Tele­vi­sion Roger Lewis

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Wit­ness for the Pros­e­cu­tion was fault­less, ex­cept in one re­spect: the story by Agatha Christie. It strained credulity in the Billy Wilder film, when Charles Laughton failed to recog­nise Mar­lene Di­et­rich in her gypsy dis­guise, so it was par­tic­u­larly daft in the new pro­duc­tion, when per­spi­ca­cious lawyer Toby Jones was taken in by An­drea Rise­bor­ough, who in the cru­cial plot twist was hang­ing

about in Lime­house with a pros­thetic fa­cial dis­fig­ure­ment. Noth­ing can mask An­drea’s mas­sive eye­lids, which are like sil­ver tureens.

That clumsy episode aside, the pro­gramme shim­mered with eroti­cism and hor­ror – who will for­get that white cat pad­ding through the pool of blood and lick­ing its paws? Mon­ica Dolan, who is al­ways good at mad un­pleas­ant­ness, was on top form as the les­bian maid, quiv­er­ing with emo­tion. If I much pre­fer these re­cent shows to the bor­ing and com­pla­cent Poirots and Marples, it is be­cause they are bring­ing out the sex­ual un­der­cur­rents.

If only Peter Cook and Dudley

Moore’s Miss­ing Sketches had re­mained miss­ing. Was it ‘cul­tural van­dal­ism’ when the tapes were wiped? Or a kind­ness? The sur­viv­ing ma­te­rial does the co­me­di­ans’ rep­u­ta­tion a dis­ser­vice – smudgy mono­chrome im­ages, ill-re­hearsed sketches with fluffed lines re­tained, wooden act­ing. Peter Cook was al­ways an awk­ward, glazed pres­ence on the screen, and the way he ob­vi­ously thought work­ing-class char­ac­ters were in­her­ently funny, be­cause stupid and mo­not­o­nous, is of­fen­sive, frankly. De­spite the chortling com­men­tary from Rob Bry­don and in­ter­jec­tions from Barry Humphries, the only thing to tickle the funny bone was Dudley’s corps­ing.

Cook and Moore’s scripts have all been pub­lished – and in fair­ness they do read bril­liantly, the Da­gen­ham di­a­logues hav­ing the tone of poetry. Cook was a writer not an ac­tor or per­son­al­ity, and it is his Be­yond The Fringe co-star Alan Ben­nett, now a youth­ful-look­ing oc­to­ge­nar­ian, who has man­aged to suc­ceed in all cat­e­gories. Ben­nett’s mod­est and hum­ble shy-seem­ing per­for­mance is wor­thy of a Golden Globe, and there it was in full flight in

Alan Ben­nett’s Diaries. This charm­ing doc­u­men­tary quite re­flected the rhythms of the man, as he bum­bled about York­shire and Cam­den, pot­tered around lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals and con­quered New York with his dra­mas. When he croaks, there will only be one big black mark against his name, im­per­illing his heav­enly seat – the part The His­tory

Boys has played in the rise of James Cor­den.

Steve Pem­ber­ton and Reece Shear­smith are to be com­mended for their fas­ci­na­tion with those campy cut-price Sev­en­ties shock­ers, such as

Tales of the Un­ex­pected. Their In­side No 9 episode ‘The Devil of Christ­mas’ faith­fully recre­ated the pe­riod’s duff cam­era style, the blurry flat video light­ing, wob­bly or­ange colours, con­ti­nu­ity er­rors and mini-fluffs with spo­ken di­a­logue. Wear­ing muffs, Rula Len­ska and Jes­sica Raine strut­ted around the set – an Aus­trian ski lodge – as if it was the leg­endary Cross­roads Mo­tel. Derek Ja­cobi was the direc­tor giv­ing us his voiceover com­men­tary – un­til it tran­spired at the fin­ish that he was giv­ing a po­lice in­ter­view. What we had been watch­ing was a ‘snuff’ movie and Raine had been chained to the bed and slaugh­tered.

An­other League of Gen­tle­men grad­u­ate, Mark Gatiss, is the co-cre­ator of the Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Sherlock, and the fourth se­ries was ab­so­lutely ter­ri­ble. Lots of rush­ing about and shout­ing – mo­men­tum that didn’t go any­where. Hal­lu­ci­na­tions and bouts of lu­nacy, drug-in­duced night­mares and credulity stretched from here to Fin­land. Peo­ple came back from be­yond the grave, sci-fi fash­ion, or had only pre­tended to be dead, as in Agatha Christie. Yet in the midst of the delir­ium, Mar­tin Free­man did his best to give a true per­for­mance of a man

suf­fer­ing from in­tense grief. Per­haps he was in mourn­ing for the script ? Toby Jones, who now has to be in ev­ery­thing, gave the su­per-vil­lain Sir Jimmy Sav­ile’s filthy crooked teeth and Sir Cyril Smith’s Rochdale ac­cent.

To play Mai­gret, Rowan Atkin­son has tried so hard to rid him­self of Mr Bean and Black­ad­der, there’s noth­ing left – a blank rigid­ity. He’s also too thin and as­cetic for Mai­gret. You need a cylin­dri­cal, sham­bling fig­ure, like Ti­mothy Spall. Or me.

Dudley Moore and Peter Cook: some­times they were no laugh­ing mat­ter

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