George & Mildred: The Complete First Series
In one of his least insightful moments during ITV's fiftieth birthday celebrations, Melvyn Bragg suggested that the absence of sitcoms in ITV's schedule has less to do with the lack of material and much more to do with audiences finding comedy within such reality television shows as I'm A Celebrity... and Celebrity Love Island. Someone less wary of biting the hand that feeds them, such as I, would contend that not only was Bragg's critical faculties lost within ITV's birthday celebrations but that he was stumbling over a poor excuse for ITV's equally poor showing in situation comedy in recent times.
The shame of it is that ITV were once the equal of the BBC but in seeking to make their comedy as distinctive as much of their other programming, they carved out a particular style of production. It was both less aspirational than the sitcoms of the BBC as well as reflecting a grittier, more down-at-heel section of the population, which well suited those not interested in the BBC's cosy comedies. Where one offered The Good Life, the other had Rising Damp. And, where the BBC had Terry And June, ITV had George And Mildred, two comedies that, although superficially having much in common, they are as different as the middle and working classes of a pre-Thatcherite era.
It is clearly class that distinguishes the two comedies, as much in their dialogue as in what goes unsaid. Where the Medfords were undeniably middle-class, George and Mildred Roper were clearly of the working classes despite Mildred's aspirations. Terry is a member of the local golf club, he keeps a decanter of sherry in his living room, he dines on the patio in summer and he holidays abroad. George keeps pigeons, drinks mild at his local, will stop for a fish'n'chip of an evening and keeps a caravan in his front garden. Even were they never to venture from their front room, it would be possible to ascertain the differences between them - Terry and June's sofa is a beautiful pastel colour whilst George and Mildred's is a rather nasty patterned settee that, you suspect, has ketchup and lager stains on the arm nearest the television.
This comparison also reveals the problems within George And Mildred and why it is not as gently effective a sitcom as its opposite number on the BBC. Where the Medfords were satisfied with their place in life - both Terry and June looked content to see out their days until retirement with only Terry's meddling in the affairs of others causing much wringing of hands - the Ropers worry with the very best of those much, much younger than them, fretting about their middle-class neighbours, about a new job, about an unruly new pet and about Mildred feeling broody. That last one alone should hint at the main flaw in George And Mildred, in that, far too often, it appears to have been written for a much younger couple. The writers, Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, had just finished Man About The House when it was decided to spinoff a sitcom about that show's landlord and his wife. On the evidence of this first season, Mortimer and Cooke don't appear to have quite realised that they are no longer writing for the youthful Chrissy, Jo or Robin. Mildred, for example, looks to have already seen off the menopause some years before moving into the suburban house that she occupies in this season so I'm baffled as to why she should be feeling broody. Similarly, her efforts to improve her social standing would be understandable in someone twenty years younger than she and George but with the latter looking as though retirement, and not a promotion, is beckoning, you can't help but feel that she's left it all a little too late. George is, I expect, the type of man who can't quite close his dressing gown tightly enough on the morning after a long night spent in his local boozer so the aspirations of his wife, who uses her telephone voice much more than she ought to, are quite odd, as though, much too late, she has realised that she's married the wrong man.
Of course, it is this contrast between George and Mildred as well as that between the Ropers and their well-to-do neighbours, the Fourmiles, that is at the root of this show and occasionally it's quite a funny piece of comedy. It's best, though, when George actually makes an effort to remain resolutely working class in the face of Jeffrey Fourmiles' middle class posing and, at times, it's genuinely funny but never quite funny enough and certainly not enough to sustain the ten episodes here. It is simply much too long and had the entire series been reduced to six episodes, it would be much more effective.
Sorry, Melvyn, but how ever you put it, the glory days of ITV's sitcoms are well behind them and although George And Mildred might not be particularly good, they were part of an era of comedy on ITV that has long since passed. Not very funny but better than Joe Pasquale eating beetles.
Moving On (25m34s): With Chrissy, Jo and Robin having vacated the flat upstairs and the council having issued them with a compulsory purchase order before the building of a new flyover, Mildred Roper thinks that it's time they moved upmarket and into suburbia but George, who's a confirmed member of the working class, isn't so sure. As they look at a house, George finds their new neighbours, the well-to-do Fourmiles, agree with him.
The Bad Penny (23m04s): The Ropers move into their new home, much to Jeffrey Fourmiles' displeasure, and Mildred sets about improving her standing within suburbia, including ordering George to have his second bath of the month. As George and Mildred receive an invite to the Fourmiles for tea with some prominent guests, George gets locked in the bathroom and is only able to attend by shimmying down the drainpipe in his dressing gown.
...And Women Must Weep (25m45s): George finds that the age of equality has come even to his home when he and Mildred apply for the same job and his wife is offered it. Domestic chaos ensues as Mildred expects not only a cooked breakfast every morning but also her tea on the table when she arrives home.
Baby Talk (25m19s): Showing some faith in their neighbours, the Fourmiles ask Mildred to babysit their son, Tristram, but it leaves her feeling broody. She convinces George to look at adopting a child but know that they are both too old despite Mildred lying on the application form. In a final show of devotion to his wife, George finds that it's not too late for he and Mildred to have own of their own...albeit it a furry, four-legged one.
Your Money Or Your Life (25m35s): After attending the funeral of a relative, Mildred discovers that George has no life assurance policy, which terrifies her given the overwhelming price of funerals. To prepare for their future, Mildred takes out an insurance policy on George, who suddenly finds that he's worth more dead than alive.
Where My Caravan Has Rested (25m27s): What with awful in-laws being a staple of the British sitcom, George and Mildred are honour-bound to have Mildred's sister and her husband come to stay. George, though, is busy selling his car and, with the money, buys a caravan that, to the Fourmiles' disgust, he parks on the front lawn. As his in-laws stay longer than George would have liked them to, he moves into the caravan. Unfortunately for George, Jeffrey has agreed with Webb's Breakers and Scrap Dealers to have it towed away.
The Little Dog Laughed (): What was a romantic gesture at the end of Baby Talk has become a matter of George asserting his place at the head of the household when he feels pangs of jealousy at the amount of time that Mildred spends with her puppy. Having 'accidentally' lost the puppy, George tries replacing Truffles with one that looks similar but, like Greg Focker, finds that the truth will out.
Best Foot Forward (23m24s): Claims Direct would have been overjoyed to have been on the Roper's list of most-used numbers as George threatens to sue Jeffrey Fourmiles on account of him breaking his leg thanks, as he sees it, to Fourmiles moving the ladder on which he was standing. Oh yes, that and not treating him very well. Which, much like George, is not expected to stand up in court particularly well.
My Husband Next Door (25m16s): The Fourmiles leave for a holiday and ask the Ropers to look after their house for them. George, of course, uses the opportunity to enjoy the Fourmiles' colour television but when Mildred decides to get her living-room redecorated by professionals, George confuses them and they strip the expensive wallpaper from the walls of the Fourmiles' living-room, leaving George to repair the damage.
Family Planning (26m01s): The mother-in-law...the very thing to make one wish for an alternative comedian with a long list of jokes about Thatch! In a fitting final episode, Mildred's mother visits but Mildred decides that she's now too old to look after herself and puts her in a home. George, though, invites her to stay in their home much to Mildred's surprise. But he can't be serious, can he?
Much like the simultaneous release of Man About The House, there are flaws in the image including spots and scratches but these seem to be largely absent from the episodes, appearing in the Thames TV indent instead. Otherwise, it looks acceptable but not terribly attractive. The audio track is in the original mono and there's nothing really to note, other than to say it serves its purpose perfectly well. There are, however, no subtitles on any of the episodes.
Although Yootha Joyce died in August 1980, Brian Murphy is still alive and working - he has been in Last Of The Summer Wine in recent years as well as ITV's The Booze Cruise in 2003 - so it's a shame that he wasn't asked to contribute a commentary or two. In the end, this release contains nothing but the ten episodes over two discs.
ITV sitcoms of the era in which George And Mildred was made can be defined as depicting a part of the world in which you would never want to live. On the contrary, you might yearn for the gentle pulse of suburbia in The Good Life or from the relaxed snoozing of the village in which Last Of The Summer Wine is set but no one could ever say they would want to live near to George and Mildred. As for living with Rigsby in the house in which Rising Damp was set, the stomach turns at the thought.
No, ITV was upfront in suggesting that there were really quite dreadful places in the country, which was actually reassuring. Wherever you were, at least you weren't paying Rigsby a handful of pounds, shillings and pence each week to live in his grotty house, and this is somewhat similar. Good or bad your neighbours might be but unless you're particularly unlucky, they won't have a caravan parked in their driveway. Such feelings of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I has helped defined ITV sitcoms but, such as they were, they have now passed.
DVD is, therefore, the perfect way to remember such shows and although this one isn't perfect - the transfer is not particularly good and the complete absence of extras does it no favours - it may be good enough should you wish to watch, once again, the battle of barely-there wits between the Ropers and the Fourmiles. It would all be done better elsewhere but this isn't bad...isn't at all great either but isn't bad.