Thursday, 7 February 2013

Thursday 7 February 1963

Full House is an absolute belter of a Steptoe episode, lighter in tone than some of those in previous weeks and also funnier. As the show's episodes are always completely self-contained it's  a rare delight to see Full House start with a subtle reference to the previous episode as Harold comes across one of the records Albert smashed up in A Musical Evening.  Meanwhile, Steptoe Sr's in exactly the same position he started off in last week, only this time he avoids nearly being smothered by leaping up and pretending to do housework the second he hears Harold outside.  Harold's sceptical interrogation of his father about how he's spent his day and the old man's deeply unconvincing answers (the chair cushion's warm because, because, next door's cat's been keeping him company!) are classic Galton & Simpson.  Albert's excuse for depleting Harold's stock of brandy is that he was feeling faint: "There's two minutes I can't account for..." "Well there's two empty brandy bottles here."  Hilarious.

Anyway, Harold gets his father's back up by blithely announcing he's got guests coming round for an impromptu cheese and wine party (including those most sophisticated of amuse-bouches, pickled onions and gherkins).  Albert's not invited - he has to make do with a bag of crisps (minus the packet of salt), although Harold invites him to take in the aroma of an especially pungent camembert in a moment that should amuse any Alan Partridge fans.

Harold's doomed attempts at sophistication reach new depths of bathos as he contemplates which wine to serve at his get-together (the Steptoes' comprehensive stock of wine comes from a French waiter who sells them any bottles that diners haven't quite finished).  How about the 1961 Bojollis?

"Very pleasant, without being presumptuous"
The episode's bizarre highlight occurs when Albert learns the true reason Harold's having his friends round: to play Poker.  All of a sudden the old man transforms into a hellfire-and-damnation preacher, inveighing against the evils of cards: "52 soldiers of the devil!" (although he doesn't mind Happy Families or Lexicon).  Wilfrid Brambell really goes for it, and it's quite a sight to see, as is Harry H Corbett's extravagant eye-rolling ("you ought to be on a programme with Malcolm Muggeridge" is Harold's succinct response).

"Get down below, to the fire, and the brimstone, and the worms that'll eat you from the inside!"
It turns out that Albert's late wife was thoroughly opposed to gambling, and he hasn't played cards in 30 years out of respect for her.  It's interesting to contrast Full House with The Stepmother a few weeks back, in which it was Harold trying to make out his mother was a saint, to Albert's protestations.  The viewer's curiosity can't help being piqued as to what exactly Mrs Steptoe was really like.  Fortunately she died before football pools were invented so Albert's allowed to do those.

Anyone who's ever seen a sitcom will be able to predict exactly what happens in the Poker game, so I shan't worry too much about spoilers.  Harold's dodgy chums, led by Dudley Foster (a detective in Z Cars and a villain in just about everything else) - "old oily", as Albert calls him - comprehensively take him to the cleaners.  A disgusted Albert sends his son out to get some beer and then produces a wad of cash to convince the card sharps to have a game with him - of course he can hardly remember how to play it's been so long and he's just an old man and would they mind playing with this pack of cards that has sentimental value for him? Oh, he'll just need to put on his glasses... 

"You'll have to be patient with an old man..."
Yes, it's nothing we haven't seen a hundred times before, but Wilfrid Brambell's such a joy to witness as Albert as very wiliest that it doesn't matter.  Equally brilliant is Harold's astonished realisation of what's been going on...

You can watch Full House here, and I urge you to do so.

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