When it was announced earlier this year that 70s sitcom favourite Open All Hours was to make a return in the form of a one-off Christmas special – forty years after it originally aired and eight years after its star’s death – I felt compelled to write an article on this blog rubbishing the idea, pointing out the flaws and generally voicing my objections.
I said that the whole premise of Granville’s (David Jason) character would have gone. In the original series, he was imprisoned in that corner shop (metaphorically speaking, of course), desperate, just like the best sitcom characters, to escape from the situation in which he found himself. With his miserly uncle, Arkwright having gone, however, it seemed quite inconceivable to me that he would have stayed in the shop. Surely he would have taken his golden opportunity to break free from the shackles of the business and chase his dream of being a cool Jack-the-lad – successfully or otherwise.
In a way, that problem still stood, but was never addressed. Of course, it’s quite possible that Arkwright only died a few years ago, so it was just too late for Granville to try to bring his dream to fruition. Or it could be that Roy Clarke was so desperate to fill the Last of the Summer Wine-shaped hole in his work life that he had to skirt around the slight implausibility of Granville not fleeing Lister Avenue while he could. We may never know.
So, for all I was prepared to watch Still Open All Hours through my fingers, scared that the show’s legacy would be tarnished over a quarter of a century after the credits rolled on the last episode, I actually didn’t think it was too bad. Not near the standard that we’d expect from either a primetime Christmas comedy or Roy Clarke but it was ok – and dripping with the non-offensive, at a push cheeky, humour with which the writer is so synonymous.
It seems that in every interview with David Jason over the past few years there has been some sort of call on his part for a return to ‘family-friendly’ comedy, shows in which innuendo was the order of the day, as opposed to smut, and there was simply a smattering of ‘bloodies’ and ‘arses’, rather than a constant stream of F-words. What I think he’s trying to say is that he despises Mrs Brown’s Boys. If it really is a return to cheeky, traditional comedy that Sir David has yearned for for years then it appears that his wish has been granted in Still Open All Hours, where the most boundary-pushing line is ‘You do spin people some fanny’.
What this show sometimes fell into the trap of doing, though, was mistaking ‘gentile’ for ‘gag-free’, with Roy Clarke often appearing to assume that repeating old jokes or returning to previous set-ups would suffice. They didn’t always. In order to work they had to not only remind viewers of the original series but be funny in their own right. Of course, there were some great moments of nostalgia throughout the show: Granville’s uncertainty about his own parentage and apparently ‘loose’ mother were reflected in his son Leroy’s worries, the till (and tin atop it) was as brilliantly ferocious as ever, Nurse Gladys still had her Morris Minor, there was a picture in the back room of a snarling Arkwright, etc. For really observant fans, in the third scene there was even a nod to the episode in which Granville decided to sport an open shirt, medallion (in fact a cocoa tin lid) and shades in order to look ‘cool’, with Leroy doing similar in this instance. That wasn’t always enough to carry the episode, though. In fact, such moments often simply punctuated the thirty minutes, rather than bringing laughs to them.
The cast for Still Open All Hours was, however, a very good one, with many comedy favourites popping up, such as Mark Williams, Nina Wadia, Johnny Vegas, Sally Lindsay and, somewhat inexplicably, Barry Chuckle. I know, I was baffled too.
That’s not to mention the returning cast, of course. Alongside David Jason there was Lynda Baron as Nurse Gladys (pictured), Maggie Ollerenshaw as Mavis and Stephanie Cole as Mrs Featherstone. However, as lovely as it was to see some of the original stars come back, there seemed to be a change with these characters – and an unwelcome one at that: Mavis was no longer loveably indecisive; Mrs Featherstone had gone from being a stern, hard-nosed widow to a rampant, purring, wannabe cougar; and as for Lynda Baron, well it was hardly worth her taking the trek to Doncaster! For someone who was such an integral part of the original series (being the only character, other than Arkwright and Granville, to appear in all 26 episodes), Roy Clarke left her woefully underwritten in this episode. Both the character and Lynda Baron herself deserved more screen time than that!
Former Emmerdale star James Baxter was a treat to watch as Leroy, though – if we overlook the character having mysteriously developed a Mackem accent, despite living in Yorkshire all his life.
So Still Open All Hours wasn’t quite the car crash I anticipated but neither was it the triumphant return to form that I think Roy Clarke and David Jason imagined it to be. Would this show have been able to stand its own (and possibly even be commissioned) without its predecessor? Almost certainly not. I might even go so far as to say that, under different circumstances, it may have been seen as another Royal Bodyguard or Big Top. As a tribute to (officially) the nation’s eighth favourite sitcom, though? It wasn’t bad. It might be able to sustain another special. If Roy Clarke sorts out the problem of scenes not flowing and the programme appearing to be a string of separate vignettes, I might also go so far as to suggest a series of six episodes. There’d have to be more originality, though, and less reliance on forty-years-old gags and set-ups – however much-loved they may be.
Image credits: Thanks to Matt Squire and Gary Moyes, ©BBC
What did you think of Still Open All Hours? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.
You can also see what’s coming up on TV in the coming week on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.