‘Still Open All Hours’ (BBC1) Review

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’.

Ooh, matron!

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.

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7 thoughts on “‘Still Open All Hours’ (BBC1) Review

  1. mbc1955 says:

    Absolutely spot on – see my review at http://mbc1955.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/still-open-all-hours-but-why/

    No to a series. I wouldn’t even go for another special, though I believe one is planned for Summer.

  2. richard bristow says:

    a definite yes to new series. I have just seen the Christmas special, very good. a series would really let it develop. it has great potential.

  3. Michael says:

    Well done Roy Clark, BBC, Cast and Crew this was a brilliant, the cast performed brilliantly, it was fantastically written by Roy Clark, it was exactally the right balance between old and new. It was fab to see all the cast again, and some new faces like Barry Chuckle. Come on BBC Commission into a full series.

  4. Nick says:

    As a first draft, it would have been encouraging. As the finished article it was so disappointing. Granville had morphed into a quasi-Arkwright, his own distinct character lost to an approximation of one of Barker’s finest. Either do a full-on impression or leave it alone. It didn’t flow, it was rarely funny and the revolving door of characters (old and new) were wheeled on and off as if to fill a quota. Could it work? Yes, probably but not without a major rethink. Bottom line is, Ronnie B has gone and if the writing continues to rely on him being there, it is doomed to failure.

  5. bish says:

    The show received good review generally so I’m probably swimming against the tide , as both myself and my wife, who were fans of the original , found it truly cringeworthy. In my opinion David Jason has reached the age where he needs to retire from comedy acting and retain his well won reputation. To me he looked far too old for the part and anyone with an ear for accents will know he has never been able to pull off a Yorkshire one , too often reverting to his Dell Boy persona or trying too hard. Ronnie Barker although a southerner was a master of regional accents so the original worked but Jason in my opinion just doesn’t have it and this was accentuated by the fact that the rest of the cast were either northern by birth or were good at it

  6. Rowland says:

    I just watched the show, Was the Leroy switching the Closed Sign to Open in his first scene when closing the shop supposed to be a “Gag”?, maybe not…it didn’t get a laugh …I used to work in a little shop like that years back…tis all. I liked the show and concur with this review, Roy maybe needs to get some youngans to help bring the show a little more closer to Now.

  7. Watched an episode of this awful attempt to revive a once well written, and favourite series. It was absolutely woeful, as mentioned elsewhere it was almost Last of the Summer Wine played in a grocers shop, but with an incredibly weak plot. I suppose the actors who struggled to squeeze any laughs out of the pantomime – like scripts, can at least see this programme as a useful pension supplement, because it will do nothing to enhance their careers, and has destroyed any credibility they might have accrued over the years. The final ludicrous scenes with the rattling steaming Gaggia coffee machine was right out of CBeebies, but they managed to top off the cringeworthy slapstick with collapsing chairs and the improbable and ludicrous stunt of all the sun umbrellas sliding down one by one on to the heads of the unfortunate cast.
    Please leave them all under the brollies, and consign this garbage to the bin, or put it on one of the children’s tv schedules, my 3 year old grandchildren will love it!

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