Thursday, 24 January 2013

Thursday 24 January 1963

In comparison to the disturbing festival of elder abuse that was last week's Steptoe, the heartwarming scene Sixty-Five Today starts off with is really quite lovely.  As you might have guessed from the title, it's Albert's birthday (apparently it's Tuesday 25th January, which is a bit confusing considering this episode was broadcast on Thursday 24th).  And as you might have guessed from Wilfrid Brambell's inimitably self-pitying expression, he thinks Harold's forgotten.  In classic sitcom style he hasn't really, he's just winding his dad up, prolonging the old man's misery while he shelves some new books he's picked up on his round (by such writers as Ms Jean Paul Sartre - "that's like me being called Harold Gladys" - and Evelyn Wog).  Eventually he gives Albert his present, a pair of fur-lined pigskin gloves, which the birthday boy loves despite initial reservations.

"It's funny not having me fingers sticking out"
And when Albert starts to tear up while reading the trite verse in his birthday card from Harold it's really quite moving.

I want this card for my next birthday, please
But this is Steptoe and Son so obviously this father-son love-in can't last for long, and the second part of Harold's present to his father just emphasises the distance that's grown up between the pair.  He's taking Albert for a night up West: cocktails, theatre and dinner.  It's Harold's idea of the perfect night out, but for Albert he might as well be taking him to Mars.

When they get to the cocktail bar, with the ever-supercilious Frank Thornton serving the drinks, Harold orders a Martini ("I know where you got that from, it's what that James Bond drinks in that Dr No film"), but Albert just wants a pint of bitter.  He agrees to have a Pimm's, but is deeply unimpressed with it.

"Where'd you get that, Covent Garden?"
Strangely enough, he's not mad keen on Michael Redgrave in Richard III either, and demands they leave after the end of Act I, outraging a cartoonish wealthy dowager-type by offering to sell her his programme half price.

Worst of all, Harold actually expects him to eat a Chinese meal (at the Hundred Geese restaurant).

"Bird's nest?!"
Albert continues Harold's evening-long embarrassment by refusing to eat any of the cuisine and unnerving other diners by chatting to them about his age and his xenophobic views (he refuses to take off his beloved new gloves as he's certain the waiters are after them).

"You're a... most unusual old man"
Special birthday night in tatters, an angry Harold sends Albert home with the quietly devastating words "we're all right at work, we just don't go together socially".  The episode's shifted from heartwarming to heartbreaking: he's dumping his own father.  Harold heads off to find some more sophisticated (female) company, and Albert trudges disconsolately home.  In a final, wrenching shot, he carelessly drops the gloves as he goes.

Wilfrid Brambell was actually only 50 when he made this episode.  It's a sign of his brilliance as an actor that this fastidious gay Irishman never for a second fails to convince as a shabby Cockney rag and bone man 15 years his senior.

No comments:

Post a Comment