am 10. September 1999
Some time ago after a meeting of some sort, I happened to call out, "You've all done very well!" and every person there laughed. If someone else ever uses the word "bucket," all you have to do is say "Pronounced bouquet" and very few will not get the reference. Or a simple "Nudge, nudge" might get knowing chuckles. Now for the very few of you who are wondering what that was all about, you have obviously never seen (in order) "Are YouBeing Served?" "Keeping Up Appearances," or even "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Although those three and many other exports from England are so familiar, very few of us over here know anything of their backgrounds. Well, the solution is now available from Taylor Publishing Company. Garry Berman's <Best of the Britcoms: from Fawlty Towers to Absolutely Fabulous> has just been issued.At $18.95 it is a goldmine of information about three sorts of British comedies: (1) those you know and love, (2) those you have known and loved but are not shown any more, and (3) those very popular over there but never shown over here. Of the over 30 programs discussed in the all too few 140 pages (I only wish it was longer) of this book, several are still around on the PBS stations other than the three mentioned above: "Red Dwarf," "'Allo! 'Allo!," "One Foot in the Grave," "Waiting for God," "The Vicar of Dibley," and more. ("Absolutely Fabulous" was a bit too much for Public TV and can be seen on the Comedy Channel with lots of commercials.) From the golden past we have "The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin," "Butterflies," "Yes, Minister [and] Yes, Prime Minister," "To the Manor Born," "The Black Adder," the fairly recent "Thin Blue Line," and others. As for those never seen in the Colonies, why don't you just look for yourself? You will see a lot of familiar faces, mind you, who went on to do things you have seen. Each entry gives us the years it was shown in Great Britain, and how many episodes were shown in all. You are then given the writers, directors and producers; told if any of the episodes are available on tape; and then you get the basic casts. What follows is the heart of the matter: anywhere from a half page to four pages of the history of the series (which is used in two senses in this book), comments from the critics, and personal reminiscences from members of the casts. For example, we learn that the basic idea of the maniacally rude Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) was based on an actual hotel owner at whose establishment the Monty Python group once stayed. And that the very first "Are You Being Served?" episode was hurriedly put on the air in 1972 when a telecast of the Olympics was suddenly canceled because of the massacre of the Israeli contestants. And things like that. The book starts with a general overview of British sitcoms and ends with some thoughts about American spin-offs. (You did know, of course, that "All in the Family" was based on the British series "Till Death Do Us Part"? Dear me, then you must read this book.) So give it a try and let me know what you think at our next candlelight supper.