29 July 2010

Tristram


I like Outnumbered, but I'm not crazy about it. I've always found that type of agony-through-embarrassment comedy hard to watch. I have never heard the NB, however, laugh as much at anything as she does when Outnumbered is on. So it evidently has something.

There are exceptions, of course. The episode where the two younger kids act as umpires for a tennis match involving their dad was terrific, but I've worked out that it was probably because the kids were on their dad's side this time, rather than winding him up. Perhaps I'm too soft and idealistic as far as what comedy should be. My fault entirely.

The lad who plays the obstinate, lippy boy with the Bolan wig is now going to play the lead role in the latest television adaptation of the Just William books. It'll be a more dramatic role for him, of course, and he'll have to stick rigidly to the script rather than be given licence to toss about. Good on him.

It's a risk to feature young children as main characters in sitcom and, indeed, a rarity too. Outnumbered is helped by the lack of a studio audience and the tailoring of the script to allow the kids to improvise. This brings the best out of the adults, though despite this successful series Hugh Dennis will, to me, always be the bloke who did the "dad dance" on The Mary Whitehouse Experience.

You could argue about Please Sir! of course, but those alleged kids were all in their 20s or even 30s and pretending to be 14. My Family, which I thought was quite funny when Kris Marshall was in it, had just one school age child in it when it started and two who were experienced performers.

For a young kid in a regular sitcom role, I usually think of Nicholas Bond-Owen. He was initially Nicholas Owen when, as a seven year old with a massive blonde fringe and NHS spectacles, he was cast as Tristram Fourmile in George and Mildred. His double-barrel came along after the first series (did an aspiring newsreader complain or did his mother remarry?).

He was in every episode but peripheral, with rarely a major part to play in the twist of a plot which seldom left the safe-as-houses caper of Mildred-wants-to-better-herself and George-cocks-it-up-by-accident. He had an invisible dog ("he didn't really stroke him because he's over there"), destroyed George at poker ("I've got a running flush of shovels"), gave his own dad a black eye ("caught him with his guard down!") and, well, other things.

The only reason the Fourmiles seemed to be given a child was so Mildred could be hired for babysitting duties, allowing further snobbish tension to occur between the arrogant Jeffrey Fourmile and the oblivious George. And those NHS specs didn't tally with Jeffrey's principles; a man like him - Conservative club, golf, amateur dramatics, aversion to caravans - would have sent Tristram for eye testing privately and acquired a far snazzier pair of bins.

George and Mildred came to an abrupt end in 1980 with the early death of the great Yootha Joyce. Bond-Owen did a few other kiddish roles and starred as Charley Bates ("Dodger's my pal!") in a 1980s BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist but since adolescence, has not, to my knowledge, been seen. I assume that, like three quarters of child actors from that era, he decided that trying to make it in the business as an adult simply wasn't worth the hassle and did something else. And maybe once he was old enough to make his own mind up, he knew his heart wasn't in it. After all, I doubt a seven year old makes an active choice to become a child actor. It's usually because a parent has ambitions for them that way or a member of a television or film crew brings them along for casting.

I've always wanted to interview him. I once made a mild attempt to locate him but had no joy as I was told he'd long lost touch with the industry. Maybe he'll read this...

1 comment:

Lee Slator said...

My personal favourite is the scene whereby Karen is dealing with a door to door sales person. It's Series 3, Episode 5, about 1 minute in

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieGRM43dSgA

In some ways I wish we had a Karen to deal with the sales people that we regularly get at our door!