Sunday, January 18, 2015

I am going to miss Jeremy Lloyd and I am unanimous!

When David and I are not here, they’ll still be making people laugh with things we thought of.
-Jeremy Lloyd
The Story of Are You Being Served? 2010

It’s tough to hear about the death of someone that I have never met but who had a long life. Yet, I feel like I have lost someone very influential in my life. Jeremy Lloyd was a writer that had co-written the episodes to one of my favourite TV series of all-time. Are You Being Served? I think Are You Being Served? is starting to get, over the last few years, some of the attention it deserves. It seems to me that when I got onto the Internet and seeing what people from the UK thought of these shows that it felt like Are You Being Served? was generally panned. Of course, in the US it was a mainstay on PBS stations across the country for decades.
Hearing about the death of Jeremy Lloyd chips more away of my youth. I often talk about watching these series with my Mom when I was young living at home. These are truly happy memories. It also reminds me of how it doesn’t matter what country it was made in, if it was funny then it was funny. I remember a long time ago that I needed to make a VHS tape for my grandmother-in-law (is that a thing?) Mary of episodes of Are You Being Served? because she loved it so much. She was 94 when I made her the tapes and she treasured them. The humour is accessible to everyone of virtually any age. Mary loved it simply because it was funny. It had funny lines and sometimes it was a bit slapstick. Hearing about the passing of Jeremy Lloyd reminds me of how his work not only touched me but also people who I really cared about even if they were not into this genre like I am. Mary lived to be over 101. I think of her and her sister Ruth often who lived to 98. I miss them and I smile when I think of how I was able to share my love of these series with them.

Jeremy Lloyd was born on July 22, 1930. He was immensely talented. He was a dancer, an actor, a writer. He was a writer and a regular on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In in 1970. It was here where he needed to make the choice of going back to the states to do the next series of Laugh-In or stay in the UK and marry Joanna Lumley. He stayed with Joanna…for a very short amount of time. Thankfully he did!
I am going to be selfish here. If you want to know the background and life to Jeremy Lloyd, you should check out his Wikipedia page here. If I were to go into great detail of his life, I would just be taking most of the information from that page and basically re-arranging the words. What I want to do is take a look at 3 specific episodes from 3 of the series he co-wrote and point out some areas that I think are brilliant and why he and David Croft were a magical team together. Of course, before I get too far down the road of praising him, I do need to make a small confession. I often got Jeremy Lloyd confused with Jimmy Perry who is another writing partner to David Croft. David Croft and Jimmy Perry were responsible for Dad’s Army. As Captain Bertorelli would say on ‘Allo ‘Allo!, “What a mistaka to maka!”

Oh, What a Tangled Web TX: 13/05/76
It don't look like she got the job.

By the time Are You Being Served? got into Series 4 this show was on fire! There is almost a bit of smugness to the actors when watching some of these episodes because they knew they were doing something special that no one else was doing. The scripts were solid and especially the episodes of this series were, as far as I’m concerned, among the best.
The episode surrounds Captain Peacock being out all night with Mr. Rumbold’s secretary. Apparently, he was being very irresponsible with his blow tickler and everyone assumes that the two of them were up to no good. Of course, nothing is as simple as that. Captain Peacock tries to hide the fact he was out all night from his wife and the lie continues to grow and get out of control. In true Are You Being Served? fashion, everyone is assembled into the boardroom where the whole truth comes out.

I have said other places that my favourite type of comedy is the comedy of errors. Comedy where the characters think one thing is happening while the truth is something else is going on. Characters are misled because they overhear something incorrectly or assume something wrongly. This episode is a non-stop cavalcade of mis-information culminating into pure chaos.
It starts with Peacock and Miss Hazlewood spending the night in Redding. There is a great exchange of Rumbold telling his secretary’s father what happened over the phone based on her story she gave Rumbold. Her story says nothing about Peacock (whose first name is Steven) or being in Redding but because Rumbold can’t read his own handwriting, he tells the story wrongly and actually tells it exactly how it happened! Then, Mrs. Slocombe is going for a new job and will be interviewed by someone else in Rumbold’s office. It turns out Mrs. Peacock shows up at the store to confront her husband and Slocombe thinks she is the one to interview her for the position. That does not go well. Finally, the secretary’s father thinks it is Grainger and not Peacock that was fooling around with his daughter. She was engaged to get married but her father thinks Grainger ruined it. He takes the wedding cake (that he brought all the way with him to the store) and smashes it over Grainger’s head.

We find out that Grainger was in the pudding club. As a kid, I had no idea what this meant but everyone looked shocked when he said it. It’s getting someone pregnant! It’s a great funny moment to see Humphries and Lucas’ reaction to this revelation. Something else I noticed was that Mr. Humphries was actually more of a bystander in this episode. As time goes on, he becomes much more of the focal point. I do notice that in this episode and the one before it, Fifty Years On, he breaks the fourth wall and talks to us. I like it but glad this wasn’t an ongoing occurrence!
It is really tough to write about this one because it is a very intricate script. One mistake overlays into the other one forming a cohesive barrage of pure comedy moments. I think this is one of the best episodes of the entire series and if anyone had never seen it, I think this would be a great first episode to show for pure comic value on its own. There are so many quotable moments in this episode alone. This is a really crappy overview of an episode that needs to be watched to be truly appreciated. If you haven’t seen this episode, please seek it out.

Captain Peacock: I sat behind the wheel all night, trying to think what to say... [stands]
Captain Peacock: to the woman I love.
Mr. Lucas: Why not, "Jump in the front for a quick cuddle?"
Captain Peacock: Foolishly, I asked Mr. Rumbold to perjure himself. Quite correctly, he refused so to do. For, after all, when the final account is balanced up in the Book of Life, we are men of integrity. What I've said is true, and I swear it, as a God-fearing man, and an ex-officer of the Royal Army Service Corps.
Mr. Rumbold: [after applause from the department, Mr. Rumbold stands] Mrs. Peacock, if ever I've heard the truth from the lips of a man, then I've heard it today. I'm sure you can doubt your husband no longer.
Mr. Humphries: [to Mr. Grainger] I didn't think people talked like this anymore!

In Orbit TX: 17/07/78
Come Back Mrs. Noah was a series that starred Mollie Sugden as a housewife that won a prize of a tour of a new space station before it launches except she accidentally launches it into space with her and a few other people on board. To some, this is considered one of the worse British comedy series ever made. It is not, has anyone ever seen My Hero? I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of this series but am perplexed as to why this series has not been released in the US as Mollie and Are You Being Served? has a pretty big fan base over here. It seems like an obvious choice. I am very lucky to have been able to procure copies as it not only has never been released here but it doesn’t get shown over here anymore either.

This episode continues on from the first episode of the crew on the station trying to figure out what to do and how will they get back to Earth. This isn’t so much a Jeremy Lloyd thing but David Croft was always about using a lot of the same actors in multiple series. He almost had his own rep company in a sense of the people who he would regularly employ in his shows. Apart from Mollie, there is Gorden Kaye who we would see in ‘Allo! ‘Allo!, Ian Lavendar from Dad’s Army, Donald Hewlett & Michael Knowles who were both in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

The first half of the episode is very funny with the crew from the station in touch with Earth through a special satellite link from the TV series Far and Wide that Gorden Kaye’s character as host. Their transmission to Earth starts early with the crew overhearing Gorden telling the crew’s loved one in the studio that there is basically zero chance of the crew making it back to Earth safely which is performed pretty hilariously. Mrs. Noah’s husband is not with everyone else in the studio and Far and Wide cuts to a camera crew at his house. There, he tells his wife, Mrs. Noah, not to worry as he is being looked after by the neighbour. This is the point that the neighbour appears on camera and she is some twenty-year old model. It’s funny but what makes it even better is that Mrs. Noah doesn’t even really notice anything wrong with this scenario.
For me, it falls down in the second part of the episode. A lot of the episodes have a lot of “set pieces” and gags that are based off of funny props. Done well, it can be very funny but I found most of the effects on Come Back Mrs. Noah to be really lackluster. In this episode, they decide to make scrambled eggs and what they need to do to get eggs is to get them from a robotic chicken egg laying machine. It’s a silly concept which raised a few smiles from be but it is much labored. What really bored me to tears is the end of the episode where Mrs. Noah and Clive end up needing share a bedroom together and the process they need to go through to go to bed is ridiculous. I think things can be ridiculous and still funny but this is not the case.

The British Are Coming TX: 30/12/82
The very first episode of ‘Allo! ‘Allo! is what I think one of the best pilot episodes to anything, ever. It is a wonderful episode that accomplishes much in 35 minutes. It introduces us to the characters, which there are a lot of main characters! This is led by café owner Renee Artois played by Gorden Kaye. I had just seen Gorden as the TV Presenter in Come Back Mrs. Noah. I have always had a soft spot for Gorden Kaye. He works his ass off in this show. Just watch this episode, he works himself into a sweat, there is much running around in this episode.

As Renee is the café owner, he is on good terms with the two bumbling German officers Colonel von Strom and Captain Geering. They are not all that innocent. They have nicked some stuff that the Nazis have stolen to keep for themselves for a rainy day. This includes the portrait of the fallen Madonna with Big Boobies. There is a simplistic charm to these characters and plots which I think can be said of all of these series. I think what really sets the series that Lloyd and Croft have done over a lot of other series is that all the characters are loveable. This includes the “villains”.
From the Colonel and Captain to Herr Flick from the Gestapo, these characters are loveable. I smile when I see them enter a room. Sam Kelley as Captain Geering is such a joy to watch. All of the actors plays these characters as basically children. The episode moves from slapstick comedy such as the French résistance springing Leclerc from the jail cell he was currently occupying and the scenes with Edith’s mother not understanding the radio that had been installed in her bed to pretty complicated humour like how Leclerc was supposed to initiate contact with Renee at the café through code. Leclerc was supposed to ask for a cognac then ask for light to which Renee would respond, “I have no matches.” Unfortunately a new German in Nouvion, Lieutenant Gruber,  gets in the way and this wonderful exchange takes place:

René: Good evening, Herr Lieutenant. What is your pleasure?
Lt. Hubert Gruber: I would like a cognac, if you please?

René: Maria, cognac for the officer. If you would like to, eh
Lt. Hubert Gruber: Why not, why not?

René: [René puts down the cognac. Lt. Hubert Gruber reaches into his pocket and produces a cigar. René mistakes Lt. Hubert Gruber for Leclerc] I - I - I expect you would like a light?
Lt. Hubert Gruber: Thank you, you're very kind.

René: I have no matches.
Lt. Hubert Gruber: Then why do you ask me if I would like a light?

René: I'm very sorry.
Lt. Hubert Gruber: If you have no matches... if you have no matches, take mine. I have a spare box.

René: Are you one of them?
Lt. Hubert Gruber: Well, it... it was very lonely on the Russian front.

Leclerc: A cognac, if you please?
René: Maria, a cognac.

Leclerc: [Leclerc reaches into his pocket and produces a cigar. Lt. Gruber notices and lights Leclerc's cigar. Leclerc to René] Do you have a light?
Lt. Gruber: What do you want a light for? I just lit it.

Leclerc: Well, I don't want a light, I just wondered... if he had a light.

René: I have no matches.
Lt. Gruber: I've just given you some matches!

René: These are your matches! They're not my matches.
Leclerc: [to René] Is he one of us?

René: No, he's one of them.
Leclerc: Please do not tell everybody! 

Of course all of these series are famous for sprouting off catchphrases such as “I’m Free!” “Are you being served?” “It will ride up with wear.” and “Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once.” In The Story of Are You Being Served?, Jeremy Lloyd said they never wrote catchphrases because one would never know what would catch on. I don’t know if I believe that. It seems to me that some of those were set up to be catchphrases from the start and some worked better than others. Another hallmark of their productions were special effects and specialized props to accentuate the humour. This could be a department store prop as in Are You Being Served?, exploding coffins as seen in a later episode of ‘Allo! ‘Allo! or a great big robot chicken that spits out eggs at people as seen in the episode I watched of Come Back Mrs. Noah. These props didn’t always visually work but when they did, what a lot of fun to watch!
It was bad enough when David Croft passed away in 2011 at the wonderful age of 89 and now Jeremy Lloyd is gone too. These two help to prove, along with others, how universal humour is for everyone. It doesn’t matter what country you are in or what language you speak, if it’s funny it’s funny. And Jeremy Lloyd was funny.

Next week: I take a look at the rarely seen but wonderful Douglas Wilmer version of Sherlock Holmes. This is exactly the type of series I love to watch. We will be taking a look at The Beryl Coronet.
Have a great week!

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Unknown said...

Great episode selections here. Such fond memories of Allo Allo and Are You Being Served (less so of Come Back, Mrs. Noah). A great tribute. :D

Greg said...

Thanks! It's fun to see how wonderfully creative these people are when you go through their body of work.