Comedy Connections

Monday, June 9, 2003 by

In contrast to the recent abysmal chop-suey of “favourite clips” and the vapid wittering-on of Dawn French that was The Sitcom Story, BBC1 continues its Monday night post-news comedy slot with the rather better Comedy Connections.

Focusing in the first installment on Porridge, any review of Comedy Connections deserves further use of the tired “Chinese Meal” analogy: it is very tasty, but when finished leaves you wanting more. At approximately 25 minutes in length, there obviously isn’t enough time in the programme to take a proper look at its subjects – although it was clearly much more of a story than the three-hour hotchpotch of its predecessor in the 10.40pm BBC1 slot. That show failed on almost every count, while this one at least tries to provide us with a coherent and logical history to some of our television favourites, via a combination of tidy, measured narration, interviews and some rather natty graphics.

An impressive group of interviewees was assembled by the makers, only for half of them to be quite poorly used, being shoved aside after a couple of lines in favour of somebody else. So, we had Tony “Black Jock” Osoba recounting one line from his experiences on Porridge, and David Jason contributing a line that looked like it had been culled from elsewhere. Ronnie Barker, Clement and La Frenais and the recently retired Sydney Lotterby had the biggest impact and consequently offered up the most interesting tales, while Sam Kelly, Patricia Brake and Christopher Biggins also turned up with short anecdotes too. A longer running time would have ensured that the supporting cast would have been able to tell us a little more about their memories of working on the show, whereas what we got from some interviewees was little more than vox pops.

Best of all in the programme though, was the inclusion of several (extremely brief) clips from rarely seen – by this reviewer anyway – pilot episodes from the Seven of One Barker vehicle. We got to see a short snippet from the show that was Barker’s favoured pick from the seven I’ll Fly You For a Quid, featuring Barker and Carry On‘s second favourite weed Richard O’Callaghan, along with a short segment from the Porridge pilot “Prisoner & Escort”, which was seen by its star as a “Bilko in Prison” type of idea. Again though, there wasn’t really enough made of these examples: we were unable to judge whether I’ll Fly You For a Quid would have been a success had it succeeded as the clip that was used lasted only about a minute. Also given a brief airing was a short chunk of Clement and La Frenais’ ITV jailbird sit-com Thick as Thieves, which would probably have been just at home in a show about the Porridge sequel Going Straight. Coming even earlier than Seven of One was Six Dates with Barker, of which part of one was used to demonstrate that Barker and David Jason had worked together previously. This presumably was an example of a comedy connection, although the theme of “connections” did not seem to come over very strongly in the programme for some reason, with the connections appearing to be more like tenuous links.

Die-hard fans of Porridge and comedy connoisseurs probably won’t have discovered very much at all about the show, but Connections worked quite well as an introduction to its subject. Kudos to BBC Scotland for creating the series, but if there is ever another run, perhaps it might be better to expand the format to the hour that The Sitcom Story enjoyed to allow the contributors to properly contribute.

And Julia Sawalha is a much better narrator than Dawn French.


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