The first episode of Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcom pilots of all time.1 And for at least the next four series, Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. This is for so many reasons, all of which is worth an article in itself, but put simply: my favourite thing about the show is that it’s the perfect mix of everything. Every single kind of comedy I love is embedded into its soul. A show that doesn’t sneer at broad comedy, yet includes moments of amazing subtlety. It knows the magic is in the blend of the two.
Recently, BBC Two have started another repeat run of the show in their Afternoon Classics slot. I’ve long meant to do a full comparison of these broadcast versions of the show compared to my DVD copy – which fully admits on the back that “for contractual reasons certain edits have been made”. I was mainly expecting just the odd music change – but actually, the changes have ended up being rather more interesting than I ever imagined, and for the the pilot at least, actually ask rather more questions of the broadcast repeat than of the DVD.
Let’s take a look, shall we? Just to clarify, the two versions we are comparing are:
- The pilot broadcast as part of Afternoon Classics on BBC Two, Monday 22nd August at 14:30, and
- The pilot released on DVD by Playback as part of this three-DVD set in March 2003.
Neither of these versions, you will note, is what was actually transmitted originally on the 1st January 1980. So, which version is closest to that original edit? We can perhaps make an educated guess about that later.
All times given are for the DVD version of the episode, so even if you didn’t record the repeat broadcast version, you can skip to see exactly where the changes are. Cut dialogue in the repeat broadcast version is like this.
(00:45) On-screen episode title added on the DVD version. Which would be more palatable if they’d at least tried to match the font with what was used elsewhere in the programme. This also makes things more confusing than just leaving well alone, as there is an episode in Series 6 called “Hey Diddle Diddle, Who’s on the Fiddle?”
(02:40) Just before Mrs. Fairbrother says “She had a lascivious look on her face…”, a few frames are shaved off the repeat broadcast version, to remove the tail end of an accidental crash zoom.
(04:38) A short exchange deleted from the repeat broadcast, with Spike and Ted on the train:
TED: Now, how are your ears?
SPIKE: My ears?
TED: Yes! Don’t forget you get thrown in the pool about four times a day. You’ve got to keep the fun going. If ever there’s a bit of a lull, I’ll pick an argument with you and throw you in the pool. Never fails. Gets belters. Don’t forget to come out laughing. The British public love a good sport. As long as you haven’t got dodgy ears.
SPIKE: No, no, my ears are alright.
TED: Comic we had last year had bad ears. Couldn’t do any pool, we were hamstrung.
SPIKE: Hey – I could wear earplugs.
TED: That’s no good. You wouldn’t be able to hear me pick the argument!
(06:54) Three seconds of Spike closing the door as the old couple board the train removed from the repeat broadcast version. This didn’t stand out to me as being especially slow on the DVD, but the repeat version is definitely the smoother edit here.
(10:58) As Ted and Spike enter their chalet, the repeat broadcast removes some dialogue:
TED: This is it. I always have this one because the electric terminal’s outside – and I can hook up me cooker.
Ted sets his cooker down.
TED: There we are. Snug as a bug in a rug. Cheese-on-toast, half a dozen brown ales and a couple of birds and we’re home and dry.
SPIKE: It’s quite homely, innit?
Ted opens the wardrobe.
TED: This is your half of the cupboard, and that’s my half. And that’s your bed, and that’s mine.
SPIKE: You’ve even got curtains at the windows.
TED: Aye. And they draw.
Ted reaches for the curtain… which falls to the floor.
TED: We’ll have to pinch some rings. They knock ’em off, you know. I’ll knock some off that bloomin’ university professor. We’ll have his soap and all.
It’s rather a shame this dialogue was cut, as it nicely continues the running gag from the previous scene where Peggy tells Jeffrey about the campers repeatedly knocking things off. Also, it seems rather a shame to lose material establishing Spike in his new home.
(15:41) A tiny trim on the repeat broadcast version, to the first scene with Ted and Fred Quilley:
FRED: Horses? You don’t call those blasted things horses, do you? They’re chuck-outs from the Express Dairies. They have to tiptoe past the glue factory. I got the best one. Called ‘Flight’. And he came from the rag-and-bone man. If you want him to trot, you don’t say “Gee up!”, you say “RAG’N’BONE! RAG’N’BONE!” Blasted camels the lot of them, camels, mate.
TED: Not your style, eh, Fred? Fred’s used to riding the finest horse in the field. And pulling it.
This strikes me as a particularly odd edit. It saves virtually no time, and the cut line isn’t badly delivered or technically sub-par.
(16:53) The repeat broadcast version has a small trim at the end of the scene where we first meet Barry and Yvonne:
YVONNE: Barry! What are you doing?
BARRY: It’s not me. You’ve got your weight on the wrong foot you silly cow. It’s like dancing with an all-in wrestler.
YVONNE: Well, you’ve more experience of that kind of thing than I have.
GLADYS: [over Tannoy] Will all entertainment staff please report to the office. Straightaway, please.
BARRY: Come on. We’re wanted.
YVONNE: I do wish they wouldn’t shout for us over the Tannoy. It’s so common.
(22:26) A short section cut in the repeat broadcast version from Ted’s welcome to the campers:
TED: Hello lads and lasses. Hi-de-hi!
TED: Ted can’t hear ya! Hi-de-hi!
TED: Once more for Ted! Hi-de-hi!
TED: My name’s Ted Bovis and I’m your camp host. And when I say camp, don’t get the wrong idea Mrs. Woman, there’s nothing like that about me.
(34:13) After Ted and Spike wish each other goodnight after lights out, there’s a clunky audio edit between the audience laughter and applause at the end of the scene on the DVD edit. The repeat broadcast version smooths this over.
(35:24) Three seconds snipped from the shot where the old couple walk into Jeffrey’s chalet on the repeat broadcast version. This is an extremely good edit, as it removed a rather obvious continuity error – in the DVD version, Gladys opens the door to the chalet once in the location shot, and then opens it again when it cuts to the studio!
Now, as I said at the start of this article, neither of the versions I’ve viewed here is an off-air of the original broadcast of the pilot in 1980. But we can perhaps take a guess at which version is the closest; and I think the tell-tale sign is the removal of the crash zoom. This smacks of a tidied up edit, done way after the episode was first aired – Are You Being Served? seemed to have some re-edits in 1998, and this feels very much in that vein. Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure without access to some original paperwork… which might be doable at some point. But I’d be willing to put money on the DVD version – albeit without that opening caption – being far closer to what was originally transmitted 36 years ago.
And that’s your lot. Except… it isn’t. Because the biggest changes between the DVD and the repeat broadcast version of the pilot aren’t listed above. There’s no other way of putting it: the repeat broadcast has added audience laughter. This isn’t just a case of tweaking levels, laughs are present in the repeat broadcast that absolutely are not on the DVD edit. Not just in one or two places either; the show is smothered in it.
It’s there when Jeffrey says the Dean is still under sedation; it’s there when Marty Storm reveals his new name; it’s there when Yvonne accuses Barry of sleeping with wrestlers; it’s there when Ted tells organist Hilda to “hit it”; it’s there when Gladys tells Jeffrey he’s “wonderful” with pie all over his face; it’s there as Ted says the final line of the episode. Throughout the entire show, the real studio audience laughter has been sweetened with additional fake laughs.
I did attempt to note every instance of added laughter; however, there’s so much of it that a full list would be pretty pointless. I thought a few audio examples wouldn’t go amiss, however:
Of course, all this brings up all kinds of questions about the veracity of laugh tracks in comedy, which is well outside the scope of this article. I would simply point out two things, however. Firstly, not all the added laughter is even appropriate – the biggest example of which is in the ‘Boring’ clip above. That moment simply doesn’t suit the reaction it gets in the repeat broadcast version… because it isn’t really a joke. It’s a serious character moment wrapped up in a wry comment.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly – the pilot of Hi-de-Hi! in the DVD edit is not short on laughs. This isn’t some poorly-received show. It gets belters. The idea that you need to add more laughs on it is thoroughly ridiculous. I highly suspect the sweetening of the laugh track was done years ago, alongside the tidying-up edits above, but it’s a bit of a shame that this has ended up being the current broadcast version of the show.
So, that’s the pilot. I started off looking for music edits – and ended up with the rather strange tale above. Join me next time, as we tackle the series proper…
Along with ‘Allo ‘Allo!, You Rang, M’Lord?, Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and… hang on, there’s some kind of link here that I can’t quite put my finger on. ↩