29 April 2011
The post below about the Only Fools And Horses episode Thicker Than Water got me thinking, for no intelligent reason, about great sitcom episodes that featured a one-off appearance from a parental character.
"I never raised a hand to your mother Rodney, except in self-defence..."
We start with the awesome Peter Woodthorpe's turn in the aforementioned edition of Only Fools And Horses. It was the Christmas special of 1983, in the days when Christmas specials could just maintain the status quo of the Trotter lifestyle before elongated episodes forced John Sullivan into more outlandish plots and settings. The premise was simple; the long-lost dad of Del and Rodney (and son of Grandad), Reg Trotter, turns up after 20 years away on Christmas Eve, looking destitute and claiming illness. His manipulation of his father and younger son and slow isolation of his suspicious elder son takes hold over 20 minutes until his scheme is uncovered.
It's beautifully written, and performed from the textbook, as Del goes from unforgiving to desperately caught in two minds over family ties while his dad shamelessly steals his clothes, booze and cigars and quickly reverts to the exploitative type that Del always warned Rodney about. The moment when Rodney admits to Del he was right about their bad father is especially poignant. And there are few better lines than: "Some people get wise men bearing gifts. We get a wally with a disease!"
"Shall I make us all a cuppa?"
There was a very good episode of Men Behaving Badly (which, after going out of fashion quickly, is now quite funny to watch again) in which Gary unwillingly permits his father to visit, with the consequence of the doddery but shrewd old man forever embarrassing his son or just unwittingly saying the wrong thing at the wrong point. Richard Pearson plays the role splendidly, aided by the side plot of Gary having split with Dorothy and therefore trying to pull one of the trio of girlfriends Tony has on the go. The latter two efforts are foiled by his dad, who happens to mention to one that the date coincides with Dorothy's engagement party ("Gary's looking for someone to take so he can make her jealous!"), and to the other - a strict vegetarian - that he'd acquired some veal for tea, moments after Gary had lied that he was a vegan.
Most of it is farcical, and there is exceptional slapstick as Gary makes to attack his father from behind in the pub, only for Tony to prevent it by diving on Gary at the last minute. But at the end Gary still flips ("oh for God's sake, go home you old fool!") and his dad leaves with his head held high, rejecting his son's apology with aplomb.
"It's on the top shelf in the lower cupboard on the left..."
In Drop The Dead Donkey, we met the parents of Helen, the lesbian deputy news editor, who was still in the closet in her private life and so had pretended she had a boyfriend. Dave the editorial assistant, who was mad about her after a drunken one-night stand, agreed to be her bogus boyfriend for the evening, and again we got a farcical situation of him trying to appear familiar with her home (opening the broom cupboard door instead of the kitchen, etc) while also overdoing the boyfriend bit to his own benefit by deliberately planting a huge snog on Helen's lips when arriving. As Drop The Dead Donkey rarely took the characters out of the newsroom, and even more rarely did so to show aspects of their private life, it was a brave bit of telly, one that could have been honed in good time, given that the bulk of the show had to be written in the days leading up to broadcast. This was about Helen's repression and Dave's clumsiness, but the pay-off line from her dad - telling Helen that this fella of hers needed to seek psychiatric help - made it all worthwhile.
"Oi'm very pleased to meet yer, Mister Flitcher!"
In Porridge, Godber's mum turned up at visiting day with the broadest Black Country accent ever heard, to the extent that I can't believe anyone from that distinguished part of the world has ever genuinely sounded like that.
"Felicity Kendal is sweetly pretty, just what a real girlie should be!"
We got the brilliant pisstake of "safe" sitcoms with the arrival of Neil's strait-laced, bridge-playing parents in The Young Ones, but that was a script that broke every rule (and wall) going, even by the standards of a programme already renowned for rather offbeat methods.
"I vish him to marry zis rosebush!"
In Blackadder The Third, we got a rare example of a visiting parent who was also portraying someone that actually once existed. The arrival of George III allowed Blackadder to take his self-sacrificial role as the Prince Regent's duel stand-in to a new extreme, becoming regent himself in one fell swoop. The problem with that was that even though George III was too mad to recognise his own son, that wouldn't have stopped his lackeys from noticing the sudden change of face.
"Lad's got to get married sometime, he can't be happy all his life..."
The very last edition of Man About The House brought a stack of parents into the mix, as Norman and Chrissy got married. Glynn Edwards played Chrissy's farmer dad ("I've brought you a cockerel!") while the excellent Leslie Sands was Norman and Robin's father, blatantly ignoring his younger son's claims to attention and even garnering Chrissy's sympathy, despite the fact she was marrying the older, wiser one. His act of coughing all over the wedding cake looks improvised to this day, but still got a laugh.
Oh, and not forgetting...