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In Search Of The Classic British Sitcom And Why It's No Laughing Matter

05/09/2016 11:37 | Updated 05 September 2016

Although it's a lovely conceit, perpetuated by comedy clubs eager to advertise the fact that their acts are so rib-ticklingly dangerous that audience members might not make it out alive and wise-cracking 16th and 17th century noblemen determined to kill opponents with their rapier wit rather than their plain boring old rapier (the punchline is mightier than the sword), people don't really die from laughter. Pretty much always, there's an underlying medical condition involved somewhere.

However, the BBC obviously couldn't risk it. Not wanting a repeat (strange that, they normally love a repeat ) of Alex Mitchell, who in 1975 supposedly shuffled off to heaven while howling hysterically at the 'Kung Fu Kapers' episode of the Goodies, they therefore decided that for the sake of the nation's health, they'd make the current Sitcom Season as unfunny as possible. Judging by the results thus far, they've succeeded beyond all expectations.

It all kicked off on Sunday August 28, the same day as one of the most memorable names in British retailing sadly closed its doors for the last time. As coincidence would have it, this was followed only a few hours later as another one reopened its doors to the familiar refrain of: "Ground Floor perfumery, stationery and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food...going up".

If the demise of BHS gave us a timely reminder of how we used to shop, the reinvention of Grace Brothers gave us a reminder of how we used to snigger - at pussies and poufs (sic). Who doesn't find soft, convenient seating options and foot stools ever so slightly humorous?

With the odd exception, the actors, most notably Jason Watkins as Mr. Humphries, made a good fist (oh God, the double entendres have started early) at impersonating those who had gone before them.

It was just a shame to see that Young Mr. Grace (Matthew Horne) was now indeed young. Furthermore, it was a shame that when he said he was offered £6 million for the store, he didn't accept. And a bigger shame still, that the purchaser didn't turn out to be Phillip Green, the former owner of the aforementioned beleaguered British Home Stores. One can only imagine the devastating effect that would have had on Captain Peacock's pension pot.

Due to Daran Little, the creator of Benidorm, the jokes, which were always a bit lame, now hobbled in as if on crutches. Alas, in a few too many instances, they then had their crutches kicked from beneath them.

All the same, it was nice he kept the same gag from the 1977 Are You Being Served movie. For true aficionados - I include myself in that sorry gang - it was the one that had Sheila Steafel being persuaded to "buy" a hat that was already hers. This time around, new salesman, Mr. Conway (Kayode Ewumi) was desperately being sold a jacket that he already owned and was wearing.

If the public reaction is anything to go by, it's doubtful this will make the leap to a fully fledged series, so Sherrie Hewson who played Mrs Slocombe may have to go back to being a Loose Woman. There's a pussy tightening joke in there somewhere, but I'll be damned if I can be bothered to find it.

I have a sinking feeling that the latest incarnation of Porridge might fare slightly better. It introduced us to Norman Stanley Fletcher's grandson (Kevin Bishop), who was banged up for cyber crime.

Written, like its predecessor, by Dick Clement and Ian le Frenais, it was more familiar than laugh out loud funny, which Commissioning Editors presumably think viewers of a certain age and demographic want. My only wish is I'm found guilty of an upcoming white collar offence and end up in a cell without a television, meaning that when new episodes air, I won't be able to watch them.

In the next few days, we also have Goodnight Sweetheart and Young Hyacinth to look forward to / dread; the former seeing Gary Sparrow (Nicholas Lyndhurst) being transported into the 21st century and the latter seeing Hyacinth Bucket (Kerry Howard) going back to the mid 20th century.

An altogether more enticing prospect is the 'Lost Sitcoms' where episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son which have vanished or been destroyed, are recreated from original scripts, but using different stars.

Finally, as part of this festival of mirth, there's 'New on Two', where totally unique shows are to be given a single episode chance to shine.

While it's unlikely any of us will die watching them (unless it's through boredom), the odd comic convulsion would be most welcome.

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