Thursday, 14 February 2013

Thursday 14 February 1963

Today the most significant news in Britain was the election of Harold Wilson as the new leader of the Labour Party.  Wilson would find one of his most fanatical devotees in the form of his namesake Steptoe the younger, whose current series of misadventures draws to a close this evening.

It's Valentine's Day, and if you're looking for a little romahnce today, I hope you find it.  Harold certainly manages to find some.

It all starts with him pitching up outside a big posh house to see if there are any rags going, and being requested by Dorothea, the grand-but-sultry lady of the house (played by the wonderful Patricia Haines), to carry in her shopping.

Harold, instantly bewitched by this vision of upper crust loveliness, happily complies, and is rewarded with a drink for his trouble.

Dorothea, niece of a government minister also called Harold ("what, not...?" Steptoe Jr gasps - no, not Mr Macmillan, just a junior minister) appears strangely excited to be meeting a rag and bone man for the first time.  Our hero is unable to believe his luck when his new acquaintance makes her sexual interest in him increasingly obvious.

"I must have something here that would interest you... why don't you help me look for it?"
Harold arranges to visit again the next morning and get to know Dorothea properly.  Considering Steptoe Jr's usually not up until 11.30, Albert's suspicious of his son getting up at the crack of dawn and dressing in his best clothes ("you look like an out of work actor" is the old man's sneering verdict).

Talc.  What ever happened to talc?
Increasingly curious about what Harold's up to, Albert follows after him on a bike he's fixed up (it turns out he used to be a champion sprint cyclist).  Is That Your Horse Outside? is the most visually interesting episode of Steptoe's second series as an unusually large amount of it's filmed outside.  The sight of early 60s London in the melting snow is compelling, and remarkably grim.

Albert stations himself in a café opposite Dorothea's house and waits to see what happens.  He's waiting a long time...

...while over the other side of the road, Harold's having the time of his life with the very enthusiastic Dorothea.

To Albert's astonishment Harold stays in the house for seven hours.  In an innuendo packed scene back at the Steptoe residence ("Terrible hard day," says Harold, "all go... at it all the time") Albert confronts Harold with his knowledge of what's been going on.

"I've been on a job!" "I know you have!"
There follows the finest performances from Corbett and Brambell of this series, as Albert reminisces about his youth as a handsome magnet for posh birds (you'll have to use your imagination) by way of warning Harold that he's just a bit of rough Dorothea won't want to see again, and Harold scorns his advice.  Albert's mournfulness at the passing of his youth and desire to help his son are beautifully conveyed, and so is the vulnerable naiveté in Harold's certainty that he and Dorothea's "liaison dangerux" has a real future.  In an episode that's mostly a surprisingly raunchy romp it's this scene of real human emotion that stands out.

Of course Albert's right.  When Harold calls round the next day to lend Dorothea some books (he's convinced he's converted her to Socialism) he finds his place taken by the coalman.

The episode, and the series, end brilliantly with a scene that perfectly sums the Steptoes' relationship up.  Harold walks dejectedly away from Dorothea's house, and Albert emerges from the other side of the road to console him.  It looks like a tender father-son moment, but then Albert gets closer... and Harold starts throwing books at him, and chases after him as the credits play.  Just perfect.

Here it is for you to see yourself:

Steptoe and Son will return next year.

Next tonight, a series making its first, and probably last, TV Minus 50 appearance.

For those not familiar with the sit of this particular com, it's a spin-off from The Army Game, a huge success for Granada in the late 50s and early 60s, featuring lazy Private Montague "Excused Boots" Bisley (Alfie Bass) and irascible Sergeant Major Claude Snudge (Bill Fraser) adapting to civilian life.  Both now work as functionaries in the Imperial Club (and share a bedroom), with Bootsie continuing to drive  Snudge into fits of apopleptic rage.  Hence the novelty of this episode's title, Being Nice to Bootsie.

Co-written by one of British TV's most feted writers, Jack Rosenthal, and his fellow Coronation Street scribe Harry Driver, Being Nice to Bootsie begins in Hancock style, with a long close-up of Bootsie's cheesed-off face as his internal monologue questions why he has to get up in the morning.  Snudge, meanwhile, takes some time to rouse from his dreams about a ladyfriend called Cynthia.

An attempt by Bootsie to make out he's sick and unable to work meets with no sympathy from Snudge ("I think I've got a thick heart" "Well it'll go with your thick head" until a dribble of toothpaste leads the former Sergeant to conclude his roommate's suffering from rabies.  He's seen the symptoms before in his old acquaintance Mavis: "She looked just like you at the start, only a bit more snooty - you know how camels are".

Enter Clive Dunn as fellow Imperial Club employee Mr Johnson, essentially the same character as Dad's Army's Corporal Jones.  His endless reminiscences of his time in the army certainly sound familiar, and there's even a mention of Fuzzy-Wuzzies at one point (though it's actually a mocking one from Snudge).  He's seen hydrophobia in the Transvaal and is convinced that's what Bootsie's got.

"You haven't been biting any dogs, have you?"
The club secretary (Robert Dorning) takes a less than caring attitude ("Once I've had my morning cup of tea he'll be fine").  Fortunately there's a doctor staying at the Imperial and he agrees to examine Bootsie, leading to a few minutes of the kind of toupée-based humour that you just don't see enough of these days.  Number one crops and hair transplants just don't lend themselves to comedy.

"Empire Made, Hong Kong"
The doctor prescribes rest for Bootsie, and, most importantly, everyone else has to be nice to him - a concept Snudge bristles at.  Snudge and Johnson argue about the most suitable food for the patient - Snudge thinks a soft boiled egg with soldiers would be best, while Johnson insists on making a Mafeking Fricassee, traditionally eaten by Zulus before embarking on their mating rituals - consisting of fish (for strength), carrots (they always do it in the dark), onions (so they can find each other more easily by their breath) and rhubarb ("everybody knows what rhubarb's for").

Bootsie's refusal to take his medicine leads to a rather disturbing scene with Snudge forcing a tube in his mouth to blow the pills down his throat.

"This is not going to hurt, in fact some people find it quite pleasant"
Snubbing both egg and fricassee, Bootsie (a strange, childlike character) demands a pancake for his breakfast - presumably for the perfectly sensible reasons that this episode was shown in the week of Shrove Tuesday, and that pancake making is a perfect way of ending a show with a nice bit of slapstick.  And so it proves, as Snudge, Johnson and the Secretary all compete to make a pancake for Bootsie, with predictably messy results.  Considering the cast in this episode it's probably just as well they didn't do a Valentine's episode.

Being Nice to Bootsie's exactly the kind of throwaway silliness you'd expect of an ITV sitcom, and the pancake ending feels like it's just been tossed in (get it?), but thanks to Rosenthal (I'd guess) there's some fantastic dialogue that in itself makes the show worth watching.

This is the only episode of Bootsie and Snudge's third series to make it onto DVD so far (in Network's Jack Rosenthal at ITV box set).  The fourth was renamed Foreign Affairs and relocated the pair to the British embassy of a made-up East European country - all the episodes of this seem to be lost.  The series made a brief comeback in 1974, but that's rather a long way off yet.  In the meantime, here are a couple of novelty records made off the back of the show.  Clive Dunn sings "Too Old", while Alfie Bass relates the story of "Bootsie and the Beast".

1 comment:

  1. Is That Your Horse Outside? is a great episode, and surprisingly raunchy for its day.

    BTW, Bootsie and Snudge were a bit previous with the pancakes. Shrove Tuesday 1963 fell on Feb 24.