Last year’s season of BBC sitcom revivals resulted in much hand-wringing and a slew of anguished broadsheet thinkpieces about how the Beeb ought to be forging ahead to the future instead of trading on former glories. All of which, to my mind, rather missed the point that, with comedy, there’s only ever really one question that matters: is it funny?

I tell you this so you know I have no principled objection to the return of Porridge, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ timeless prison comedy, for a full series. Nor do I think it’s an insult to the memories of such late, thunderingly great talents as Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale. I just wish it were funnier.

As Nigel Norman Fletcher, grandson of Barker’s original old lag, Kevin Bishop captures some of the great man’s cheeky, ducking-and-diving charm (he even chews his gum like Fletch), but it’s not really in the same league. It’s a nice idea, too, to have young Fletch, who’s serving a stretch for cyber-crime, share a cell with Dave Hill’s old-school bank robber, but the comic potential of this generational culture-clash is left largely unexploited. Instead, the best laughs come courtesy of Dominic Coleman and Mark Bonnar – spiritual successors to Brian Wilde and Fulton Mackay as good cop, bad cop wardens.

Some of the jokes deserve locking up themselves. ‘I went out with a Joanne once,’ said Fletch. ‘She left me for a lady contortionist with the Cirque du Soleil. Talk about getting your knickers in a twist.’ Bet she still wasn’t as contorted as that gag though.

Or this: ‘My wife’s got a new job – tea lady at Millwall.’ ‘Well she won’t be rushed off her feet, the way they’re playing. I’m not even sure that is a joke. If it is, it’s hard to believe it came from the hivemind behind Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and… well, Porridge.

This week’s episode was called The Go-Between. Which is appropriate, as it left me feeling that, if the past is another country, maybe we shouldn’t go back to it after all.

TV extra:


Nile Rodgers: How to Make It in the Music Business

Though the title promised the world’s funkiest Open University lecture, this new three-part series is as much about the man as the music, detailing how a kid born to a 14-year-old mother in the Bronx grew up to gift the world such incandescent tunes as Le Freak, Lost In Music, We Are Family, Get Lucky and Let’s Dance. There was some practical advice on offer – including a technical breakdown of Le Freak – but the central message was basically: try to be as awesome as Nile Rodgers.


Our Girl

It’s a funny one, Our Girl. On the one hand, it’s great to see a popular, primetime drama reaching out beyond the usual First World Problems: this week’s third series opener was set in war-torn Aleppo and earthquake-ravaged Nepal, so it’s hardly Hollyoaks. But there is something a bit soapy about it, and not just because Army medic Georgie Lane is played by Corrie’s Michelle Keegan (who replaced EastEnders’ Lacey Turner). Still, fair play for trying to do something different.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, October 12, 2017

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