12 December 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Felix and Oscar sell antiques
'Never the Twain' aired on ITV from 1981 to 1991: an unusually long run for a British sitcom. It featured brilliant performances by Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies as rival antiques dealers. Most of the laughs came from the (affectionate) chemistry between the two actors, and from the (rather less affectionate) combustion of the relationship between the two lead characters, and the insults which they hurl at each other.
Simon Peel (Sinden) and Oliver Smallbridge (Davies) were formerly partners in an antiques business, who are now business rivals and bitter enemies; matters are not helped by the fact that they are next-door neighbours. Peel's antiques shop and his wares are rather more upmarket than those of Smallbridge, whose shop does a speciality in the sort of horrible old tat which is more typical of car-boot sales than antiques shops. Peel considers himself more refined than Smallbridge, and the relationship between the two men has its Felix/Oscar aspects ... except that Felix and Oscar are friends who drive each other crazy, wheras Simon and Oliver are enemies.
Peel is divorced with an adult son, whilst Smallbridge is a widower with an adult daughter; inevitably, son David and daughter Lyn get marry, forcing the fathers-in-law to form an uneasy alliance. This provided a plausible source of comedy for the first three years of the series: after the third series, David and Lyn were written out (they reportedly moved to Canada). At this point, Simon and Oliver merged their antiques businesses: rather implausible, this, as the characters had always been established as enemies and bitter rivals. The eighth series featured the return to England of David and Lyn (now played by Christopher Morris and Tacy Kneale) with an infant son, which provided new comic fodder as Simon and Oliver began a new rivalry to prove which was the better grand-dad. Honor Blackman (still sexy!) and Zara Nutley were added late in the programme's run as continuing characters.
Comparisons to 'The Odd Couple' are inevitable, but 'Never the Twain' is more similar in style (and bile, and guile) to the 'Grumpy Old Men' movies. I'll rate this very funny sitcom 8 points out of 10 for its best years (series 1,2,3,8,9) out of its eleven-year run.