Comedy of young terrors was always a class act
It’s back to school as we remember TV hit, Please Sir!
THE anarchic class of 5C were the nightmare of every teacher at Fenn Street Secondary Modern school. Staff would do anything to avoid being stuck with them for a lesson, but newly qualified teacher Bernard Hodges saw the misfits as a challenge.
John Alderton, who had previously appeared as Dr Moon in hospital drama Emergency Ward 10, played the teaching newbie with Peter Cleall as classroom leader Duffy, Malcolm McFee as smooth charmer Craven and David Barry as tough guy wannabe Abbott.
The 5C actors were all older than the fifth form teenagers they were meant to be playing, but that did not prove a stumbling block as viewers happily suspended disbelief for the sake of the comedy lines.
The cast also included Derek Guyler as officious school caretaker Potter, Richard Davies as Welsh-born teacher Price and Noel Howlett and Joan Sanderson as the headmaster and the assistant head of the school.
London Weekend Television called Please, Sir! “an education in comedy” when it first appeared on TV screens 50 years ago on November 11.
The sitcom ran until 1972 and proved so popular that a film version was also released in 1971 featuring the original TV cast and showing a foolhardy Hodges taking his unruly charges away on a school trip to an outdoor pursuit centre.
Writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey went on to pen a string of sitcom favourites including The Good
Life, Ever Decreasing Circles and As Time Goes By.
They also wrote spin-off series The Fenn Street Gang in 1971 which followed the fortunes of the pupils after they had left school.
The American version of Please, Sir! – made by ABC as Welcome Back, Kotter – began in the US in 1975 and saw a 24-year-old John Travolta as wisecracking inner-city kid Vincent “Vinnie” Barbarino.
Record producers signed him up when they saw him singing Barbara Anne by the Beach Boys on the show and he had a top 20 hit single in 1976 with Let Her In.
John Alderton as Bernard Hodges with Carol Hawkins who was the second actress to take the role of Sharon
Derek Guyler as Potter, left, and, above, the original cast of 5C. Viewers didn’t seem to mind that the ‘teenagers’ were all played by much older actors