Thursday, 31 January 2013

Thursday 31 January 1963

We've already seen characters in Fireball XL5 and The Avengers doing the twist, and if you need further proof that said dance craze was absolutely everywhere in 1962-3, A Musical Evening brings us the unforgettable (try as you might) image of Albert Steptoe merrily twisting the night away.  We'll get to that eventually.  The episode starts off in typically jolly fashion with an attempted patricide, Albert waking up just in time to avoid being smothered by his loving son.  Of course he'd never do it really - would he?

Harold's brought back an embarrassment of riches from the good folk of Shepherd's Bush, including a trio of paintings of Chastity, Virtue and Motherhood that Albert earmarks for his bedroom wall.  "I like big women," he drools appreciatively, appraising the pictures with a leer that makes Sid James look like Aled Jones.

There's also a multitude of shoes (which Albert also bags for himself).  Oh, and a bison's head, obviously.

But for Harold the star acquisition is a job lot of gramophone records.  As they belonged to a now-deceased doctor, he reasons there must be some classy stuff in there to add to his Classical music collection.  And sure enough, in amongst Bobby's Girl and The Teddy Bears' Picnic he finds the first disc of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suit": though his attempt at losing himself in the music is hampered by Albert's impromptu cobbling:

A row follows, escalating into an orgy of destruction as the pair set to smashing up each others' most cherished possessions.  Finally, Albert locks up Harold's record cabinet and flings the key out into the yard.  Unfortunately it was on the same ring as the keys to the stable, the yard and the safe, so father and son are stuck until they can find it again.

Surprisingly for Galton and Simpson, the characterisation in A Musical Evening feels a bit off.  Particularly during the search for the keys Albert behaves like a complete idiot, good for a couple of cheap laughs but miles away from his usual cunning self.  Sample exchange:

Harold (holding up a stone to represent the keys): These are the keys.
Albert (brightly): Oh, have you found them?

He also attempts to use a metal detector to find the keys among the primarily metal items in the scrapyard.  Harold, meanwhile, temporarily turns boffin as he attempts to scientifically work out the exact trajectory of the keys as they flew from Albert's hand.

Fortunately Albert recovers his usual craftiness in time to find the keys, then squat over the drain like a malevolent gargoyle, threatening to drop them in unless Harold lets him keep the ancient gramophone he's found (in order that he can play "twist records").

The episode ends with Harold locked out in the yard while Albert twists away to his heart's content (but not his hip's) indoors.

Here's A Musical Evening for you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home:

On the other side, this week's Hancock (The Man on the Corner) is the first episode I've seen that goes some way to justifying the ATV series' poor reputation.

Presumably as part of Hancock's quest for greater truth in comedy, this week we find him pointing guns left, right and centre and smashing a spy ring.  It all rings a bit hollow, sadly, although the guest cast is as top-drawer as ever.  Appearing this week: Wilfrid Lawson, Geoffrey Keen, The TV Lark's Tenniel Evans, Moyra Fraser, John Bluthal (voice of Zoonie the Lazoon) and, best of all, one of my favourite actors, the immensely tall, immensely posh James Villiers, playing a character called (believe it or not) Captain Mainwaring.

Situation of the Week features Hancock regularly hanging around on a street corner, watching the world go by ("like trainspotting, only with people"), giving passersby the benefit of his wisdom regarding the weather ("it's the bomb") and arousing the suspicion of the local police.  When he sees a shady character (Evans) whom he's convinced is a spy, people are unsurprisingly reluctant to believe him.

Nevertheless, he somehow manages to get an appointment with the secret service (represented by Keen and Villiers).

Patient Colonel Beresford (Keen) allows Hancock to think he's been engaged as a secret agent, though the contact number he gives him is in fact that of the canteen, staffed by bored dinner ladies who have great fun teasing the bewildered Hancock when he calls in to report ("What orders do you have?" "Plaice and chips twice, steak and kidney pud twice, one spaghetti on toast").

Eventually they get rid of Hancock by telling him to go round and arrest the spy.  Shady Evans does indeed turn out to be a foreign agent, and the sight of Tony Hancock threatening him with a gun is one of the stranger ones I've seen since starting this blog.

The masterspy turns out to be Fireball XL5 voice actor John Bluthal, who Hancock also apprehends, becoming a hero in the process.

There are Galton and Simpson-scripted Hancocks with storylines as ridiculous as this (particularly in the radio version of the show), but The Man on the Corner's writer, Godfrey Harrison, is no Galton and Simpson and despite the odd moment there's an air of desperation about the whole endeavour that doesn't bode well for the future.  In an earlier  episode Hancock might have had a Walter Mittyish fantasy of being a secret agent tracking down dastardly Soviets, but the fun would have come from how the misunderstanding came about.  Perhaps Harrison imagined making the spies real would be a good twist, but it all ends up feeling totally wrong.

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