BBC viewers were treated to a mini trip down memory lane on Boxing Day this year in the form of a special one-off episode of Still Open All Hours based on the popular sit-com of the 70s and 80s Open All Hours. The original series starred the late Ronnie Barker and David Jason as the uncle and nephew team running a grocery store in Doncaster.
Over the years in our household, Open All Hours was hardly ever off the box. Even when the show ended in 1985, we would watch an endless stream of reruns and we even bought Dad the DVD collection one Christmas. It was definitely one of his favourite comedy programs and to this day he still laughs his head off as though he’s watching it for the first time. In fact my siblings used to joke that Dad was an awful lot like Arkwright, Ronnie Barker’s character – but a lot more generous!
Open All Hours was a relatively slow moving sit-com but that just reflected the pace of life in the sleepy Yorkshire suburbs and the fact the most of the customers who frequent the shop are old-fashioned, homely characters of a ‘certain age’. I didn’t always get the jokes due to being so young but I knew the show wasn’t low on humour.
Writer Roy Clarke who penned the original series has now brought the show into the twenty-first century with Granville, played by Jason, stepping into Arkwright’s overalls after having inherited the shop from his late uncle, and he is now assisted by his son, Leroy (James Baxter.)
Although Still Open All Hours is set in 2013, it could well be back in the 70s as nothing seems to have changed at all. Very little is different about the shop which is still called Arkwright’s; I’m sure the overall’s Granville’s wearing could very well be the same ones Arkwright wore; the clapped out old bike along with the cash register which is in danger of guillotining your fingertips are still there. Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, Mavis and Mrs. Featherstone are still regulars, and the put-upon errand boy still exists but it’s now Leroy instead of Granville – with the former finding a novel way to make deliveries thus avoiding the dodgy bike!
I’m glad that this new episode didn’t stray too far from the original formula which is what sometimes happens when a show returns after a hiatus of several years. The show’s distinctive theme tune, “Alice, Where Art Thou?” appears to have remained unchanged and not revamped for the twenty-first century (thank goodness!) And not only was it great to see some of the old regulars but I’m thrilled that they were played by the permanent cast members from the original series: Lynda Baron (Nurse Gladys) Stephanie Cole (Mrs. Featherstone and Maggie Ollerenshaw (Mavis.) It would have been lovely, however, to have seen the return of the milk woman, with whom Granville had once had a romantic liaison. Mrs. Blewett’s absence was also noted but Kathy Staff, the actress who played her had sadly passed away back in 2008. It just wouldn’t have been the same to see another actress step into her shoes.
Still Open All Hours saw Granville unsuccessfully trying to shift copious amounts of anchovy paste (“They’re staunch potted meat round here, ” declared Nurse Gladys) and eventually managing to sell a couple of tins by claiming that they had aphrodisiac properties. This echoes Arkwright’s ginger cake situation which many viewers remembered (not me, so I’m going to have to watch Open All Hours Again!) And whereas Granville had to grow up dealing with an absent father, history repeats itself slightly with Leroy having to deal with an absent mother after having been abandoned by her as a child. And of course, shop closing time just before the credits still exists with the voice over that begins “It’s been a funny old day…” Classic!
However, the presence of new characters prevented the old format from becoming tired and stale. Granville now has a grown-up son Leroy, who helps run the grocery store with him. But unlike his father, he has more success with the ladies. There are also ethnic characters – something that was missing from the original series – which reflects the cultural diversity in Yorkshire. ‘Wet’ Eric provided some of the biggest laughs in this episode, and we also met Mrs. Agnew, Granville’s potential new love interest and the tea salesman among a whole host of characters.
Fans of the original show didn’t have time to miss Arkwright because although he sadly wasn’t physically present, writers made sure he was very much there in spirit. His overalls are still in use; there is a photo of him hanging up at the back of the shop which shows him looking almost demonic as he watches over his beloved shop; Granville’s impersonation of his late uncle’s stammer was spot on, and then there are the constant references to Arkwright by Granville, Nurse Gladys and Mrs. Featherstone. In addition to all this, it seems that as well as inheriting Arkwright’s shop and overalls, Granville seems to have morphed into his late uncle. He’s become as penny-pinching and desperate to make a sale as Arkwright. He also harps on about the merits of the old cash register and bike to Leroy in an attempt to get him to use them – but won’t go near them himself! As Nurse Gladys declared, “You’re an old tightwad like your uncle… he trained you well.” The transformation of Granville’s character is understandable on many levels. However, it means that while a great job was done to ensure that we didn’t feel Arkwright’s absence – I did miss Granville; the old Granville who was somewhat bumbling and a bit of a dreamer.
There were a few things that I found strange. Granville says to Nurse Gladys that in time Arkwright would have married her but I’m almost certain that Arkwright did marry Gladys. I remember an absolutely hilarious episode where Arkwright and Gladys got married – while Arkwright wore Gladys’s trousers! Furthermore, the character Cyril who was originally played by Tom Mennard is now played by Kulvinder Ghir!
But there was still so much to like about Still Open All Hours: the array of famous faces including Ghir, Nina Wadia, Sally Lindsay, Brigit Forsyth and Johnny Vegas who played ‘Wet’ Eric; the ‘aah’ factor came in the form of a dog who was sent on a shopping errand and Mrs. Featherstone taking Granvile by surprise with an unexpected snog was hilarious. Admittedly, there wasn’t much of a strong storyline; it was more of an introduction to the characters and a summary of the events that had occurred in Granville’s life but then what more could be done in a thirty minute slot? David Jason is adamant that Still Open All Hours is a one-off – there will not be a series following. However according to Wikipedia “If viewer reaction is favourable, the programme may return for a full series in 2014.”
We’ll have to wait and see who’s right. Reviews have been fairly mixed but for the most part it seems to have been very well received and many viewers have said that they thoroughly enjoyed it; it was a great piece of nostalgia; and Ronnie Barker would have been proud. I agree with all of the above and feel it was definitely the best thing on TV during the festive season. How would I feel about an entire series? I have mixed feelings about it having seen numerous comebacks and spin-offs being ill-recived but given the success of the one episode, it could work. Roy Clarke apparently wrote the script for Still Open All Hours in two weeks – and it’s been brilliant. He has done a fantastic job – I always did say the old comedies are the best.