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A True Classic and a National Treasure
on 14 February 2006
Peter Tinniswood was a huge loss when he died a couple of years ago. His vision was unique, and his approach to characters and story was unique. He was inimitable, and wisely no one has even tried to imitate him. All of which makes the long overdue appearance of these programmes hugely welcome and important.
In the first episode (presumably the pilot), some of the performers seem not quite to have got to grips with the style of the writing. They play it as if it's a more conventional kind of comedy, with the result that they sometimes seem to be trying a bit too hard, a bit theatrical, and unconfident. But with the second episode they shift beautifully into gear; they quickly find the measure of the writing (which truly is poetic, in the sense that it has a rightness which means you couldn't change a word), and learn to trust it.
The studio audience doesn't really help, it has to be said. Some of the best-performed scenes are the filmed ones, where the absence of an audience means the cast aren't tempted into playing for laughs, and where the rhythm of the writing isn't unhelpfully broken up by them. This isn't yuk-yuk comedy. Many of the best lines get no audience reaction at all, but that doesn't mean they aren't still sublimely funny.
All of this makes it a great disappointment to have to dock a star for the DVD's presentation. I've no quibble with a lack of extras, and I can just about put up with the BBC's all too frequently dismal (or non-existent) documentation, but surely there is no excuse whatever for the disastrously inadequate DVD menu?
But do get this DVD anyway. If the overused word 'Classic' has any meaning left, this is one. (And don't hold your breath for an on-air repeat: with programmes as old as this, it's rarely the BBC that's to blame for not scheduling them; it's almost always to do with the artists' contracts. Ironically, because videos and DVDs weren't even thought of at the time, it's easier for them to be issued in this way than for them to be re-broadcast.)