Morrissey once said that we hate it when our friends become successful - he may well have had Johnny Marr on his mind at the time - but I would contend that we hate it even more when our friends have more sex than us. How else to explain a sitcom like Man About The House, in which Robin Tripp (Richard O'Sullivan) takes the second bedroom in a flat already occupied by twentysomething girls, Jo (Sally Thomsett) and Chrissy (Paula Wilcox) only to find that life in a monastery would bring him more action. Combine that with the sexless marriage of the Ropers downstairs - being George and Mildred, who would later enjoy a starring role in a sitcom of their own - and Man About The House is a curiously coy comedy.
What with Man About The House being a British sitcom of the seventies, it really doesn't concern itself with much other than sex, which is where the oddness of the show becomes most noticeable. Richard O'Sullivan's character even makes this point in the opening episode, saying that it is now the swinging seventies - the age of permissiveness in which anything goes. There's even a rather daring mention of Andy Warhol's Flesh and Trash - daring in that it would have taken a particularly enlightened ITV audience to have even heard of these artfully experimental films - but despite Man About The House promising much, the full-length nightdresses of both Jo and Chrissy say as much as their crossed arms and disapproving looks do. What with Chrissy having told George Roper than Robin is, in her words, a poof and the stage is set for a comedy of rather limited sexual manners.
Of course, it all now looks rather safe but one suspects that at the time, Man About The House may well have been considered rather risque, particularly Robin's bedside light, which features a woman in a white dress that becomes see-through when lit. Were it to be remade by Channel 4 in 2005, it would no doubt feature much nude skulking by whichever favourite of the channel was considered suitable for the part. Although the thought of seeing Jimmy Carr's ample rear shining in the moonlight is more than an adequate amount of offending by mine eyes such that they ought to be concerned over an immediate plucking.
And plucking is just the kind of misheard word that causes the audience that was present at the recording of these episodes to almost die of apoplexy. Man About The House isn't an unfunny show but it hasn't aged particularly well either. As hinted at in this review's opening paragraph, sex is never far from the mind of any of the characters but like anyone you know who is as frustratingly obsessed with sex as Yootha Joyce's Mildred is here, you do wish they would just get laid and move on. And so it is with Man About The House as, by the fifth or sixth episode, you do wish for Chrissy or Jo to drunkenly fall into bed with Robin and have something other than the likelihood of sex to talk about. Yet, the ITV audiences must have enjoyed what is honest smut without any of the messy complications of actual sexual intercourse - lots of leering without ever actually knowing that Chrissy keeps her knickers on in bed or that Robin post-coitally scratches his testicles for minutes at a time. There were, as a result, six seasons of Man About The House before Robin moved on to Robin's Nest and the Ropers moved into a house of their own in George And Mildred.
But it's Paula Wilcox's Chrissy that deserves the plaudits in this first season, at least. Chrissy is a sassy and funny character and despite worrying about what her mother might think, she's by far the most charming member of the cast. Granted, the styles have moved on but where Jo's nice-but-awfully-dim character is so old-fashioned as to barely warrant a mention even in the most backward-looking of sitcoms, Chrissy could well have been included in almost any comedy from these past thirty years. Sadly, though, and unlike Chrissy's fashions, which, being boot-cut trousers and loose tops, appear to have come back into style, the men come off very much the worst. Unsurprisingly, George Roper sports the awful combover as once favoured by Bobby Charlton but, worse, is the facial hair modelled by Robin, which is almost an anti-goatee in which his sideburns only stop to allow television audiences to notice that his lips are indeed moving as he talks.
Of course, Man About The House ends as it begins - with Chrissy, Jo and Robin without a woman or men and having no more exciting a social life than an evening in The Mucky Duck with the Ropers. Such miseries being compounded upon other, lesser tragedies are what British sitcoms are made for and the audience for Man About The House must have been relieved that three young, reasonably attractive people sharing a flat had as little sex as the tired, dreary Ropers who lived downstairs from them. Jealousy can be a terrible, terrible burden.
Three's A Crowd (25m22s): Eleanor, one time flatmate of Chrissy and Jo, has gotten engaged and moved out leaving the two girls alone. On the eve of advertising for a new flatmate, they throw a party and wake up the next morning to find a strange man asleep in the bath. Said man, Robin Tripp, proves to be a dab hand in the kitchen and despite worrying about his roaming hands, ask him to move in. The landlord, George Roper, won't be so keen on the idea of a man moving in with two girls so she tells him, much to Robin's surprise, that Robin's gay.
And Mother Makes Four (24m23s): On a surprise shopping trip to London, Chrissy's mother calls to tell her that she'll be calling round later and is hoping to stay the night in Eleanor's old room. But today is the day that Robin moves in and rather than tell her mother than she and Jo are sharing their flat with a man, Chrissy hatches a plan to hide Robin from her mother by allowing him to sleep in their room. Robin, needless to say, is overjoyed.
Some Enchanted Evening (24m41s): Robin is trying to watch the football on television whilst Chrissy and Jo are planning the latter's romantic evening with her boyfriend, David. Chrissy persuades Robin, being the only one in the flat who can cook, to help Jo prepare a meal, after which he and Chrissy leave for the Ropers where they spend the evening playing Monopoly. But David, who's Jewish, is in for a surprise when he is presented with Robin's home cooked meal - ham and bacon paté followed by roast pork.
And Then There Were Two (25m58s): Jo announces that she's going to her sister's house for the weekend, which will leave Chrissy and Robin alone in the flat. Chrissy worries about this, believing that Robin fancies her and spends a nervous evening on the sofa before Robin leaves for a night in the pub with a mate. But when Robin returns with a girl, Jenny Hanley, Chrissy feels a little left out and sets out to spoil Robin's night.
It's Only Money (23m09s): The Ropers are due a month's rent but when Chrissy and Robin return home, they find the door to the flat as been left open and the money that they'd put aside for the rent has gone missing. So begins a desperate search for £80 to pay the Ropers, which takes in phone calls back home, a visit to the bank and Robin begging the landlord of The Mucky Duck for money, which nets him all of £1.
Match Of The Day (23m50s): Robin has been selected for the Technical College football team but a few days before the match, he spends the evening in The Mucky Duck with the cold-stricken George Roper. Come the day of the match, Robin feels terribly ill and Chrissy and Jo agree to look after him but stop short of a warming cuddle. After a visit from the doctor, though, Robin feels well enough to play but once on the field, realises that he might be better off had he stayed in bed - the ball is a funny shape for soccer!
No Children, No Dogs (24m21s): Robin calls round to a friend's house and accepts a dog as a gift but the Ropers are determined not to allow any animals into their house. That, of course, leaves Robin, Chrissy and Jo no option but to ensure that they never find out.
Whilst there appears to have been some remastering of the original episodes for this DVD release, there is still a lot of flaws with the image. In particular, whilst colour, contrast and sharpness are fine, there is much visible damage, including white spots, hairline scratches and a visibly shaky picture, particularly during the old Thames TV ident. The presentation could also have been better with the original cards for the end of part one/beginning of part two still included in each episode, as are the little pre-break signals in the top right-hand corner of the picture.
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.
Something involving Richard O'Sullivan, Sally Thomsett or Paula Wilcox would have been nice - a commentary, perhaps - but this release of Man About The House doesn't contain anything but the seven episodes listed earlier.
Again, with this review following those of Terry And June and It Ain't Half Hot, Mum, it's hard to see what the appeal of a show like this is now other than nostalgia. Certainly, Man About The House, to quote Morrissey once more, says nothing to me about my life and I suspect that it is so much of its time that few of its words and images will ring true for anyone else. After all, how many of us haven't lived in a mixed-sex house? It certainly isn't as daring a proposition now as Man About The House says it was in 1973 but, even then, I'm unconvinced that anyone cared either, least of all the parents of those doing the house-sharing. Most unlikely of all is that anyone pretended to be gay to prevent their housemates upsetting their families.
But, that said, there's nothing like an outrageous disconnection from reality with which to power a sitcom and Man About The House is no different. Sadly, though, it's not particularly funny and not even Paula Wilcox and Richard O'Sullivan's spirited performances can save it. Then again, looking to the male star of Me And My Girl to save a sitcom shows how misplaced one's hopes can be.