12 December 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
After the long ITV strike of 1979, during which no programmes were aired on the ITV channel (unless you count that test-card with the little girl on it), ITV were eager to get some good shows into production for 1980. They scored a hit with the very funny series 'Can We Get On Now, Please?' which unfortunately ran for only 6 episodes. This hilarious sitcom is similar in tone and subject matter to the American series 'Night Court': it was set in the lower law courts, and therefore concerned itself with small civil claims and misdemeanours, rather than major crimes.
The South African actress Sheila Steafel, fresh from her triumph onstage in the West End as Harpo Marx in 'A Day in Hollywood, a Night in the Ukraine', starred as Mrs Prior, Justice of the Peace. But 'Can We Get On Now, Please?' was an ensemble show, not a star vehicle, and the entire cast were excellent. Special praise goes to the excellent Hugh Paddick as law clerk Pettigrew, who (of course) is more intelligent and efficient than the justices whom he serves.
Much of the comedy centred on the fact that the legal process is usually far more complicated and obscure than it needs to be. Since this is especially true of British law (with barristers taking briefs from solicitors, and judges kitted out in elaborate wigs and gowns). 'Can We Get On Now, Please?' was very funny indeed.