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  • Warning: Spoilers
    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'!
  • RaspberryLucozade27 February 2017
    Warning: Spoilers
    Reg Varney became a huge star at the height of the success of 'On The Buses'. He became in such high demand that he would frequently be called up to host charity events and such. He even managed to land his own weekly series entitled simply 'Reg Varney' which was a mixture of stand-up, sketch and musical comedy ( Reg was a highly accomplished pianist ). He even managed to land film roles in productions such as 'Double Take' and 'The Best Pair Of Legs In The Business'.

    Reg felt enough time had elapsed since the end of 'On The Buses' to return to the world of sitcom and in 1975 came up with the idea of a show set in Billingsgate's renowned fish market, which he put to writers Roy Tuvey and Maurice Sellar ( who had written for Reg on his earlier weekly series ), who provided the scripts and called the show 'Down The 'Gate'. Reg played Reg Furnell, a porter at Billingsgate market. He was married to the lovely Irene ( played by the late Dilys Laye ). In the first episode, Irene wanted a new central heating system installed but Reg squandered the deposit money for it on a horse. Notice the strong 'On The Buses' feel to the show already emerging? Reg friends at the market included Len Peacock ( Tony Melody ) and scruffy Old Wol ( played by Australian actor Reg Lye ), who both had tendencies to drop Reg in the proverbial. In the second series, Tony Melody left and Percy Herbert was brought in to play Mr. Preston, Reg's new boss who was very much like Stephen Lewis' Blakey albeit not as much of a pushover.

    Well, if you wanted to see what 'On The Buses' would be like if it was set in Billingsgate, then this was it. Sadly, it enjoyed nothing like the success of the previous show. Reg Varney found himself heavily typecast as Stan Butler and was unable to shake off that shadow ( a problem Gregor Fisher later encountered as a result of his portrayal of 'Rab C. Nesbitt' ). ''Whatever I did after 'On The Buses', no one wanted to know about it!'' said Reg in an interview. Despite the strong 'Buses' flavour to 'Down The 'Gate', I still found plenty to enjoy. Varney was as wonderful as ever. Dilys Laye did the very best with her role as Varney's long suffering wife Irene, though the best of all the supporting characters was Percy Herbert as the constantly grumbling Preston.

    'Down The 'Gate' was Reg's final major television series. The failure of the show meant he was no longer in demand for television work. He later retired, despite plans for 'On The Buses' to make a comeback, due to health issues. That seemed to be the end of it.

    Sadly, of the twelve episodes, only half of them survive ( all from the second series ). The remaining episodes only still exist as Reg recorded the episodes himself off air with a video recorder. The remaining episodes were put on DVD ( with the commercials from the recordings kept in as an Easter Egg ) along with scripts for the missing episodes. and enjoyable stuff it is too. Geoff Love's saxophone theme tune is excellent too.
  • mkbooks6 October 2016
    The DVD has now been released. As it says it not of transmission quality but is of historical use. The DVD is of series 2 which turned out to the last. No subtitles

    The scripts are now dated but it Reg Varney.

    I don't think it go down as Reg Varney best known TV work but all actors have good and bad series.

    Most of the cast have now died it a very much a tribute to them. We should thankful that Kaldescope have released it one day they studying actors like Reg Varney and his plays/films/TV series in same way they do J B Priestley work and poets.