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Eddie and Joan Booth live in seventies London, where cultural integration is taking place at a pace that Eddie can't cope with. When he finds out his neighbours, Bill and Barbie Reynolds are from the West Indies, he is horrified, but, over the years, begins to come to terms with the fact, although he can never fully accept it. Joan and Barbie get on very well, particularly once they both have boys of the same age. Eddie and Bill have a much more volatile relationship. They work together and socialize together, but neither can give up the opportunity to make the other look stupid in public. In this series, the two families go abroad together, celebrate birthdays together and care for each others' children - but the antagonism between Eddie and Bill still hasn't completely disappeared.
Having seen the first series of this seventies sitcom, as well as several random episodes over the years, I was determined not to watch any more. Despite trying hard to put the humour and social background of the time into perspective, I still found it very racist and painful to watch at times. However, some time away from the series weakened my defences and I gave the fifth series a go. Bearning in mind that there were eight series in all, this series, televised in 1974, seems to be a watershed in that it starts to become much less offensive and a little (just a little) more fun. There are still some racist comments, but they are much less frequent and are much less crushing - Eddie referring to Bill as a 'long stick of licorice' and Bill referring to Eddie as 'snowflake' are about as serious as it gets. It's still a bit unpleasant, but compared to earlier series, it is positively friendly.
Eddie is the character that I have always disliked the most and it's still easy to see why in this series. Played by Jack Smethurst, he's still an arrogant, racist, homophoic, sexist pig - albeit one that everyone teases to death. Thankfully, his wife and friends don't let him get away with his horrific behaviour for very long and he nearly always ends up looking a complete fool - and arrested on a couple of occasions. I think it's probably testament to Smethurst's skills as an actor that I dislike him so much, because I can't really believe he was that idiotic. In some ways, I feel sorry for him, because his television career has never really been the same since. He's had lots of bit roles, including one in Dinnerladies, but the role otherwise seems to have finished him off.
Thankfully, the same can't be said for Kate Williams (Joan) and the wonderful Rudolph Walker (Bill), who now both appear in Eastenders as each other's love interest - quite ironic considering their bout of working together in Love Thy Neighbour. I like Kate Williams. She's down-to-earth and manages Eddie just right, often acting as peace-keeper between him and Bill. It's not a stunning piece of acting by any means (but then with the script she's given, it's not surprising) and she manages to give a very passable performance of an everywoman. This isn't Rudolph Walker's best role either, but again, he does what he can with the script and the situation, and he manages to come through as being completely likable, which is exactly the aim of the show.
Like Jack Smethurst, Nina Baden-Semper hasn't done much television work since Love Thy Neighbour, which is quite surprising because she is good in the role - and most importantly, she is the one character who is remembered, primarily for her rather stunning figure in a bikini. She is probably the most likable of all the characters, simply because she's a gentle lady who copes admirably with Eddie's jibes at her husband. The way that she and Joan get on, despite their differences and husbands, is a real pleasure to watch. There are a couple of minor characters, Bill and Eddie's drinking partners, played by Keith Marsh and Tommy Godfrey. They are both caricatures of working class characters, but they're reasonably funny and often take the pressure off Bill and Eddie's relationship.
The seventies was a period when the British were coming to terms with more than just multiculturalism - there was also much made of the changing position of women in society and homophobia and the rights of the working classes were also common discussion points. These are also issues in the sitcom and, with the racism on top, do make it seem really dated. Joan and Barbie are housewives and, although becoming more militant in their views, are still expected to stay at home and do all the housework. A gay hairdresser is portrayed as being so limp-wristed that it is painful to watch. It's only the working class element which is perhaps not so dated - certainly not after the recent British air and rail strikes. On top of that, the furnishings and fashion scream seventies - some would say it is part of the charm, others, that it makes it too old-fashioned. It's certainly not viewing that everyone will enjoy.
Television writer Vince Powell, who died in 2009, wrote the scripts for Love Thy Neighbour, including this series. Also responsible for Bless This House, Nearest and Dearest and Mind Your Language, Love Thy Neighbour is probably the series that he will most be remembered for. Unfortunately this is not in a positive way. Overall, the script isn't great - there aren't many occasions when I actually laughed out loud, more often, it was just a wry smile. Nevertheless, it is the racist overtones that Powell has been criticised for. To an extent, this is deserved. However, I think he has been misunderstood - the shock factor that he employed was supposed to be a way of shocking the British public into realising how stupid their attitudes were. Instead, the show is remembered for being outrageously racist. Anyone who watches the show really needs to remember the time in which it is set, rather than judging by today's standards.
There are six 25 minute episodes in this series, but the story takes place over the six episodes rather than separate stories in each individual episode. The only episode that stands out more than the others is the first one, which takes place largely in Spain, where the two couples, plus friends, are on holiday. It is not that the setting is much different from when they are back home (the sets are very basis and obviously filmed in a studio even when they are supposed to be outside), but we get to see the team in their swimming costumes. And except for Joan, Barbie and Bill, it is not a pretty sight - especially when Eddie's backside is shown in all its naked glory. Bill, on the other hand, has a marvellous body - one that most definitely takes the sting out of Eddie's 'long stick of licorice' comment!
There are no extras with the DVDs, just the six episodes.
This is far from being the best seventies sitcom and that's not just because of the interesting attitudes; it's simply not a very good script. Nevertheless, this series has made me soften towards the show as a whole, because it's a lot less offensive than previous series. Still, it is not going to be a series that many people are going to choose to watch unless it's because of fond memories - partly because of its reputation and partly because it just isn't as funny as it could be. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 150 minutes