In the first of our guest articles here on Transistorized, Tanya Jones talks about one of her favourite sitcoms…
George & Mildred is one of those often-misunderstood shows, with a reputation for being a typical run-of-the-mill sitcom, epitomising smug middle-class values. You’ll no doubt be astounded to hear that I think there’s a lot more to it than that. Although the main conceit is an ageing working-class couple struggling to fit in a very middle-class estate in very middle-class Hampton Wick, the title sequences actually hint at a lot more, setting the viewer up for the unharmonious, but loving marriage between the Ropers, and their relationship with their next-door neighbours, the Fourmiles. I suppose you want me to prove it now, don’t you? Well, read on…
The titles for the first series of G&M are possibly the best opening titles for anything ever, in terms of setting the scene for the series. Presumably they were intended to not only do just that, but made on the assumption that, as a well-loved double act in Man About the House, the audience would like to know more about their back-story. The piano is reminiscent of a sing-song round the old Joanna, highlighting their East End roots, while photos outline their life (including an intriguing photo of Mildred with another man, perhaps indicating what might have been) and their getting together, explaining that we’re now joining this couple at a specific point in their life -although there’s no mention here of their stint as landlords for the Man About the House gang. The sequence is 40 seconds of concise and amusing storytelling, and deserves to be far better remembered than it is.
Ah, the difficult second series. Although I think the first series titles would have still done the trick here, I can understand the thinking behind expanding the titles for a now-established show. The titles depict a comic sequence with Mildred smelling the roses in their garden, then George arriving in an old motorcycle and sidecar. Mildred reluctantly gets in, with the Fourmiles looking from their window, and then the sidecar falls off when George moves off, leaving Mildred embarrassed in front of her neighbours. Mildred sniffing the flowers is a sign of the sort of person she’d like to be: respectable, middle-class and appreciating the finer things in life. George’s choice of transport represents the type of person he is and enjoys being: a tight-wad with no appreciation of the need of his wife to be seen in a more decent vehicle. It’s amusing enough, but doesn’t have nearly the same impact as the first series’ titles; not least because the cockney sing-song theme being replaced with a more mellow track, which was used, in one form or another, until the last episode. Although the first series theme wouldn’t have fitted the titles, it’s a shame to see it go.
For the third series, the profile of the characters means we can have something a bit more complex. Here we have the couple seemingly acting with the same intentions, for once: with Mildred setting up the table for a barbecue, and George dressed as the chef, holding up a string of sausages. Mildred demonstrates her now-familiar low opinion of George’s manhood by cutting the links between the sausages, with George wincing at every cut, and Mildred giving him a knowing look. However, George spoils things by revving up his motorbike in the garden, causing mud to be splattered right up the tablecloth Mildred is holding, much to her indignation. George also comes a cropper when attempting to indulge in his now-notorious laziness, when the hammock he sets up comes away from its moorings, and brings part of the garden fence down, revealing the Fourmile’s peaceful family scene. Mildred throws her drinks to the side in despair.
By now, we are very aware of Mildred’s desire for children, something George has been either unwilling or unable to provide. Even if the couple didn’t have any fertility issues, it’s obvious from Mildred’s caustic references that George hasn’t made love to her enough to ensure conception, and now, of course, it’s really far too late. This issue was touched on as soon as the fourth episode of the first series, Baby Talk, where they apply to adopt a child, and are gently told that they’re too old. Yootha’s portrayal of a crushed Mildred is genuinely heart-rending, and she has to console herself with a new dog, Truffles, and by babysitting the Fourmile’s children.
Ah, Thames had some new video FX equipment in, did they? The idea of Mr and Mrs Roper nose-to-nose in profile is a reasonable one, as they’re known for their bickering as much as anything else, but the advent of the video-wipe isn’t reason enough for this boring sequence. It’s a shame, as Series 4 has the interesting Days of Beer and Rosie, where George thinks that he may have fathered a son during the Second World War.
The production team obviously realised the Series 4 titles failed, so we have what is effectively a retread of Series 2, albeit with the Fourmile family getting in their shiny new Volvo. George manages to show (inadvertently or not) his long-running feud with Geoffery Fourmile by showering him with mud when riding his motorbike past him, and his lack of consideration for his wife by letting an implausibly-large amount of water build up in the sidecar, which soaks her feet when the door is opened.
Even though the cast and production team were planning a sixth series (foiled by Yootha Joyce’s sudden death), this series seems a fitting end, especially as the episode The Last Straw features the Ropers attempting to find George’s old neighbourhood, after Mildred finally gets fed up with not being accepted at Hampton Wick. They find the houses replaced by tower blocks, and realise that they can’t go back. The titles do mirror the tone of the series: a re-tread of the same old ground, as amusing as it is, is probably a sign that the story has been told.