Monday, January 25, 2010
Hi-de-Hi! : the shows that prove today's comedy is a joke
It's exactly 30 years this month since Hi-de-Hi first appeared on our screens. Here's my tribute piece to Jimmy Perry and David Croft's great series from the Sunday Express.
Above you can watch a classic clip from the show. Enjoy!
HI-DE-Hi! It’s exactly 30 years ago this month since the classic Jimmy Perry and David Croft comedy series made its debut on BBC television.
Set in a holiday camp in 1959 and featuring a wonderful array of comic characters the show was a huge hit with viewers, running for eight years and some 58 episodes.
The signature tune Holiday Rock became a hit and the programme won a Bafta for best comedy in 1984. Thirty years on the original camp comedy remains as popular as ever. last year there was a Hi-de-Hi stage show and the whole eight series are now available on DVD.
How can we explain its enduring appeal?
For a start the gentle, heart-warming comedy of Hi-de-Hi provides a refreshing contrast to the more aggressive and nastier humour that sadly dominates television schedules today.
Watch an episode of Hi-de-Hi and you’re left with a glow inside. Of how many of today’s comedy shows can we say that? Hi-de-Hi was a programme that could be enjoyed by all the family, young and old alike. My 80-year-old grandmother loved it and so did I as a teenage student. It’s a throwback to an age when comedy was inclusive and not merely aimed at one particular age group.
About the only comedy in recent years that has had this same cross-generational appeal is Only Fools And Horses, which is why so many of us will be tuning in to BBC1tonight to watch Rock And Chips, the show’s prequel. Hi-de-Hi was the third major comedy series from the pens of Jimmy Perry and David Croft after Dad’s Army and it Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
Perry and Croft’s formative years were in the Forties and Fifties and their work is characterised by a great nostalgia for the time when Britain was arguably at its best. Their humour is rooted not in an era of selfish, me-first individualism but in a time of great solidarity when people were working together for the common good.
Unfortunately in the past few decades our society has become more atomised and the wonderful spirit of camaraderie that saw Britain through the Blitz has evaporated. That said, it lives on in Perry and Croft’s work. “I think people looking at these shows see a gentler, nicer, decent and better kind of Britishness and they look back with genuine nostalgia,” says cultural historian Professor Jeffrey Richards.
Hi-de-Hi, like Perry and Croft’s other comedies, was based on the two men’s real-life experiences. Perry had worked as a redcoat at Butlins, Croft produced theatrical shows for holiday camps and because both men knew their subject matter well Hi-de-Hi had an authentic feel.
Another factor behind the show’s success was the inspired casting. Simon Cadell was perfect as the shy university professor Jeffrey Fairbrother, so out of his depth in running Maplin’s holiday camp. Ruth Madoc was superb as Gladys Pugh, the sultry vamp from the Valleys. The exuberant Su Pollard was born to play enthusiastic chalet maid Peggy, while real-life comedian Paul Shane was great as the camp’s comedian Ted Bovis.
Felix Bowness, passionate about horse-racing in real life, was ex-jockey Fred Quilley in charge of Maplin’s riding school. Veteran actor Leslie Dwyer was wonderful as the grumpy, child-hating Punch and Judy man Mr Partridge.
Good comedy always mixes laughs with moments of pathos and Hi-de-Hi was no exception. Who couldn’t feel sorry for Peggy, one of life’s great triers, in her never ending attempts to become a yellowcoat? Who couldn’t feel sympathy for Ted Bovis, the comic who had never quite made it? Whatever their failings all of the characters in Hi-de-Hi were loveable.
In one episode Ted, always on the lookout for some extra cash, engineers a scam by asking unsuspecting holidaymakers to donate to the Campers’ Amenity Fund. He puts the money he has collected on a horse, which wins at 33-1. In a meeting with Jeffrey Fairbrother he refuses to hand the money over, claiming that the bet hadn’t been put on but on hearing that an elderly couple had been robbed of the money they had saved up to pay for the flight to attend their daughter’s wedding in Canada he comes to their assistance.
In analysing Hi-de-Hi’s appeal we must not forget one very important factor: a comedy series lives or dies by its ability to make us laugh. Hi-de-Hi did just that. It mixed verbal humour with some great slapstick routines. Remember the scene when the pantomime horse rides a real horse over the fields? Mr Partridge, who is holding a bottle of whisky and a banana, sees the two horses. He looks at the bottle and then the banana. He throws the banana away and takes another swig of whisky.
Despite their proven track record Perry and Croft have not found favour with the new, trendy BBC management in recent years, with Perry being told that his work was too “traditional”.
As we mark the 30th anniversary of Hi-de-Hi wouldn’t it be nice if the corporation for once listened to the public and commissioned another Perry and Croft series?
And wouldn’t it be fitting if Britain’s two greatest comedy writers received official recognition for the enormous pleasure they have given to so many people in the shape of two long overdue knighthoods?