5 October 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
"The Bounder", produced by Yorkshire Television, lasted only 14 episodes ... but every episode was hilarious. Howard Booth (deftly played by Peter Bowles) is suave, sophisticated and a complete crook. In the opening credits, he is just getting released from Her Majesty's pleasure (prison) after doing two years for fraud. His doting sister Mary won't hear a word against him, so Howard moves in with Mary and her oh-so-respectable husband Trevor Mountjoy (brilliantly played by veteran actor George Cole). Of course, as soon as Howard moves in with the Mountjoys, he uses their house as the base camp for his next crime wave. When he finds out that Laura (the neighbour next door over) is a wealthy widow, Howard straight away makes plans for her bank balance.
Peter Bowles was already appearing on television each week in the ensemble cast of a popular Yorkshire sitcom, "Only When I Laugh". He refused to carry on his work in that series unless he was given his own starring series as well. "The Bounder" was the happy result. Amazingly, Bowles managed to keep up the workload of performing in two different sitcoms in production at the same time. (Perhaps it helped that his characters in both programmes were similar.)
"The Bounder" has run on U.S. television, but I doubt that most Americans would get all the references. I fondly remember one screamingly funny episode in which Howard was trying to help one of his old prison mates to go straight. The ex-lag had gone to prison for counterfeiting, but now he was attempting an honest career as a portrait painter. To help the artist get started, Howard persuaded Trevor to commission a portrait of himself. The counterfeiter produced an oil painting depicting Trevor in a pose exactly matching the image of the Duke of Wellington on the five-pound note! Every adult in Britain has seen this image thousands of times, and the similarity was hilarious. When Trevor saw the painting, he noticed that it looked "familiar", but he couldn't suss out where he'd seen it before. I watched this episode with my American wife. While I was falling about laughing hysterically, she kept asking me "What's so funny?" I had to show her a fiver, at which point she "got" the joke but she still didn't laugh. "The Bounder" is a very English show, and it doesn't translate well ... but, oh yes, it is funny.
UPDATE: The five-pound note now has a new design, so Brits who watch this episode in repeats may miss the joke. Ah, well.