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Sally Harrison is a young widow, trying to hold down a job at which she is not very good, while caring for her two sons, Simon and Peter, with the help of her Auntie Flo. Sally is not really cut out for being a single mother, but does the best she can by bumbling through her life. Her sons miss a father figure, although they appreciate that their mother and her aunt do their best for them. Sally's flakiness does put her at risk of losing her job, however, and the way that her neighbours brings up their well-spoken children often makes her feel inadequate. Will she manage to hang on to her job? Will she ever be able to bring home enough money to keep them in comfort? Will her children manage to grow up without becoming delinquents?
Wendy Craig stars as Sally Harrison in this 1971 British sitcom. If you've seen Butterflies, then you will already have a good idea of how she performs, because the role is very similar. The only difference is that here, Sally is widowed and, in this series at least, doesn't have a lover. I'm not a fan of ditzy women and Sally is about as ditzy as they come. I think the idea is to create a character who is likable and ordinary, showing that not all women are perfect, but that they can manage despite this. It's a nice idea, but Wendy Craig goes a bit too far and I found her just as annoying as I found her in Butterflies. Wendy Craig is undoubtedly a good actress - I've seen her in plenty of better roles - but performing as a middle-class twit doesn't suit her in my opinion.
The children are played by Robin Davies (Simon) and David Parfitt (Peter) and are distinctly average. David Parfitt is the younger son and is particularly wooden in the way that many TV children of the period were - so it is very hard to pile the blame completely on him. Robin Davies (who died earlier this year of lung cancer) is a little better, but doesn't have a big enough role in the series to have all that much of an affect. Much better is Valerie Lush, who plays Auntie Flo. She is the sensible one of the family and gives some much needed relief from Sally's nuttiness. George Selway, on the other hand, is terrible as Sally's boss, Mr Campbell. He plays a Scot, but his accent is atrocious and his acting isn't much better.
It's probably not looking like I have a very positive view of this sitcom having just panned most of the actors and actresses involved. However, it isn't all bad. The episodes are entertaining enough and the comedy, although not exactly original, does bring about the odd laugh. Had I not found Wendy Craig quite so annoying, it probably would have been a better than average comedy. As it is, it is one of those comedies that you can watch quite easily without it really leaving a huge impression. The majority of the British public seem to have agreed with me too, because the show didn't really start to take off until the second series, when it became much more popular. I think the main problem with this series is that nothing much happens. It is just a series of clips from Sally's life - ordinary, everyday moments that could happen to anyone, but Sally make more of a fool of herself than most people.
There are seven thirty-minute episodes in this first series. There are a couple that stand out - one for good reasons, one for not such good reasons. The first one is the second episode, 'Birthday Bike', where Sally puts together all her finances in order to buy a bike for Simon. It is not, unfortunately, the right type of bike, and it is actually very touching to see both Sally's and Simon's disappointment when they realise there has been a lack of communication. For the first time, the family felt like a family, instead of four people with different views of life who just happened to live together. It's not all that funny, but it does have its moments - watching Wendy Craig trying to mount a boy's bike with her tight skirt is very well done. That is probably because she doesn't actually talk.
The other episode that stands out is 'School for Love', when Sally meets and is attracted to a teacher at Peter and David's school. He is good looking, single and into Art, choosing to take Sally to an art show in the local area. Here, she manages to show exactly how little she knows about art, mistaking a picture of the Mayor of Wandsworth for a painting by a famous author. Probably the most embarrassingly memorable moment is watching her take part in a piece of modern art, which involves her rolling around on the floor covered in paint. For the time, it was probably quite new, reflecting the general public's view of the stupidity of modern art, but watching it now is just cringe-making. The rest of the episodes are fairly evenly average, including a few laughs from slap-stick moments, but certainly not many from the script. On the more positive side, there is absolutely nothing that could be considered offensive.
In some ways, it is unbelievable to think that the series is nearly 40 years old, partly because the fashion doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary. Perhaps it is because it is the very early seventies, before all the crazy fashions came into being, but Wendy Craig actually dresses very nicely and the house isn't completely full of weird swirls and bright orange and lime like many other sitcoms of the period - although Sally does drive an old London taxi decorated with flowers. For its time, it was probably quite ground-breaking, showing a woman who is forced to work because of circumstances when most middle-class women wouldn't have been expected to. However, it does obviously seem old-fashioned now, when women are almost expected to bring up a family and hold down a full-time job too.
There aren't any extras with the DVD - just the seven episodes.
I collect sitcoms from the seventies and so am happy to have this in my collection. I might even go as far as to try the next couple of series, especially because the critics seem to have preferred them. However, for the majority of people, I think I would only recommend it if you can remember the original and feel like watching it for old times' sake, or, like me, really enjoy seventies sitcoms in general. It's not a terrible sitcom, but it is a reminder that not all past sitcoms are golden oldies - this is distinctly average. It's perhaps worth looking out for on the television, or buying the DVD if you can find it available for not much money. Just about recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99. I bought my copy from HMV for £5.
Running time: 2 hours and 55 minutes