In a rather fallow period for homegrown productions by the British film industry, the 1970s saw the birth, rise and fall of a particular genre which helped to sustain it throughout: the big screen sitcom adaptation.
Other TV series had already made the transition to cinemas, such as Doctor Who in 1965, with Peter Cushing taking the title role, as well as shows like Thunderbirds, and the BBC’s Quatermass serials. It was almost inevitable, then, that film producers would start looking for other programming areas to mine, and with situation comedies aplenty, it seemed the next logical move to start buying up the rights to these, and capitalising on those ready-made audiences.
While the sitcom film trend truly kicked off in 1968 with Till Death Us Do Part, and fizzled out in 1980 with Rising Damp, the majority of movies based on popular sitcoms were made during the Seventies; even the famous Hammer Films went outside its comfort zone and cashed in by making a trilogy of comedies based on ITV’s On The Buses, as well as adapting the rather controversial Love Thy Neighbour. Making people laugh was a serious – and lucrative – business, it seems.
Another of Hammer’s sitcom adaptations – Man About The House – has already been released on Blu-Ray by Network Distributing, along with The Likely Lads, and Network now has two more titles to add to its range: Bless This House and Father Dear Father. As with both the earlier Britcom movie releases, each of these latest additions have been spruced up for our High Definition age, having been lovingly remastered from original film elements, to make them look as good as – if not better than – when they first came out.
Bless This House
Bless This House has been doing the rounds of late on ITV3, so that seems as good a reason as any to start with this film. Starring Carry On legend Sid James as stationery salesman Sid Abbott, it centres around his efforts – alongside his long suffering spouse Jean (Diana Coupland) – to try and bring up his two teenage children, while trying to make some sense of modern society, and also avoid having his position as head of the household undermined by his family.
Although the movie version features most of the main cast – including Sally Geeson as Sally Abbott – the part of Sid and Jean’s son Mike is played here by Robin Askwith, best known for his lead roles in the infamous Confessions Of A… bawdy sex comedy series. In fact, it makes the movie rather a piece of curios, as it sits outside the continuity of the main series – which was still in production at the time – and suggests the intriguing notion of there being a sitcom multiverse, so you just watch out, Marvel.
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This Bless This House feature was also produced by British movie comedy royalty, with Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas – of Carry On fame – being the creative team responsible. The duo managed to assemble a comparatively starry cast, with turns from the likes of Peter Butterworth, Frank Thornton, Wendy Richard, Bill Maynard, Janet Brown, and – a few years before they had played married couples on TV in Happy Ever After and Terry And June – the familiar pairing of Terry Scott and June Whitfield, here playing the Abbotts’ new next door neighbours, the Baines.
The feature manages to juggle three storylines – effectively meaning that it feels like a trio of sitcom episodes that have all been joined together – including a Romeo & Juliet-type thread, where love blossoms between Mike Abbott and Kate Baines, despite all of the grown-ups loathing each other. A big surprise is the subplot where Sally Abbott spends a lot of her time preaching about environmentalism, railing against pollution and waste; given that the movie is nearly 50 years old, it does feel surprisingly progressive and contemporary, and elevates the film beyond being just a bit of entertaining fluff.
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The picture quality is absolutely pristine, and pin sharp. The only real disappointment here is the paucity of value added material, with only a trailer in evidence; a commentary track by Sally Geeson and Robin Askwith would have made a huge difference to the Blu-ray package, so it feels such a shame a little more effort was not made.
Bless This House is out now on Blu-ray from Network Distributing.
Father Dear Father
Based on the sitcom of the same name, Father Dear Father was released just after the series had ended its run on ITV, hitting cinemas in 1973 just three months later, and acting as a sort of coda. The show’s premise saw a divorced writer, Patrick Glover (Patrick Cargill), bringing up his two teenage daughters with help from their Nanny. Having a single father raising children (almost) by himself is rather uncommon for a 1970s programme, let alone in a sitcom, so this really does set it apart from the rest of the field.
Somewhat less progressive, however, are the few moments when the prevailing attitudes of the period tend to creep in, making for very uncomfortable viewing at the points when some awkward racial ‘comedy’ is committed. Mercifully, the instances of this are limited, but still make for an awkward contrast with the rest of the feature’s tone, set in the comfy (upper) middle class insulated and rather closeted suburbia which is so familiar in sitcoms from that era. Nobody serves up patrician bluster quite like Cargill does here.
One of the curses of adapting a sitcom for the big screen is in trying to find a story which runs to longer than the standard half-hour length, and avoids feeling stretched or drawn out in the process. Here, a number of TV episodes have ended up being cannibalised and welded together; along with some of the supporting roles being recast from the television series, the disregard for continuity and making it a standalone film has again brought to mind the idea of there being an infinite number of sitcomverses running parallel to TV.
An extra slice of authenticity, however, comes from the fact that the movie’s script is from the original TV writers, Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, and helmed by the programme’s director, William G. Stewart (who later became known for his on-camera work hosting quiz show Fifteen To One). Whilst not quite as star-studded as Bless This House, there are still some names of the day giving it their all in minor roles, such as Richard O’Sullivan, Beryl Reid, and Donald Sinden. In all, a reasonable success as an adaptation, if not quite knocking it out of the park.
Father Dear Father does win out in the bonus content stakes over Bless This House, by giving us both widescreen and full screen versions of the beautifully restored print, as well as a trailer. There is also a short featurette which delves into the technical side of making a movie version of a TV sitcom, and features interviews with the editor and the camera assistant; however, this feels a little dry at times, and seems to drag on a tad, despite its relatively brief duration. As with Bless This House, a commentary with surviving cast and crew members would not have gone amiss.
Father Dear Father is out on Blu-ray on 13th September from Network Distributing.