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Open All Hours - Ronnie Barker

A classic comedy which, for me, is still as good today as when it was made

Introduction

This stated out as an episode in a series called Seven of One. All seven programmes were a different sort of pilot episode all of which stared Ronnie Barker. Of these seven episodes two were made into full series. Open all hours and Porridge.

I have always felt that to call Ronnie Barker a comedian simply does not do him justice. He is an excellent character actor who can play both straight and comedy roles with equal success.

In 2004 Open All Hours came 8th in a BBC poll of the 100 best British sitcoms.

I bought the full set on DVD and this is the full set of the 4 series of this BBC comedy which also includes the original pilot episode.

The three main cast members

open-all-hours-ronnie-barker

Cast and Premise

Premise:

Set in a Yorkshire town around a typical (or atypical – depending on your view) corner shop run by Albert Arkwright, a miser with a stammer who has only two loves – money and the local district nurse in that order. Arkwright will stop at nothing to get those who come into his shop spending – even bend the truth or frankly tell lies to get them to spend big.

Other than running the shop and chasing the nurse Arkwright is determined to turn his nephew, Granville, into a skinflint just like him as well as stop him having any fun at all.


Main Cast:

Arkwright (Ronnie Barker): owns and runs a small, rather dingy, overpriced corner shop where all who enter will be encouraged if not forced to spend. With his man eating till and miserly ways when he gets hold of your money it is unlikely to see the light of day again.

Granville (David Jason): Arkwright rather down trodden nephew wants to escape and live a little but escaping from the shop is only slightly harder than escaping from Alcatraz. More kindly than his uncle but still a bit of a dreamer.

Nurse Gladys Emmanuelle (Lynda Barron): The object of Arkwright’s affections is determined to develop his spending muscle. Gladys is constantly exasperated with Arkwright and is one of the few not to fall for his tall tales about his stock.


Secondary main cast:


Mrs Blewett (series 1-2 Kathy Staff): One of Arkwright’s regular customers in the first two series fond of a gossip sometimes slightly oblivious to being overcharged by Arkwright. Sometimes, however, if looks could kill Mrs Blewett would be serving life imprisonment.

Mrs Featherstone (Series 3-4 Stephanie Cole): AKA The Black Widow. Became the regular female customer in series 3-4 like Arkwright she does not like spending money and has a look that could sour milk if you were to bump into her keep one eye on her umbrella, OUCH! – too late.

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My thoughts on it

This remains one of my all-time favourite British comedy series. It is well written and proves you don’t need to be vulgar or use foul language to make something funny. This series comes down to wit and the comic timing of both Barker and Jason.

Ronnie Barker is simply a joy to watch in this (or in anything really). Whilst some of the humour is a little dated and perhaps a tad non-PC it still stands up well. The ‘we serve you’ style of shop is rather old fashioned but fits well with Arkwright’s old world view of things. The use of the corner shop as the main setting works well as it shows that this kind of shop was one of the vital parts of the local community in a small town where the shop keeper knew his regular customers by name.

Arkwright’s way with money does remind me of someone who used to run a greengrocer’s close to where my gran used to live. He would work it all out on bits of paper then always round down prices to the nearest 5p. So if he said it was £3.58 he would say – let’s call it £3.55. What most of his customers didn’t know was that he always stuck 5p onto the price before he said what it was.

Ronnie has the stammer he uses in this part down almost to perfection just as the glint in the eye and the rubbing of the hands when he thinks he can sell someone something. As others have said of him unless you knew the parts of Arkwright and Fletcher (from Porridge) were both played by him you could believe they were different actors such is the skill of Barker as a character actor.

Both David Jason and Lynda Baron also have their parts down well and are not just being seen as supporting cast members to Barker nor simply foils to his miserly ways. Jason as the rather down trodden nephew does have some of the best lines in a couple of the episodes and Baron as the long suffering engaged to be engaged fiancée to Arkwright is happy to join in Granville’s occasional joke at Arkwright’s expense. Whilst both Kathy Staff and Stephanie Cole have only minor parts in the series they play the older tough as old boots northern battle axe well.

It is obvious that all the main cast are enjoying acting in the series and sometime when they start to laugh you don’t really know whether that reaction was scripted or not.

The best prop has got to be the rather vicious till which is rather outdated even for when the series is set but as soon as the cash draw gets the slightest touch it snaps shut so fast it could have your fingers off. Then we have the door to the shop which has more locks and bolts on it than Fort Knox.

Due to the age of the series the colour does appear to be a little washed out but considering the series was made between 1976 and 1985 I think we can forgive them this. I actually think this somewhat washed out look does in some way add to the series. Also there are 9 years between the first and fourth series now this does help explain why the cast do appear to get older during the run. However, with long gaps between each series it did help the series not to become stale.

The series does come with subtitles which I have seen have been distinctly lacking in some DVDs of older series.

DVD extras

The original pilot episode:

How it began as part of the series 7 of 1.

This is rarely shown on TV in the UK but I have never understood why. One major difference is that in the pilot the part of Nurse Gladys is played by Sheila Brennan rather than Lynda Baron. Here Gladys is portrayed as having a much harder personality which possibly would not have worked long term. Also during the pilot we see a young boy come into the shop, this part is played by one of Barker’s sons.

New series

The BBC brought some old comedy series back in 2016 for a celebration of 60 years of TV sitcoms with a set of one off episodes. Amongst them were Porridge, Are You Being Served and Open all Hours.

Now the one off of 'Are You Being Served' was so awful it will hopefully never see the light of day again. It was badly written, badly cast and badly acted. It went from the harmless double entendre to just smut.

The one off of Porridge did slightly better and one series of 7 episodes was made. This had Kevin Bishop in the role of Nigel Fletcher. Who is the grandson of Ronnie Barker's character in the original series.

However, the one off of 'Open All Hours' was picked up and is now its own series called 'Still open All Hours'. With David Jason, still as Granville, as the shop's owner, having inherited it from his uncle. Granville has picked up some of his uncles penny pinching habits. This series has been successful and is now in its 6th series but, in my opinion, it is not as good as the original as Jason, even being the very gifted actor he is, just can't carry off the miser character like Barker could.

Updates

This is a short update after the sad news of the death of Lynda Baron.

She will be missed and it was a pitty she wasn't in more series of Still Open All Hours.

RIP Lynda.

© 2020 mikec1978

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