Thursday, 17 January 2013

Thursday 17 January 1963

The classic Steptoe storyline's been described many times: Harold finds some way of escaping his stultifying life at the rag and bone yard to a new, more fulfilling existence - only for a scared, jealous Albert to manipulate him into maintaining the status quo.  The Stepmother reverses those roles, and in the process reveals some interesting facets to both father and son's characters.

Albert has been stepping out with local sweetshop owner Emma Marshall (Joan Newell, overplaying the part a little bit), and the two have fallen in love and decided to get married and move to Cornwall to live out their last years together.

The look of love
The tricky part for Albert is breaking the news to Harold.  From the beginning, even before he knows about his father's wedding plans, Harold is absolutely horrible to Albert in this episode, viciously laying into him for not having his dinner ready: "Do you know what time it is? It is half.  Past.  Eight!"  Harold's face when Albert tells him what's happening is really rather scary:

 Reasonably enough, Albert expected Harold to be happy that the old man he's spent years complaining is dragging him down is pushing off and leaving him to live his own life.  In actual fact, Harold's reaction is a mingling of anger, scorn and disgust.  He reveals a creepy level of devotion to his 30 years dead mother, whose memory he refuses to allow Albert to smear by taking another wife - even though he can't even tell the difference between her photo and that of her sister.  Eventually he resorts to violence to extort a promise from his father that he won't marry again.

(You'd never think those were screenshots from a sitcom, would you?).  Albert ridiculously tries to revenge himself by threatening Harold with a sword, but his son quite chillingly just shrugs the gesture off, secure that there's nothing the old man can really do to him.

Eventually Harold uses much subtler methods to end Albert's engagement, playing the lovers off against each other.  The episode ends with father and son united again, but the violence in the episode lingers in the mind a lot longer than the apparently happy ending.

And now over to ITV.

This week's episode of Hancock (Shooting Star) starts off with Hancock very uncomfortable outside a cinema as a wild-eyed stranger played by Denholm Elliott spends several minutes gazing at him and sizing him up.

This mysterious character turns out to be Peter Dartford, auteur of such steamy slice-of-life dramas as Town of Passion and Street without Shame (spoofing the more lurid end of the late 50s/early 60s social problem genre).  He's decided that Hancock has the perfect lived-in looks to play the lead male role in his new film, variously described as "a complete waster" and "a moronic buffoon".  It doesn't take Hancock long to get over this slight and decide a film career might be very nice thank you.  He's due to act alongside ageing grand dame Diana Pride (Frances Rowe), cast as his wife.  She's deeply unimpressed with his level of talent and expresses her exasperation with facial expressions that would put Patrick Cargill to shame.

Hancock's confused screen test, with him unable to remember a single line, vainly struggling with props and continually being slapped by the other cast members, is hilarious: a classic Hancock scene that gives the lie to the traditional view that the ATV show's a waste of time.

"I think you'd be better as the husband"
Despite being so comprehensively inept, Hancock gets the part and filming begins: shunning studio artifice, Peter Dartford's chosen to use a real house for the shoot, leading to further comic brilliance as Hancock tangles with the resident, batty old Hilda Barry, who regularly tramps on set to lambast Hancock for his character's brutish treatment of his family.

"I am not her real father!" "Oh I see, it's like that, is it?"
The row escalates to Hancock's probably-meant-something-a-bit-different-back-then exclamation "Push off you old faggot!"  And the beleaguered would-be matinee idol continues to get slapped.

Inevitably Hancock ends up fired from the set, but eventually he gets his revenge.  Of a sort.

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