Well, here’s a strange one to post about here, but I thought it might be apt, tying in with a few thoughts regards some genre shows etc of late.
First, a moment to explain what this show is for anyone outside the UK unfamiliar with the programme. Still Open All Hours is a British sitcom which airs on the BBC, and is a belated spin-off (how timely is that, in this day and age) of Open All Hours, a sitcom that aired between 1976 and 1985 (the pilot episode of which actually dates to 1973 when it formed part of an anthology show). Like the original series, Still Open All Hours is based around a corner shop in Balby, Doncaster; once run by his late uncle Arkwright (whose ‘ghost’ still gently haunts the shop), Granville, who used to be Arkwright’s assistant now runs it with his son Leroy. Its a very old-fashioned, very traditional show that really feels totally out of its time- which is, I suspect, much of its appeal with viewers. Having now totalled 41 episodes over six seasons Still Open All Hours seems to have quietly had some considerable success, arguably surpassing that of its shorter-lived predecessor (ratings not withstanding). Much of this is likely the charm of David Jason, who has had a decades-long career on British television across all sorts of programmes, chiefly of course his role as Derek ‘Del-Boy’ Trotter in Only Fools and Horses, which is most probably the most successful British Sitcom of all time. Possibly its because it must be fairly cheap to produce, and is in this day and age, frankly, the ratings don’t have to be as high as they used to when such programming was more popular.
I never used to watch Open All Hours– back when that show aired I was a kid more interested in playing outside and my viewing was mostly more exciting stuff like Star Trek, Space:1999, The Tomorrow People or Dr Who. As I have grown older though, I have to admit its clearly part of Still Open All Hours charm and appeal that it calls back to such old-fashioned and gentle comedies of a bygone era. I’m sure many people sneer at it and some (the majority, even) think its quaint and traditional comedy old and irritating, but for an harmless thirty minutes of escape from modern-life anxieties its rather perfect. Comfort food, perhaps, for those who think the world has passed them by.
The success of the show is largely due to its ensemble cast, who on the whole are pretty good comic actors the majority of whom are old veterans of the genre clearly in the twilight of their careers (if not indeed actual semi-retirement). Much of the comedy is predictable, even hokey, but I suspect that’s part of the appeal, the audience being ‘in on the joke’ and ahead of things the majority of the time. While much of it centres on Granville and his relationship with Mavis (Maggie Ollerenshaw), a woman he met during his youth and whom he still loves- its something that mirrors Arkwrights pursuit of Nurse Gladys of the original series, the appeal for many are the recurring plot-lines surrounding the ensemble cast of characters. There’s Mr Newbold (Geoffrey Whitehead) trying to escape the attentions of ‘The Black Widow’ Mrs Featherstone (Stephanie Cole) Eric and Cyril’s (Johnny Vegas and Kulvinder Ghir) comic duo of foolish men somewhat frustrated by their middle-age and lost youth- its quaint and silly really, like the banter between the middle-aged and elderly women bemoaning the antics of their men. The (currently) final episode was a Christmas episode that ended with a surprising, and really quite effecting, coda that perhaps indicates the series is better than even its fans think, and while it manages a fitting moment of closure, it also suggests a certain affection for the characters and the humour that surprised me.
My point is, this show is not trying to be anything groundbreaking. It knows it audience and is quietly, gently efficient in being what it needs to be. The cast aren’t going to win any awards, and neither is any of the writing, but it works, and while the ratings possibly are somewhat niche, I suspect (and certainly) hope that they are sufficient enough to merit a seventh season. All the episodes have been written by Roy Clarke, a veteran of British television who is now ninety years old and clearly someone of another era who is writing what he knows as a throwback to those days of old, as he did in his other popular sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine (which incredibly ran for 295 episodes over thirty years). Clarke is just writing what he does best, and it works.
Compare this to some of the current incarnations of other long-running and ‘classic’ genre shows like Star Trek, Dr Who and film series like Star Wars. Taken over by a new generation of creative teams and aiming to update the franchises for modern audiences and more up-to-date social agendas, the series seem to be struggling to succeed at pleasing both old fans and new, and managing to sustain the properties of the originals with all the new updating. It suggests that possibly some of these shows should be less ‘new’ and more familiar (or ‘honest’?) to the originals. While there might be frustration with that, it does seem to be the dichotomy inherent in trying to bring back franchises of old if show-runners are going to take them in unusual or odd directions and lose the appeal of those originals. It would be much more preferable, I think, to just do something entirely new (like The Expanse, for instance) than keep on trying to utilise the old and familiar as a mechanism to exploit established IP and fanbases. Maybe.
So anyway, maybe that excuses writing a post about a show like Still Open All Hours. Normal service resumes tomorrow….