Exams are over. Which means I am back, and I thought I would start this year in a similar way to how I finished last year, talking about new BBC comedies. This time around, as the title suggests, I will be discussing ‘Still Open All Hours’.
The BBC decided to give the classic comedy ‘Open All Hours’, which stared Ronnie Barker as ‘Arkwright’ the owner of a local corner shop and his nephew ‘Granville’ portrayed by David Jason, a reboot. The show ran for 4 series between 1976 and 1985, and it was very much a product of its time. Therefore, some of the content that was fine then would, these days, definitely be classed as being, at the very least, on the edge of what is acceptable. Anyway, back to the point. Ronnie Barker is at his best here, and personally I much prefer ‘Open All Hours’ to ‘Porridge’ (an earlier, very successful, Barker project).
Barker manages to make an almost perfect blend of both physical and verbal comedy as the tight Arkwright bumbles from sales push to sales push (including a tastefully done speech impediment. It sounds stupid to say tastefully done as I don’t have a stammer, but when doing a bit of background research I found out that suffers had sent letters to the late Mr. Barker stating this). He’s brilliantly accompanied by David Jason’s unwilling errand boy ‘Granville’, and the two have a great on screen chemistry, giving great performance which means long running gags like the terrifying “Killer Till” are still funny, time after time. By combining the great performances of Barker and Jason with the very well written script by Roy Clarke, you get an admittedly dated yet brilliant British comedy. It is also refreshing to watch a programme that doesn’t have a hidden agenda (or at least not one that I can see).
Concluding the praise of the original, I must now sadly turn to the reboot. Why did they have to do it? I desperately wanted to like it, if not purely because the original was so good. Without Ronnie Barker donning the brown jacket, following his death in 2005, the show has lost the magic that made it so watchable in the first place. David Jason’s Granville has been shoe horned into the Arkwright role, which just doesn’t work. Throughout the original episodes Granville was the voice of cynicism as his Uncle Arkwright sold metrically sized washing lines to replace imperially measured ones, amongst many other schemes. In the new series however, Granville is now carrying out the schemes and has been replaced as the voice of reason by his (on screen) son Leroy (James Baxter). The chemistry between the two is nowhere near the quality in the original episodes. To be fair, I can’t criticise David Jason, I think he has managed to revive Granville well.
The script, on the other hand, hasn’t. The writing has lost the edge it once had. I could (if I wanted to) point the finger at the new cast members, (who are essentially carbon copies of bit part cast members in the earlier episodes) but I’m not going to. I am going to call out the writers. It feels to me like the writing has been toned down to fit with today’s audiences’ acceptances. This is no bad thing, but rather than cutting the parts which wouldn’t be suitable, the whole story has been dumbed down, making each episode feel stodgy and slow. The funniest moments are, without a doubt, the gags from the original. The “killer till” still lives on Arkwright’s shop counter, Granville will discuss matters with a photograph of Arkwright and, in a similar fashion to the early episodes, mimic the stammer. Which emphasises my point in that the few funny moments come straight from the original.
To wrap up, I don’t think a reboot ever could have worked. Even if Ronnie Barker was still alive. Would Granville still have stuck around? No. So the question is why was this classic comedy was revived? It should have remained in the 70s and 80s where it was funny, relevant and where it belonged.
A short disclaimer. Following the writing of this in the early hours of the 21st of January, I googled a few ‘Still Open All Hours’ reviews just to see where I stood in comparison to other critics. The first link I clicked on was from walesonline, and the writer wrote a very similar article to the one you have (hopefully) just read. So I just wanted to clarify that I did write this all by myself… I promise. Thanks for making it this far.
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