre, he also wrote and directed extensively, with two of his performed plays being “At the Sign of The Angel”, “When the Lights Go On Again” and “The Soap Opera”.

In terms of End of Part One, throughout its run a sea of continuity announcers, channel idents and spoofs frame a world of heightened reality. Regional television, in the shape of “BBC East Anglia”, broadcasts in deteriorated monochrome, with a dour output more suited to the dawn of the medium than even the 1970s. End of Part One was itself a microshow within the format of the first season, with a theme not unlike that of Coronation Street, and even borrowing the house rooftops which were synonymous with that show’s opening credits.

Two other recurring characters occur within this slice of Northern life. One is a male cleaner, headscarf and kitchen gloves at odds with his business suit, there to provide exposition and move the plot along. In the living room’s French Dresser lives Mr Sprote of Hackney, a tramp who for some reason is treated like the family dog. There may well have been some biting class struggle commentary in that, but if there is then it’s a bit too subtle for me!

No television genre is safe, be it Party Political Broadcasts, Game Shows, Election coverage, the Green Cross Code adverts, or every type of variety or light entertainment show.

Ones to look out for include:

  • Are You Being Served? (“Are You Being Stereotyped?”) – including an excellent rewording of the theme music
  • Barry Norman's Hollywood Greats
  • Doctor Who (“Doctor Eyes”) – the Time Lord regenerates as the previous one was getting far too expensive!
  • Hawaii Five-O (“Stiff Actors Five-O”)
  • Larry Grayson’s Generation Game (“Fat Ladies Embarassment Game”)
  • Man from Atlantis
  • Mind Your Language (“Mind Your Foreigners”)
  • Nationwide (“Nationtrite”) – including a hilarious riff on the opening credits.
  • The Royal Family (“O*H*M*S” – the monarchy in a M*A*S*H-style sit-com!)
  • Sale of the Century
  • Space: 1999 (“Space 1899”)
  • That’s Life (“That’s Bernard Braden’s Show Really”)
  • Top of the Pops (“Top of the Jictar Ratings”)
  • Weekend World
  • Whodunnit?
  • Witchfinder General (“Wigfinder General”)
  • World of Sport

One of the most priceless episode segments sees studio commentary on the forthcoming World War III, done as an Election Results-style show called “Holocaust”. Tony Aitken plays the Dimbleby anchor role, constantly changing jackets, while Denise Coffey is spot-on as Sir Robin Day (yes, you did read that right!).

Also worthy of note is “Cheapo Cartoon Man” - a spoof on the half-animated cartoon shows from the likes of Filmation Associates, and their time and money-saving artistic shortcuts.

Meanwhile, “The British Bum Speech Awards” took the proverbial out of the even-then stale gong-giving format of such celebratory shows, with top prize going to Bernard Manning.

The show has no reliance on catchphrases, and no two editions are the same. The sheer scope of the sketches, be they in a succession of studio sets - that are used for in some cases just a few seconds - or magnificently staged location work, this was no corner-cutting parody being brought to our television screens.

Keeping real-life continuity announcers on their toes, the closing credits would often appear midway through part two of the episodes, and in the style of a show being parodied that week. To complete the effect, where necessary we had substitute music from Nigel Hess and Denis King. Taking ‘soundalike’ to a whole new level, their works were not the original themes, but close enough for you to get the joke.

All in all, it’s not often that a show so distant in the memory turns out to be better than you remembered it.  For me, I did have a rusty old home-made video tape which collated some of the TV series parodies of a cult persuasion together.  However, more fun actually comes in actually seeing them as part of an overall episode.  Perhaps at the time some of the more sophisticated television-related humour went over my head? With us all being so much more media-literate in the 21st Century, this is not likely to be the case for the majority of viewers today.

Even without any extras – both discs are packed with seven episodes each anyhow – I have to say this is one of the best releases of 2012. It’s time to rewrite the section in TV history on groundbreaking comedy – as it really needs to now include End of Part One.

END OF PART ONE – THE COMPLETE SERIES is out now from Network DVD. It has a ‘12’ certificate, a running time of 350 minutes approx, and a RRP of £19.99, or why not get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 November 2012 14:54

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