The BBC’s other “new” comedy of the evening will surely top the shortlist for Bizarre Programme Of The Year. The idea was straightforward enough – a sketch show featuring comedy/light entertainment stars of yesteryear – but the result was quite astonishing, a sort of surreal Fast Show On Liver Salts/With Liver Spots which had us gaping at the screen in disbelief.
The performers were genuine A-listers from the TV world of the 1970s and 80s. They included Julie Goodyear (Corrie’s legendary Bet Lynch), arch screen-smoothie Leslie Phillips, former Avengers star Honor Blackman, and – the surprise stand-out presence of the show – Melvyn Hayes, best known as Private Gloria in the dismal (but popular) army sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. They were good, too, their timing and delivery no doubt kept in working order by decades of pantos and seaside shows.
The programme’s bizarre nature came from its scripts, which were unbelievably bad. Sketch after sketch turned out to have a punchline so weak it could barely draw breath, or simply not to have one at all. A man is buried alive, so passes the time playing on a games console (er, that’s it). A soldier is rescuing his comrade from the battlefield, but drops him to pick up an alluring woman instead (incredibly, this was reprised as a running gag, using puppies and a trifle in place of the woman). The best on offer was Goodyear doing a Silent Witness-style description of a corpse’s evisceration and third-degree burns, which turned out to refer to a cooked turkey.
The professionalism of the actors made the show watchable in places (Honor Blackman was great as a gran trying to buy control of her grandchildren through promises of inheritance), but the overwhelming feeling was of disbelief that performers of this quality could have been lumbered with material as rotten as this. So bad was it, in fact, that it could almost have been a post-ironic joke by the producers, a Pilot Show-style reality piece designed to see how low these oldies were willing to sink in order to get their faces back on screen. They deserved much better.