3 April 2010 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Your feet's too big; or, Poor Mrs O'Hara!
The ground-breaking TV series 'That Was the Week that Was', dealing in political satire, was officially put on hiatus by the BBC (cancelled, more like) for Britain's 1964 general election. 'Not So Much a Programme', premiering on Friday the 13th of November after the election, was Auntie Beeb's attempt at two bites of the same cherry.
The series was transmitted each week on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a different female singer recounting the headlines for each night: Barbara Evans (Friday) was pleasant enough. Jo Blake, on the Saturdays, gave me the Joe Blakes. Cleo Laine, on Sundays, was easily the best of the three.
John Wells, already established as a writer, made his performing debut on NSMAP. Eleanor Bron performed some of her own material, as well as appearing in a recurring role (a Tory Aunt Sally) scripted by Peter Cook, with the punning name Lady Pamela Stitty.
Whilst 'TW3' featured bare-bones sets in an obvious studio, 'NSMAP' splurged on some occasionally elaborate settings and props. One sketch, written by John Fortune and John Bird, called for a statue sixty feet high! Since this was well higher than the studio's sightlines (no exterior filming here), the sketch was ultimately performed with a pair of legs a mere 20 feet high, representing a much taller statue. Can this be where Monty Python got their inspiration for the enormous foot?
NSMAP's most notorious sketch remains the one depicting a Catholic priest in Liverpool's lower-class Irish community, chastising poor Mrs O'Hara (Patricia Routledge) for failing to become pregnant again after leaving off at only 16 children. Looking directly into the camera, he smirks: 'We'll catch the Chinese up yet.'
At this late date, and from our modern permissive viewpoint, 'Not So Much a Programme' seems quite tame, but it was daring for its time: sometimes more so than the more notorious 'TW3'. Despite this programme's awful title, I'll rate 'Not So Much a Programme' 8 out of 10