Or ‘Confessions of a Milkman’

By the mid 1980s, ITV had covered every middle class and working class occupation in sitcom form known to man. From freelance cartoonists to secretaries and ESOL lecturers, they covered every section of Britain at work or play.

Several years before milkmen was the subject of a Father Ted episode, milkmen didn’t get fair representation on the box, apart from on the first few minutes of Open All Hours. Cue Vince Powell, creator of Mind Your Language, Bless This House and Love Thy Neighbour.

Entitled Bottle Boys, it would originally be a comedy vehicle for Jim Davidson. In 1984, he was fresh from Up The Elephant and Round The Castle. Instead, he would resurface in its more successful spin-off series Home James. Instead of ‘nick nick’, the then London Weekend Television chief John Birt had a masterstroke.

Two Pints and a Tub of Timothy Lea

Mr Birt thought the bawdy nature of Bottle Boys would have been better suited to Robin Askwith than Jim Davidson. Famous for his role in the Confessions of a… sex comedies as Timothy Lea (based on the real life version who wrote the original books which begat the film spin-offs), he took the lead role of Dave Deacon, a football mad milkman.

The series ran for two seasons, with a six weekly episode run commencing on the 01 September 1984. Its second season was aired on the 13 July with a seven weekly episode run. Its humour wasn’t far removed from what you would have expected in Confessions of a Driving Instructor, though somewhat watered down for a wider audience.

On transmission, it was universally panned. Perhaps had Bottle Boys been aired in 1974, it may have garnered a better reception. In 1984, comedy itself had moved on. The cool kids weren’t watching sitcoms about milkmen trying to make out with the opposite sex. Instead, they were watching The Young Ones, reading 2000AD, typing programs on their ZX Spectrum, or watching ‘Allo ‘Allo, Hi-de-Hi! or Only Fools and Horses with the rest of the family. Not least the fact that alternative comedy and political correctness would render it as an anachronism.

The music, composed by Chas ‘n’ Dave, was jaunty enough and accompanied by animated titles. Cheap, cheerful, though hardly in the same league as John Tribe or Martin Lambie-Nairn’s works five years previous.

The 100 TV Moments from Hell

On its original broadcast in September 2000, Bottle Boys was rated as the 97th TV Moment From Hell, way below Mind Your Language, 3-2-1 and The 1989 BRITS Awards. The three hour long marathon, produced by Channel Four and Tyne Tees Television, presented by Zoe Ball, slated the quality of its script and rather dated jokes.

Was It Really That Bad? Does It Deserve Its Place In Television Hell?

If you liked Bottle Boys, feel free to defend its reputation. If you think it deserves its place in TV Hell, state why it deserves to be down there.

S.V., 22 August 2012.

8 thoughts on “1980s Television Nightmares: #2 Bottle Boys

  1. Not quite as gross and unfunny as Jim Davidson’s sitcoms, Bottle Boys was the last defiant attempt at a bawdy working class sitcom, written by the infamous Vince Powell, and aimed at a traditional ITV audience. I did watch a few, didn’t consider it that bad, then forgot about Bottle Boys until someone mentioned it on a TV forum. Looking at the clips on Youtube, it has this sort of quaint, amusing edge and its lack of political correctness is refreshing. However, definitely no match for the BBC sitcoms of the time and even ITV was doing better with upmarket comedies like Duty Free.

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    1. Hi Glenn,

      Don’t get me started on ‘Home James’ or ‘Up The Elephant and Round the Castle’: it was banned at Chez Vall on qualitative grounds! I would say your point on Bottle Boys is spot on. The problem was, in 1985, the comedic centre of gravity was moving towards the alternative scene (for example, ‘The Young Ones’ or ‘Saturday Night Live’) or biting satire (hence ‘Spitting Image’ and ‘Hot Metal’), or more upmarket comedies like ‘Duty Free’.

      Even one of Robin Askwith’s other works (‘Confessions of a Driving Instructor’), fits a similar criteria: guiltily funny though near the knuckle. More recently, Derren Litten resurrected the working class bawdy comedy genre with ‘Benidorm’. Then there’s ‘Little Britain’ which is about as PC as a Jim Davidson gig at times, yet it has its comedic moments and identifiable catchphrases.

      I too remember ‘Duty Free’ first hand – listened to the music today, and the 1980s goose pimples from that!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. This was the finest comedy on tv last yr, so it is going to consider the Academy a little while to catch up. The show had an irregular season, but even the worst episode of MODERN FAMILY is better than the finest episode of GLEE.

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  3. Bottle Boys was the defiant last gasp of the seventies ITV sitcom and predictably the female character was a tarty secretary with skirts that barely covered her stocking tops, a plunging neckline and was easy to pull. If a sitcom like Bottle Boys was done now with David Walliams as the milkman and Amy Childs as the token female, I think it could work on irony grounds as we seem to be going through an ironic post alternative phase now with shows like Mrs Brown’s Boys playing up every stereotype in the book.

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    1. Hi Glenn,

      Most definitely so! As to whether a remake of Bottle Boys or any other 1970s style sitcom would work in 2013, I would say probably so given the popularity of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Some critics think Mrs Brown’s Boys addresses an audience left behind by alternative style comedy, and they are probably right. I like both the 1970s style comedies and the 1980s alternative style stuff, though there were some stinkers from the 1970s and 1980s.

      Supposing Bottle Boys were remade today, we would have to look at the fact that few people have doorstep milk deliveries. Could Dave Deacon be seen as a lecherous barista at Dawson’s Deli (instead of Dawson’s Dairy)? Would the milkman be replaced by an online shopping delivery van driver?

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  4. It wasn’t as bad as I remember it somehow. I was 11 when this was on and I remember saying it was bass but then watching it anyway. I’ve seen better and worse. Some of the scripting was a bit weak. Spent some of it providing better ripostes that I thought Robin Askwith could have said instead of what he was given to say. It did provide some genius moments like Dave walking out of his female companion,s wardrobe wearing her dress and heels and pretending to her husband he was an female old friend and his colleague trying to crack on to him at the bus stop. Did find myself laughing a lot through it. So all in…nah I don’t think it does deserve its TV Hell status. A stiff dose of purgatory maybe….Sapphire Sky

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    1. Hi Sapphire Sky,

      Fair to middling could well be a fair description. Perhaps our postmodernists might have appreciated it less than the viewers at the time. In spite of their opinion, at least 10 million people must have watched Bottle Boys in 1985.

      Today, Coronation Street seldom gets 10 million viewers per episode, though it still tops the viewing figures with EastEnders being a million behind. Unlike 2014, we had four terrestrial channels in 1985. Up to a dozen if you had Rediffusion Cablevision or Swindon Cable (or lucky enough to get Eutelsat 1 and The Sky Channel).

      At home, we were less impressed with the likes of Fresh Fields, Full House and Never The Twain (there was no way we could relate to them). 1985 was a pretty good year for lovers of middle class sitcoms, whereas working class sitcoms such as Bread and Only Fools and Horses seemed to feature more on the BBC back then.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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