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Good adaptation but search out the book
on 3 March 2013
This DVD has attracted polarised reviews; I think I understand why. Fans of other Arthur Lowe sitcoms may have been disappointed to find that this is something altogether gentler which would have been ruined by an audience: it's not about belly laughs but wry chuckles. Accept that, and the fact it dates from the time when sitcoms were shot on video, and there's quite a lot to savour.
That said, I do think some of the slapstick moments are a little bit clumsily handled: books obviously dropped rather than knocked out of Arthur Lowe's hand, for example.
And fans of H.F. Ellis already primed to expect something in a lower key than other Arthur Lowe vehicles may have their own reservations for different reasons. I remember watching and quite enjoying this when it came out in the mid eighties, but feeling that it didn't quite live up to HF Ellis's original pieces, which can be found in several collections (Faber have recently reissued The Papers of A. J. Wentworth, B.A.).
The trouble is that in print Wentworth is the narrator: we see things from his point of view and have the fun of imagining how others react to him. As with Diary of a Nobody, an adaptation can't quite supply the same thing: we've got the people in front of us and our hero is suddenly a little more buffoonish.
Nevertheless, this is probably as well realised as it could be - and certainly Harry Andrews as the Squid (the headmaster of Burgrove) well deserves his status as co-star, hinting at suppressed giggles each time A.J. tries to explain his latest mishap. The actor playing Gilbert isn't given that much to do but you do buy his affection for A.J. The schoolboy actors are okay, not great. It passes the time most agreeably, and it doesn't deserve the opprobrium heaped on it by some reviewers, but essentially it's an homage to the original pieces, not a replacement for them.