Friday, 16 August 2013

Friday 16 August 1963

By now the Danziger vision of the life of Richard I has departed so far from anything that might actually have happened that it wouldn't come as a surprise if the king were to encounter a genuine prehistoric man.  That's not quite what happens here: as in the previous episode the antagonist is an anti-social grump with an axe to grind against the nobility.  This one's a cave-dwelling hermit played by the enjoyably gruff Nigel Green.

Unlike the traditional hermit who has nothing to do with the world he's retreated from, this one keeps a whole village in his thrall thanks to the mysterious method he's found for controlling its water supply.  In return for water the villagers propitiate him like a god.  Or, more to the point, a fairytale ogre.  A fairytale is exactly what The Caveman is structured like: the ogre/hermit's demands become increasingly difficult to meet, climaxing with his insistence on having the local squire's beautiful daughter's hand in marriage after he discovers her poking about his cave.  True, he might not be the best possible catch for poor Diane (June Thorburn), but he's no worse than her drippy current fiancé Alan (Mark Burns).

Fortunately for Diane, her father is being paid a visit by wise King Richard (and Queen Berengaria, presumably second choice after his usual companion Sir Gilbert), who determines to work out the secret of the hermit's magic.  Diane's father Baron Brentlock, by the way, is played by our old friend Guy Deghy, who fans of useless information may like to note has now featured in more guest roles at TV Minus 50 than any other performer.

The hermit's not too pleased to be visited by Richard and Alan, and chucks them in a hole.  Richard manages to wriggle out through a crack, but rather meanly leaves Alan behind until he finds out how the hermit controls the water.

It's actually nothing more exciting than a makeshift sluice gate, which Richard and Alan demonstrate to a crowd of slack-jawed yokels.

The hermit's banished, and they all live happily ever after.  I'm intrigued to see how far into the realms of fantasy this show's going to venture in future.  Incidentally, Richard the Lionheart's resident man of many faces Trader Faulkner turns up this week as the hermit's emissary Elias, wearing the most bizarre false facial hair yet seen in the show.  And that really is saying something.

Later on in the evening, over on the other side, it's the start of a new sitcom from writer Richard Waring, charting the ups and downs of newlyweds Kate and George Starling.  The Marriage Lines kicks off with a montage of photos of its stars, Prunella Scales and Richard Briers, as they marry and are then unconvincingly superimposed over various images attempting to represent a Parisian honeymoon.

The episode proper starts with the knackered couple returning to their London home...

After some surprisingly risqué dialogue as the couple contemplate their first night together in the flat ("The honeymoon doesn't count," says George, "I mean, it was wonderful, the best time I've ever had, but it's not the same as being married."  "Well, it certainly wasn't much like being single," Kate wryly replies), they make the horrifying discovery that the key to the flat is missing.  Kate's got no hairpins to pick the lock with, and a plastic roller isn't likely to be much use.  Their attempt to get in's discovered by a policeman, anyway - and as they've stowed their luggage in an understair cupboard it's now impossible to open he's not inclined to believe they're the flat's occupants.

In some ways, the then-contemporary setting of The Marriage Lines seems as strange 50 years later as the 12th century.  George and Kate's predicament is exacerbated by their having only a tiny amount of money on them (no cashpoints or even debit cards in existence yet), meaning they can't get a taxi to George's parents' house in Wimbledon, and with no mobile phones the only way they can ask their friend Miles to put them up is by using the only penny they have with them in a phone box.

This penny's swiftly wasted when George accidentally dials an old flame of his instead.  An attempt at reassuring Kate about this slip is interrupted by the return of the distressingly omnipresent constable.

For anyone interested in such things, here's a good look at the ads for the Post Office on the wall of the phone box.

A series of misadventures follow for George and Kate: an attempt at getting a room in a hotel (and paying the following day) is scuppered by the ancient night porter (Maitland Moss - fantastic name!), no less suspicious of them than the policeman.

Seeking sustenance, they head to an all-night coffee stall (instant, of course, and I doubt the cheese rolls that comprise the entire food menu are even made with artisan bread), where they encounter a grim premonition of their future in the form of bitterly rowing Derek Benfield and Sheila Raynor.  "You wouldn't have six pennies, would you?" George asks the discontented husband.  "Are you kidding?" he responds, "I'm married!"

Kate's increasingly pissed off mood isn't helped by George's run-in with a lady of the night (Mary Jordan), who he asks for some change.  "Sorry dear, I don't take many pennies."

Eventually George and Kate head home, and disturb the wild party across the hall.  Their new neighbours, Peter and Norah (Ronald Hines and Christine Finn) are delighted to meet them: before they know what's happening George has a drink pressed on him and Kate's whisked off to dance.  The biggest audience laugh of the episode comes as the drunken Peter nearly kisses George in greeting.

Peter recalls a former tenant of the Starlings' flat getting in via a broken ventilator, and party guest Ronnie (Gordon Rollings) agrees to reproduce the stunt on the promise that there's more booze in there.  It turns out to be an empty promise, however, much to Ronnie's chagrin

The flat's littered with empty bottles, George having had no time to tidy up after his stag party.  Finding her new home a tip, along with the partygoers' determination to relocate there, proves too much for Kate.

The Threshold isn't side-splittingly funny, but it is a lot of fun.  Obviously The Marriage Lines' greatest asset is its leading players: we all know from their later, more familiar work that Scales and Briers are both fantastic comic talents, and while they're much younger in The Marriage Lines than we're accustomed to seeing them, their performances are as assured as those from later in their careers.  As a couple they're instantly endearing, their relationship totally believable as that of a pair of young people who love each other very deeply but are still only just learning to share their life with someone else.

The heart and soul of The Threshold is in its last five minutes: finally alone in their home after the disasters of the night, Kate and George have their first ever row, Kate tearing a strip off George for losing the key and spending the evening being impotently apologetic.  Richard Briers' facial expression as Prunella Scales lets rip is such a familiar one from so many other shows that it's a joy to behold here.

Banished from the marital bed, George sets to work tidying the flat as Kate makes a deeply embarrassing discovery in her coat pocket.  Appropriately it's the key moment of the episode, telling us this isn't going to be the usual sitcom story of idiot husband and long-suffering wife, but of two flawed people who can do equally stupid things - in other words the story of every real relationship there's ever been.

There's a literally cheesy ending as George encounters a huge lump of cheddar that's gone mouldy in his absence, but the lingering image is that of his and Kate's tentative embrace, of each other as well as the trials their marriage is certain to bring.

No comments:

Post a Comment