Friday, 25 January 2013

Radio Minus 50: Friday 25 January 1963

The TV Lark: Opening Night

I don't intend to write about a lot of radio programmes (apart from anything else, it doesn't make for the most visually interesting posts) but The TV Lark is crying out to be included here.  Yes, eccentric as the idea may seem, it's a radio show about television.  The replacement for the popular forces sitcom The Navy Lark, it retains the same writer, Lawrie Wyman, and the same cast (more about them in a bit).  The Navy Lark had run for four series and was considered by BBC management to be getting a bit repetitive, so the idea was mooted that the show's popular characters should be transplanted to a new situation.  The choice of an independent television station as a setting for a BBC radio series may seem bizarre, and indeed it's one the audience wasn't bowled over by.  But for someone (like me) writing about TV of the era, it exerts a strange fascination in its references to contemporary programmes - the show kicks off with a dig at BBC soap Compact, for goodness' sake.


Opening Night sees Henry Povey (Richard Caldicot), who captained HMS Troutbridge in The Navy Lark, commencing his new job as Deputy Controller at new ITA (or ITV, if you will) company Troutbridge Television (TTV), only to find that the rest of the station's staff are his former crew.  This comprises mainly of hapless producer Stephen Murray, suave-but-dim director Leslie Phillips and dodgy, common-as-muck Floor Manager Jon Pertwee (all coincidentally played by the actors of the same name, unambiguously referred to by the show's announcer as "our three stars").  Also inherited from the previous series are Fatso Johnson (Ronnie Barker) and Taffy Goldstein (Tenniel Evans), the station's cameramen and resident regional stereotypes (West Country and Wales respectively).  Popular impressionist Janet Brown (practically Margaret Thatcher's official double in the 80s) plays both Povey and Murray's secretaries, as well as any other person of the female persuasion who might turn up.  Rounding off the impressive cast is Michael Bates, who plays the clueless station controller and any other bit parts necessary.

As the title (given to the episode for ease of reference on its CD release) suggests, Opening Night concerns itself with TTV's first night of broadcasting.  It's due to kick off with a linkup to the other TV networks (including the Northern station "Banana") and Eurovision (which for some reason consists of Ronnie Barker doing a dodgy Indian accent), but what can they follow this with? It's narrowed down to covering either the local Co-Op's garden utensil sale or the closure of Twigley Minor Halt station as a result of Dr Beeching's railway reforms.  The latter's plumped for, despite Murray's reservations that "it all sounds a bit sexy..." Jocularity ensues.

The TV Lark is pretty awful, but also hugely endearing, its performances entirely unsubtle and its jokes magnificently appalling.  I shall leave you with an example:

Phillips: Everyone knows television was invented by John Yogi Bear.
Pertwee: I think you've made a bit of a Boo Boo.

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