The other day Mr SDS picked up a DVD of the British TV comedy series 'Going Straight' from a charity shop in town. We decided to watch one episode of it each evening before passing it on to a new home, and we've just finished all six.
I remember when it was first aired, in 1978, and being interested to see this follow-up to the much-loved 'Porridge', which really was a staple of the British sitcom diet in the '70s. The now ex-con Fletcher, played by Ronnie Barker, was the star of 'Going Straight' which also featured his young cell-mate Lennie Godber. This, I have to say, was a bonus for a teenage girl who had the hots for Richard Beckinsale...
In this short-lived series (sadly a second was never to be, due to Beckinsale's early death), both Fletcher and Godber have been released from prison and have vowed to stay away from crime, with the unerring support of Fletcher's sweet, toothy daughter Ingrid (played by Patricia Brake). Ingrid just happens to be going out with Godber too. Fletcher's gormless son Raymond also makes an appearance, providing an early role for Nicholas Lyndhurst. Each episode's storyline is surprisingly heartwarming and relatively simple, but what really works about 'Going Straight', just as with 'Porridge', is the dialogue.
Scriptwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are such masters in the art of writing dialogue which is not only funny but frequently reflective. Their characterisations are never one-dimensional, but are full of natural and believable human contradictions, conveyed with intelligence and just the right degree of emotion. They toy with words in puns and double-entendres, with rich vocabulary and playful turns of phrase. Whilst gentle in tone, nothing is dumbed down and poignancy and pathos sit happily alongside more obvious comedic and farcical moments. As in other Clement and La Frenais favourites like '(Whatever Happened To) 'The Likely Lads' and 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet', we feel as if we know the characters through their conversations alone, and we root for them, warts'n'all.
I don't know whether a comedy series like this, 'Porridge', 'The Likely Lads' et al would get commissioned now - they might seem too mild and too wordy... and perhaps a large part of their appeal is that they can't be separated from their respective eras.
Passing references to punk and Margaret Thatcher place 'Going Straight' firmly against its 1978 backdrop and tiny details evoked memories for me that shocked me into realising just how long ago it was. Ingrid's elasticated belt with little metal clasps (I'd forgotten until now that I had one too), the Probation Officer smoking at her desk and offering Fletcher a Rich Osborne biscuit, the wallpapered kitchen and those net curtains made up of oval-shaped holes... Looking at the décor and fashions now it really does seem ancient. Then again, I guess I am too: in 1978 I was going to my first proper gig (Siouxsie & The Banshees) and choosing the subjects I'd be doing for 'O' Levels the following year.
And this was released in '78 too.