East of the M60 recalls a television comedy long forgotten by most viewers
In the eyes of some critics, ‘ITV’ and ‘comedy’ seldom appear in the same sentence. For every The New Statesman and Man About the House, we also have The Brighton Belles and Fresh Fields. For many a critic, the phrase ITV Sitcom is often met with disdain. Amid this background, there are a few long forgotten gems. One of which parodied the programmes and advertisements of the day.
End of Part One (London Weekend Television, 1978 – 1980): Main roles:
- Norman Straightman: Tony Aitken;
- Vera Straightman: Denise Coffey;
- Sprote of Hackney: David J. Grahame;
- Assorted roles by Fred Harris, Sue Holderness, David Simeon and Dudley Stevens;
- Written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick;
- Graphics by John Tribe;
- Produced by Simon Brett (first series) and Humphrey Barclay (second series);
- Directed by Geoffrey Sax.
Transmission times and dates:
- First Series: seven half hourly episodes shown Sundays, 5.30pm (15 April 1979 to 27 May 1979);
- Second Series: seven half hourly episodes shown Sundays, 4.00pm (12 October 1980 to 23 November 1980).
Prior to its initial transmission, Fred Harris, Denise Coffey, Andrew Marshall and David Renwick enjoyed success with the BBC Radio Four comedy The Burkiss Way. Instead of opting for a straight conversion from radio to television of the series (which at the time was already running), Marshall and Renwick elected to send up the television programmes, continuity and advertisements of the day. Hence End of Part One.
Denise Coffey had hitherto had experience in surrealistic comedy in Do Not Adjust Your Set, so End of Part One seemed a perfect match. Tony Aitken had appeared in minor roles on various sitcoms such as Love Thy Neighbour and My Mother Makes Five so playing the part of Norman Straightman was a first leading role for him. Sue Holderness, had previously featured in Tightrope and Fly Into Danger, both aimed at school age and family audiences. End of Part One would have been a satirical programme for the family, in the pantomime sense where some jokes would have gone over the heads of younger viewers.
A Summary of the First Series
For the first series, most of the episodes parodied Coronation Street and were centred around Norman and Vera Straightman, a fifty-something couple. During their otherwise mundane existence, they would be interrupted by people in funny costumes. Monty Python fashion, their life would take a surreal twist. Norman Straightman would cop for unusual job interviews and positions, such as Trainee Stuntman. One scene has them watching Weekend World from a gas powered television.
Bits of spoof continuity, other programmes and idents would sit alongside the soap opera parody part of the programme. A copyright dodging version/adaptation of the Coronation Street theme would be used prior to seeing the Straightmans at home. Also living with them is Sprote of Hackney, a scruffily dressed elderly man who assumes the guise of a family pet. He is seen eating food on the floor like a dog and often on his hands and knees. Visual gags seen on the Coronation Street style titles would see incongruous objects scattered along the terraced houses.
During the first series, World of Sport, Mind Your Language, The Man from Atlantis, Sale of the Century and Whodunnit are lampooned. For instance, a Dickie Davies lookalike is seen wired to a lie detector with parodies of the ITV Seven race card and sports coverage.
A Summary of the Second Series
For the second series, the Straightmans only appear for a few seconds in the final episode, as the Coronation Street style parody is dropped in favour of more sketches based around continuity and programmes. The content remains satirical, again with a mix of humour likely to find favour with family audiences. The first episode of the second season parodies the BBC’s election coverage. Predating The Day Today by several years, its rolling coverage of nuclear attacks apes Chris Morris’ programme several years on and BBC’s Decision 79.
Other highlights of the second series include a send-up of Larry Grayson’s Generation Game. Entitled Fat Ladies’ Embarrassment Game, it pokes holes at how overweight women are being used to entertainment 25 million viewers. This is eloquently expressed in song by Sue Holderness, assuming the Isla St. Clair role.
Besides the comedic output, the creative talents of John Tribe and the musical talents of Nigel Hess and Denis King also enhanced the programme. By 1978, John Tribe had established himself as a graphic designer for London Weekend Television, after being employed by Associated-Rediffusion. His contemporaries at Rediffusion’s Wembley studios included Arnold Schwartzman and a young Martin Lambie-Nairn. He too would join Mr Tribe at LWT before going it alone and making a real name for himself with the Channel Four ident.
At odds with most programmes, cast credits would appear midway through the second part – and often with the graphics of a programme they would be sending up. The music, by Nigel Hess and Denis King, would be indistinguishable from the original theme, with the titles being portrayed with frightening accuracy.
The programmes use of graphics and sound for parody was quite ahead of its time, though the formula of spoof programmes had been used in BBC’s Rod Hull and Emu vehicle Emu’s Broadcasting Company. The sketch format would be copied in later years, albeit in a somewhat different way to Andrew Marshall’s and David Renwick’s production. The Coronation Street style setting would be adopted by No. 73 by TVS in 1982, albeit with each room in the house used for different parts of the programme.
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Life After End of Part One
End of Part One only mustered two series, both of which shown at a time better suited to children’s programming. It probably would have had a better reception if shown nearer to prime time. In later years, a repeat showing of Saturday’s Harry Hill’s TV Burp – at a similar time slot to End of Part One, with an equally anarchic sense of humour – was better received.
Andrew Marshall and David Renwick would also pen the similar yet more mature Not the Nine O’Clock News for BBC Two. For London Weekend Television, they would write Whoops Apocalypse and Hot Metal. David Renwick would find greater success at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s on his own with the much revered One Foot in the Grave.
Fred Harris would find continued fame as a co-presenter for Play School, Chockablock and Micro Live. He is now seen on the British Forces Broadcasting Service’s children’s slot, manning their broom cupboard.
Sue Holderness would gain greater success in theatre and – most famously – as Marlene in Only Fools and Horses.
Tony Aitken would later appear in Television South’s children’s programme No. 73.
Denise Coffey would later make sporadic appearances on light entertainment programmes before moving to Canada and becoming a theatre director.
John Tribe would continue to work for LWT, later creating the graphics for The Seven Dials Mystery, Partners in Crime and The Piglet Files. As a sculptor, his more recent works include trophies for the British Academy of Film and Television Awards.
End of Part One has never been released on DVD, and has never been repeated on ITV or any of its sister channels. If anything, difficulties in getting clearance for some of the soundtrack may have scuppered potential release. The only place to find EoPO at the moment is on YouTube.
Am I the only one on this planet who may have come across this programme (though admittedly several years after broadcast on YouTube)? Could you at the very least double that number? Feel free to comment away.
S.V., 07 May 2012.