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That’s My Boy!

TITLE: That’s My Boy

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: United Kingdom

GENRE: Sit-com

CHANNEL: ITV

YEARS: 1981

NUMBER OF SERIES: 5 including Christmas specials

WRITTEN AND CREATED BY: Pam Valentine and Michael Ashton

  • Molly Sugden- Ida Willis
  • Christopher Blake – Dr Robert Price
  • Jennifer Lonsdale – Angie Price
  • Clare Richards – Mrs Price
  • Harold Goodwin- Wilfred Willis
  • Deddie Davis – Miss Parfitt
  • Thelma Whiteley – Mrs Cross

PLOT: No-nonsense housekeeper goes to work for a young doctor and his wife. The doctor and housekeeper have an instant dislike towards each other – until the housekeeper discovers that the doctor is the baby she gave up for adoption almost twenty eight years ago…

There are some comedies that stand the test of time and are repeated over and over again to be enjoyed by new generations of viewers. Then there are comedies that fade into obscurity and are never mentioned again. Eighties sit-com That’s My Boy is an example of a comedy show that fits into the latter category. But if anyone thinks that’s a sign that it wasn’t very good or watchable – think again!

Over the years, I was vaguely able to recall a comedy show from my childhood that featured a young married couple with an older lady, who I guessed was some kind of live-in housekeeper. However, I could never remember the name of the show, and moreover,  I’d never seen it on TV since it was first shown, and I don’t remember anyone even mentioning it. I was beginning to wonder if I’d imagined it (like so many things from my childhood!)

A few of the things that I could recall were the appearance of the married couple’s flat; that the older lady looked like  Mollie Sugden;  the husband was very handsome, and whenever I thought of this comedy, I always associated it with the colour blue! I later realised that the older lady was indeed Molly Sugden, and that the blue association was because the opening and closing credits of series one to three featured a sketch of the apartment building where the trio lived with a sky blue background and also because Mollie Sugden’s character, Ida, often wore blue.

Despite there having been five series of That’s My Boy, my memories of this sit-com were a little on the hazy side but I did think about the sit-com over the years and was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down and spend some very pleasant evenings (and weekend mornings!) watching this show all over again. I was amazed to learn that I was actually able to recall certain scenes and episodes, although I didn’t remember Wilfred or Mrs. Price, and neither did I remember the move to Yorkshire. I was also surprised to hear that it was shown on Friday nights, as for some reason, I remember That’s My Boy being shown on Sunday afternoons (?)

THE STORY SO FAR…

When Yorkshire-born Ida Willis turns up at the Muswell Hill flat belonging to Dr Robert Price and his wife Angie, a model, to work as their new housekeeper, she and Angie instantly become friends. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Ida and Robert who appear to loathe each other on sight. However all that changes one afternoon when Ida confides in Angie about the baby boy she gave up for adoption called Shane. After showing each other baby photos of Shane and Robert, Angie and Ida are dumbstruck by the realisation that the baby is one and the same – meaning that Robert is Ida’s long-lost son, Shane!

 

Had this been a soap opera, this storyline would have been drawn out for several months (or years) with plenty of tears, tantrums, sobbing into bottles of wine, with shrieks of ‘you ain’t my muvva!’ once the secret was revealed but comedy handles such a heavy topic in an altogether light-hearted manner with much hilarity that doesn’t see Robert scarred of life or going on a killing spree! The realisation that they are mother and son doesn’t make them become best friends overnight. Ida tries hard to be a mother to Robert, but she still grates on him, especially when she insists on calling him by his birth-name Shane. And Ida isn’t afraid to give Robert/Shane a piece of her mind when she thinks it’s called for.

Much of the humour is provided by Ida’s wayward brother Wilfred and the power struggle between Ida and Robert’s ‘other mummy’ – his adoptive mother, Mrs Price, an upmarket widow who is as far removed from Ida as you can get. The two naturally don’t get on as they battle to become the number one  ‘mummy’ in Robert’s life, but there are times when the two have to form an alliance, especially when it’s in the best interests of their son.

 

But Robert and Ida do indeed bond and it is delightful to watch their relationship develop. Robert becomes very protective of Ida and when attending the wedding of Ida’s niece, it’s really heart warming to see Robert affectionately declare Ida as his mother. What was probably slightly unusual was the relationship between Ida and her daughter-in-law, Angie. A typical situation would have seen glamorous model and actress Angie, snobby and aloof who seriously clashes with her newfound mother-in-law. But then Angie doesn’t get on with her other mother-in-law Mrs. Price so I think it was clever of the writers to create a different scenario where instead of being the archetypal interfering mother-in-law, Ida is a friend and an ally to Angie.

And later on in the fourth series, when the family leave Muswell Hill and move to Little Birchmarch in Yorkshire after Robert secures the post of village doctor, we meet the dithering Miss Parfitt, Robert’s mousy receptionist.

WHY I LOVE IT:

One thing that’s dawned on me after watching That’s My Boy! is that I seem to be a fan of sit-coms that are not considered ‘classics’ or that most people might have forgotten. Fawlty Towers, Only Fools And Horses, Open All Hours etc. are firm favourites with me and my family and are undeniably terrific, but I really do think that there’s something good and a lot of fun to be had in watching the lesser repeated comedies.

That’s My Boy is  a wonderfully pleasant comedy and one of the reasons why I think it works is because of Mollie Sugden’s immensely likable and highly amusing performance. Mollie is in good form and relies on her genius for visual expression and excellent timing. She is a wonderful actress with great screen presence and her portrayal of Ida is no exception. For most people, Sugden will always be best remembered for her role in  Are You Being Served? but it’s very easy to forget the other great roles she played with Ida being a good example with her witty one-lines and hilarious put-downs – this is a lady who has an answer for everything!

Another reason why I think That’s My Boy is fantastic is because of the rapport that Mollie Sugden has with the supporting cast and the likeable characters they play. All the characters work brilliantly together, with the supporting cast acting as a backdrop for Ida to bounce off.

I enjoyed the  warm yet amusing storylines that kept the audience laughing throughout.. I found each episode to be hilarious and enjoyable to watch.The theme tune may consist solely of the lyrics “that’s my boy, that’s my boy. Lalalalalalala…” the upbeat tune somehow suits the show well, and after hearing it just a couple of times, the tune will never leave your head. That could either be a great thing or an annoyance – for me it was a great thing.

I found That’s My Boy to be a very pleasant comedy but wondered how it would be received today. Certain quotes and the play on stereotypes would not be acceptable today as it would be considered racist or homophobic. And I did wonder if That’s My Boy could be considered light-hearted family entertainment with all of Robert and Angie’s saucy antics – but then again, I think today’s kids are exposed to a great deal more!

I do think it’s quite a shame that That’s My Boy never reached the great heights I feel it should have and has more or less disappeared. I also can’t understand why it was hardly ever repeated after it was first shown on TV. But I’m so glad that I discovered this little nugget of TV gold – definitely what I call comfort food television and I will most definitely be watching it again.

 

 

 

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Video

Duty Free: The Total Comedy Package

 

TV Show: Duty Free

Genre: Sit-com

Plot: Two couples meet on Spanish package holiday – and an extra-marital fling begins with comic results.

Series: Three plus Christmas special

Made by: Yorkshire Television. Although the show was set in Spain, it was filmed  in a Leeds studio. Only in the concluding Christmas special were some scenes filmed on location in Spain.

Ran from: 1984-1986

Written by: Eric Chappell and his secretary Jean Warr. Chappell is also the mastermind behind Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh, Home To Roost  and many other hit sitcoms.

Starred: Keith Barron as David Pearce

Gwen Taylor as Amy Pearce

Neil Stacy as Robert Cochrane

Joanna Van Gyseghem as Linda Cochrane

The late Carlos Douglas made reccurring appearances as Carlos the waiter, while Mind Your Language regulars George Camiller and Juan Ramirez also made appearances. Special guests Frazer Hines from Emmerdale Farm and TV prsenter Judith Chalmers – two well known faces in 1980s Britain – appeared as themselves.

 

I have often thought about Duty Free over the years, so I was extremely excited when I finally got a chance to view all three series once again. The first time I watched it was when it was broadcast for the very first time in the ’80s. The second time I saw it was just a few weeks ago when I was well into adulthood. Wow, a gap of thirty years! If that doesn’t make you feel old, I don’t know what will! I have no idea why I waited so long to view the show again but I was amazed that my old and often forgetful head, managed to remember so many scenes. Incidentally, I have no idea why a child of infant school age was allowed to watch a sit-com about randy Brits abroad – and it seems as though I’m not the only one. A look at forums indicates that for many, this was compulsive family entertainment. Yeah – if you say so! Funnily enough, I don’t actually remember watching this with my family. As I recall, my mum was usually in the kitchen getting Dad’s dinner ready while he’d be on his way home from work. So I was actually watching it by myself.

 

 

And the story goes like this…

Two British married couples – The Pearces and The Cochrans – meet at the hotel they are holidaying at in Spain and begin socialising together. In each of the two marriages, there appears to be an air of discontentment with one half of each pairing yearning for something more from life. Robert is an ultra-English, pompous xenophobe who stifles his elegant and free-spirited wife Linda, who in turn is keen to break free of the restraints that Robert has imposed on her. While over at the Pearces, Amy is quite happy with her lot in life and is determined to make the most of it. David, on the other hand, crushed at being made redundant, seems bored and frustrated with life and is searching for something new and exciting.

It’s no wonder that David and Linda feel drawn to each other and they begin an affair. The recurrent plot involves the illicit lovers trying to escape their respective partners so that they can be alone together – and at one point attempting to run away together after their affair has been discovered – and being thwarted every time. Carlos the waiter often finds himself somehow involved in the foursome’s shenanigans.

A touch of class

When it came to social class, the two couples are poles apart: The Pearces are working-class northern socialists who are having to make ends meet after David’s redundancy (they spent David’s redundancy money on the package holiday)  while the Cochrans are affluent, well-travelled, well-cultured middle class Conservatives –  evident from their accents, their pursuits, and their political beliefs. The issue of David’s unemployment is quite a topical touch because as much as I get misty-eyed about my childhood years, those who were old enough to remember would know that unemployment was rife in the ’80s with many people being made redundant and finding it difficult to get work.

What makes David different from the other characters, is that while they are all content with their class status, David seems quite embarrassed by his, much to Amy’s annoyance. And David’s discomfort is further emphasised upon meeting the Cochranes and he desperately tries to reinvent himself and make himself appear more affluent and more cultured than he really is – although part of the reason for this reinvention is to woo Linda. It is Robert who realises that David isn’t quite who he says he is – and he gathers most of this information by looking at David’s tatty style of dressing and his one pair of shoes – not realising that the one pair of shoes is because Amy forgot to pack the others! The episode where Judith Chalmers and the Wish You Were Here team (another blast from the past!) arrive at the resort to film an episode of the hit travel show, produces much hilarity as David, desperate to impress as usual, drops his voice to appear more middle-class, while a furious Amy really plays up those northern vowels!

My memories – old and new!

Even at a very young age, I knew that David and Linda were very ‘naughty people’ and that David wasn’t very nice to Amy. I can now see that David was attracted to Linda because she was vibrant, exciting and glamorous, while Amy was too homely and mumsy. The way she fussed over David anyone would think she was his mother rather than his wife! And Linda was attracted to David because of the fanciful picture that he’s painted of himself in order to make himself look more dashing and cultured. And of course he was a huge improvement on boring Robert!

However that’s not to say that Amy isn’t also quite attractive. In fact by the time we reach the more final series, she becomes better looking  thanks to a new hairdo and wardrobe. Not only that but she’s extremely strong, feisty and gutsy. Many women would have walked out on their marriage as soon as hubby started playing away – but not Amy. She’s determined to fight for her marriage and proves to be more than a match for simpering, sappy Linda. Quite frankly, Amy can do a lot better than a weak man like David so I have no idea why she would want to hang on to him but the song Amy performs at the talent show in the final ever episode where she sings about not being able to help loving someone says it all.

 

I was amazed by just how much I remembered since the first time I watched Duty Free: The scene where Amy hurriedly stuffs an illicit note from Frazier Hines asking her to meet him in secret in her mouth and pretends she’s chewing on caramel; David sneaking into Linda’s room while she is sleeping and asking if she would like an ice-cream – only to find that he has woken a hysterical stranger as Amy very cunningly swapped room tags; the characters taking part in a talent show. But my favourite scene of all has to be from the very first episode when an irritated Amy shoves Linda into the fountain while attempting to take her photo. It was only when I watched the episode the second time, I saw that Amy had actually done it deliberately – and who could blame her?  A classic moment!

 

The humour was based on the same type of Fawlty Towers farce with lots of hiding in cupboards; sneaking down hallways; stashing incriminating evidence; coming up with the most outrageous lies in order to cover tracks… but for reasons I cannot understand, it hasn’t really stood the test of time. General opinion seems to be that it’s dated and unfunny. Dated, well that’s a matter of opinion (although it was thirty years ago so it’s never going to seem current!) but anyone who thinks it’s unfunny needs to listen to Amy’s one-liners. She had some classic howlers and Taylor’s delivery and timing was impeccable. There are however some questions which were never really answered: did David and Linda have a full-blown affair or did it never go beyond illicit snogs and holding hands? Was it true love or just lust? Was David’s marriage to Amy really over – or was this just a mid-life crisis? And why on earth did this couple continue to socialise together even after the affair was uncovered?

I’m also amazed that a show which featured the same holiday romance in the same holiday resort with the same holiday makers lasted three seasons! The second series picked up exactly where the first left off but what I liked about the third series was that it began a year after the holiday makers returned home and viewers get a glimpse of Amy and David’s life away from Spain. I remembered the first series much better than I remembered the other two so it was great to catch up. I don’t think I’ll leave it until another three decades before I watch Duty Free again and I am determined to see the Christmas special which I can recall ever so slightly. Whatever people may think about this comedy series, it will always have fond memories of it.

 

 

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 8, 2014 in Comedy Shows

 

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Farmhouse Kitchen: Comfort Food Television

 

My love of cookery shows goes back to when I was about five years old, thanks to my mum who was a huge fan of any program that showed you how and what to cook. She would watch every single one religiously and would sit there making notes. As a result, I developed an interest in them too.

My absolute favourite – of which I still have fond memories – is the iconic (in my opinion at least) Farmhouse Kitchen. This was a cookery series made by Yorkshire Television and broadcast by ITV during weekday afternoons. I used to watch it with Mum when I returned home from school. The show was aimed at housewives and homemakers and provided demonstrations of well-known, traditional British fare long before anyone had ever heard of sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and salted caramel.

 

Farmhouse Kitchen was first shown in 1971 and ran until 1989. It was originally  presented by Dorothy Sleightholme until her sad demise in a car accident. Grace Mulligan then took over as the show’s host. There were also occasionally  guest cooks which included Pauline Sykes and the queen of cakes herself, Mary Berry. Viewers were even invited to write in with their own recipes which were then (if selected) demonstrated for the viewing public.

If ever there was such a thing as comfort food television, then this would be it. No fuss, no frills, no obscure ingredients; just simple and inexpensive old-fashioned home cooking. There was something so warm and homely about Farmhouse Kitchen from the country style kitchen to the presenters to the very melodic theme tune. In fact every time I hear that theme tune, it takes me back… It contains a kind of nostalgic 1970s charm and was aptly called ‘Fruity Flute’ and was played by The Reg Wale Group.

 

I know that times change and nothing lasts forever but I can’t help but compare this legendary show to cooking programs today where the food and art of cooking sometimes takes second place to cultivating a celebrity image and television career for the chef. And let’s not even get started on the expletives used by certain unnamed chefs and celebrity cooks in a bid to look, I don’t know, cool? Because I don’t think cool, funny or entertaining when I hear it. Just get on with showing us how to cook!

It’s a shame that Farmhouse Kitchen isn’t repeated or that there’s anything that remotely resembles it but no doubt if there was the majority of viewers would consider it quaint and outdated – which I suppose goes to show that I like quaint and outdated! Books were available which accompanied the series and I would love to buy a copy.

Here’s that delightful theme tune (the theme had been revamped although judging by some of the comments I’ve read, it would appear that most people preferred the original.) I could listen to it all day and never tire of it. Bliss!

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Name That Tune!, TV Shows

 

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