It has to be admitted that nice comments about Come Back Mrs. Noah – Lloyd and Croft’s 70s sitcom about a spacebound housewife – are rather thin on the ground. Having just watched the pilot episode on YouTube, I honestly don’t think it’s quite as bad as its reputation, although doing a racist joke about Notting Hill six minutes into the episode does push your goodwill rather. And the less said about the tea maker gag the better.
But enough about that. I want to highlight something interesting about that pilot, which is an effects technique I’ve never seen before. It takes place in Mission Control, where the ground crew are trying to sort out the fault with the spacecraft. And we get these two consecutive shots of the monitoring equipment they’re using to troubleshoot the fault:
Clearly, there was only one source available for the yellow overlay oscilloscope effect, but they wanted to show it from two separate angles. The solution? They designed things so the same overlay effect would work for each shot, despite the two shots being entirely different!
You can see it in action here:
It may look a little odd to modern eyes, but it’s a really clever, thinking-outside-the-box solution. You can’t do two different effects? Then make sure your single effect works from two angles.
Today, I want to talk about It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Not the sad death of Windsor Davies, or whether the programme is racist1. This is Dirty Feed, and I have higher things in mind.
The show premiered in January 1974 on BBC1 with a first series of eight episodes.2 The first episode, however, was a true pilot, recorded a full year before air, and separately from the other seven episodes. David Croft’s autobiography, You Have Been Watching…, p. 196:
“The first pilot programme in January 1973 went very well with the studio audience and featured probably the smallest riot ever experienced by the British in India. There was no room in the studio for a proper full-scale riot mob, and we couldn’t afford one anyway. I made do with about ten shadowy figures in the foreground, but the result didn’t bear examination.3 I was present at the odd riot in India and they are extremely frightening affairs. Police and troops are usually heavily outnumbered and very scared, so ghastly mistakes can easily happen. The remainder of the show was a good pilot and served to introduce the characters and the general thrust of the plots, as any pilot should.”
Despite being shot at a different time to the rest of the series, there really are very few differences between that pilot episode Meet the Gang, and the rest of Series 1. But there is one major change: the closing titles. In the pilot, the gang song is all shot on VT in the studio. For the rest of Series 1, it was completely remounted on film.
Odd, because unused TV idents aren’t exactly the kind of thing the Radio Times usually writes about. I mean, I’d love it if it was, but let’s face it: the only reason this article was published is because it’s about Dad’s Army, a sitcom everyone is still obsessed over, despite the fact that It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi!, and You Rang, M’Lord? are all much better.
Enough of my irritating opinions on comedy. I’m here to give some irritating opinions on TV presentation instead. Let’s take a look at the rejected ident in question:
I mean, it’s beautiful. Really beautiful. Very nicely animated, and the inclusion of the Isle of Wight on the 2 really sells it as what it’s supposed to be. In and of itself as a standalone thing, it’s one of the best pieces of TV presentation I’ve seen for ages. It’s clearly made with a tremendous amount of love and respect for the show.
It wouldn’t have worked as an ident in front of Dad’s Army. Not even remotely.
You could perhaps query the inclusion of Nazi symbols on a piece of TV presentation, but that’s not my main problem with it. Nor is my problem covered in the reason the BBC gave for rejecting it:
“Ultimately, however, the BBC decided not to use the homage to those original opening credits. “They said some very nice things about it and it was clearly something that was under discussion for some time,” continues Norton. “However, they told us that they wanted to move away from content-specific idents on BBC2 and wanted more general idents that could serve all programmes across the channel.”
Here’s my problem with it: stop thinking of the proposed ident as a nice standalone piece of video, and start thinking of how it actually would have been used, in front of an episode of Dad’s Army. Just imagine the ident running, the announcer talking over it, introducing the episode… and then going into the actual title sequence, which looks identical. It would be such a weird, jarring repetition of what you’d just seen. Something which looks utterly magical in isolation, would look naff when used in context.1
Linear television is more than just individual elements, slammed next to each other. What the viewer has just seen impacts on what they’re just about to see. And as the various parts of television get ever-more siloed off, seeing the big picture of what is transmitted when everything gets put together becomes more and more difficult. It’s vital that this overview is protected, and strengthened, across all of television.
Otherwise, you don’t just end up with the oddity of seeing a pastiche of a title sequence followed by the real title sequence. You end up with idents accidentally mocking the dead.
The original version posted on the animator’s own YouTube account is even worse – it has the Dad’s Army theme dubbed over it. So you’d be going from the Dad’s Army theme… straight into the Dad’s Army theme again. ↩
So, here we are. After looking at the pilot, Series 1, and Series 2 through 5, we reach the conclusion of our series of articles comparing Hi-de-Hi! as released on DVD, and the version repeated on BBC Two last year. Unfortunately, we run into a little bit of a problem.
Throughout the whole rest of the show – the entire Dempster run, in fact – the two versions are absolutely identical. Sure, one episode wasn’t shown, as detailed below, but every single other episode had precisely no edits made to it whatsoever. Which even for Dirty Feed, leaves us with a bit of a damp squib of an ending.
In an attempt to save this piece from being an entire waste of time then, I have a few other notes on the remaining episodes of the series…
What an excellent time for BBC One to broadcast an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. True, it was done in tribute to Gorden Kaye who died on Monday, but it feels like this was a good week to laugh at some Nazis.
However, you know me by now. Ignore the laughter, or moral truths, we all know why we’re really here. “Oh, I wonder whether there have been any edits made to the show…” And blow my chickens up, there has been. To clarify then, here’s the two versions of the episode Pigeon Post I’m comparing:
The version Playback released on DVD in Region 2 way back in August 2002, with a duration of 31’39”.
In other words, the version broadcast by BBC One on Wednesday is 2’43” shorter than the version on DVD.
Without either an off-air of the very original broadcast or paperwork to hand1, we’re left with a bit of guesswork – but I think we can work out what happened with reasonable certainty. The longer version on DVD is probably the original broadcast (aside from the episode title caption), and the episode broadcast on Wednesday is a cut-down version for repeat transmission to fit a standard slot – which I suspect is the version the BBC have been showing for years.2
Let’s see what’s missing, shall we? Cuts to the repeat broadcast are indicated like this.
At some point, I’ll go down to the BBC Written Archives and hopefully be able to clarify some of these articles. ↩
It’s on record that David Croft was meddling with Are You Being Served? in the 90s to tighten up the episodes for the repeats, so it wouldn’t surprise me if these edits to ‘Allo ‘Allo were done at roughly the same time. ↩
YVONNE: Something will have to be done about Ted’s act. He’s getting positively revolting. BARRY: Tonight he did the one about the two sailors and the gruyère cheese, followed that with the midget and the giraffe… and finished up with the one about the curate and the cucumber. Then in the same breath he introduced us, and we had to go straight on and do our Spring in Park Lane fantasy waltz. Well, Yvonne was in tears. I was so embarrassed I didn’t know where to put my face, let alone my feet. YVONNE: He was distraught, Mr. Fairbrother. And let’s face it, Barry’s the last person in the world you could call po-faced. JEFFREY: Yes, I do know what you mean. He was very near the knuckle tonight. GLADYS: He’s been getting worse. JEFFREY: To be fair on Ted, I think the audience eggs him on. He gets carried away. YVONNE: A good comedian does not have to resort to filth and lewd innuendo. BARRY: With Ted, it isn’t even innuendo. He says it.
– Hi-de-Hi!, “It’s a Blue World”
Good morning, campers. On we go, with our comparison of the 2000s DVD release of Hi-de-Hi! and its repeat this year on BBC Two afternoons. Previously, we took a look at the pilot. Then we investigated Series 1. This time, we manage to examine the whole of Series 2, 3, 4 and 5 – taking us right to the end of the Jeffrey Fairbrother years.
And in the middle of all this, we discover a moment where Hi-de-Hi! doesn’t even indulge in innuendo. It goes right out and says it.
As ever, the exact two versions we are comparing are:
One thing which is immediately apparent is that as the series progresses, there are fewer and fewer different edits of the programme – indeed, many episodes are identical. Only the episodes with differences are listed here. All timings given are from the DVD version.
JEFFREY: Hello campers. Hi-de-hi. CAMPERS: Ho-de-ho. JEFFREY Yes folks. This is a big one. One of the high spot… lights of the week. Holiday Princess competition. Now now Dads put down your binoculars. Hi-de-hi. CAMPERS: Ho-de-ho. TED: Get him off, somebody. JEFFREY: And here to act as your Master of Ceremonies is your friend… and indeed he’s my friend as well… Ted Bovis.
– Hi-de-Hi!, “The Beauty Queen Affair”
With an introduction like that, this article can’t fail to disappoint. I’m afraid the Holiday Princess competition is nowhere to be seen. Instead, let’s get back into our series of articles looking at the differences between the DVD release of Hi-de-Hi!, and the recent BBC Two Afternoon Classics run of the show. Last time: the pilot. This time: Series 1, in all its “one of the best series of a sitcom ever made” glory.
To recap, then. The two versions of the programme we are comparing are:
Off we go. Cut sections are detailed like this, though take note of exactly which edit they are cut from – this time round, both the DVD and the broadcast versions have different sections removed. All times given are from the DVD.
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:
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.
With David Croft’s death earlier this year, there has been much talk of how his shows proved that audience sitcom works best if, y’know, it’s actually about something. (You may have thought that was fairly obvious, but hey, it’s a start.) Indeed, one of my favourite sitcom episodes of all time is It Ain’t Half Hot Mum‘s final episode in 1981, The Last Roll Call, which deals with demobilisation – a weighty topic which people used to trust audience sitcom with at one point.