Made by A.T.V., 'A Rather Reassuring Programme' was a satirical comedy show from 1977, hosted and produced by the late Ned Sherrin. One sketch was set in I.T.V.'s comedy department, and featured John Junkin as a writer and Henry McGee as a hard-to-please producer. Ideas for various series were bandied about, only to be rejected. Then Junkin proposed a sitcom about Billingsgate Market fish porters. "Of course", he added, "It could turn out to be another 'Down The 'Gate'". McGee shuddered. "Do you think the world is ready for another 'Down The 'Gate'?". That should give you some idea of how highly regarded the show was at that time.
Reg Varney had left 'On The Buses' mid-way through its seventh ( and as it turned out final ) season, to land a show of his own on A.T.V. Entitled simply 'Reg Varney', it had our man singing, playing the piano, and playing bizarre characters in sketches ( such as 'The Monologue Man' - dressed in flamboyant clothes, he constantly spoke in rhyme ) - basically, all the things he was not allowed to do on 'On The Buses'. The show was a modest success.
In 1975, Reg felt that it was time for him to return to sitcom. He came up with an idea for a show about Billingsgate Market fish porters. Writers Roy Tuvey and Maurice Sellar fleshed out the premise. Reg played 'Reg Furnell', a fish porter very much like...Stan Butler. Except in one important respect - Stan was single, whereas Reg was happily married to the social-climbing Irene ( Dilys Laye ), who was always trying to impress important people such as the bank manager, and would lose her cool whenever her husband came home late and stinking of mackerel. Reg's best mate was 'Old Wol', played by Reg Lye ( someone really ought to make a documentary about that man. After all, how many Australian actors can you name who have emigrated to Britain and made a living playing Cockneys, Northerners, Scotsmen et al? ). Reg and Old Wol had a different relationship to that of Stan Butler and Jack Harper, they were more like father and son than pals.
The late Geoff Love wrote the cheeky saxophone signature tune, he had earlier written the excellent theme for 'Bless This House'.
I.T.V. had enough confidence in it to give it their prestigious ( for comedy at any road ) Wednesday 8 P.M. slot, usually reserved for 'The Benny Hill Show' and 'The Tommy Cooper Hour'. But it never caught on in the way that 'On The Buses' had done.
It was not Reg's fault. The scripts were not terribly good, and there was an insufficient mix of strong characters. Tony Melody played 'Len Peacock' in the first season, and then Percy Herbert was brought on board in the second to play 'Mr.Preston' - a 'Blakey'-styled authority figure. Instead of 'get that bus out!' he said 'get those crates moved!". Irene inherited some of Mrs.Butler's characteristics, such a tendency to display over-affection. It was just not the same, and viewers noticed. Reg might as well have stayed on board his bus.
'Down The 'Gate' vanished from the airwaves in 1976. Reg never did another sitcom. Plans to revive 'On The Buses' in the late 1980's came to nothing. A.T.V. wiped the show soon after its screening, but canny old Reg used a video recorder ( yes, they existed then, albeit in a basic form ) to preserve seven of the twelve episodes, meaning that someday it might turn up on D.V.D. If it does, I think its fair to say that no-one will rush to acclaim it as a lost comedy classic.
Its a pity they did not do instead a show in which Varney played a butcher with a twin brother - they could have called it 'Meat & Two Reg'!
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