When British sitcoms ended up being transferred onto the big screen, mainly during the 1960s and 1970s, they tended to retain the same lead cast members, and take advantage of a comparatively higher budget than was available on the telly, breaking out of the confines of a TV studio, and sometimes even taking the characters on holiday (even if it was only as far as the Costa del Elstree).
However, when it came to adapting 1982’s London Weekend Television six-part sitcom Whoops Apocalypse, the writing team of Andrew Marshall and David Renwick took the unusual step of discarding practically everything from the original TV version – except for the title, the basic notion, and one of the characters – preferring instead to do a page one rewrite, and create a new, self-contained iteration, with a shape and plot far more suited to a theatrical release.
Marshall and Renwick first joined forces on Radio 4’s Week Ending, before creating the radio sketch show The Burkiss Way (which they subsequently tried to bring to TV as LWT’s short-lived End Of Part One). The pair also penned material for The Two Ronnies and Spike Milligan’s There’s A Lot Of It About, as well as going on to co-write BBC 2’a Alexei Sayle’s Stuff with the titular star. Marshall and Renwick would also individually create and write the sitcoms 2point4 Children (Marshall) and One Foot In The Grave (Renwick).
After deciding to cast aside the original LWT production (all six episodes of which are currently available on BritBox), it meant bidding goodbye to incompetent US President Johnny Cyclops and insane British PM Kevin Pork. Instead, Marshall and Renwick created brand new characters, including rookie President Barbara Adams (Loretta Swit) and deranged PM Sir Mortimer Chris (Peter Cook). Having put out both the TV and movie versions over a decade ago as a two-disc DVD release, Network Distributing are now bringing us a newly restored version of the 1986 feature all by itself.
The film of Whoops Apocalypse sees the world brought to the brink of a catastrophic crisis, after the British colony of Santa Maya is invaded by neighbouring Maguadora, which is ruled under the iron fist of the tyrannical General Mosquera (Herbert Lom). After British PM Sir Mortimer Chris launches a Taskforce to recover the colony, Mosquera hires the famed international terrorist Lacrobat (Michael Richards) to exact his revenge, by kidnapping Princess Wendy (Joanne Pearce), a beloved member of the Royal Family.
Things become even more complicated due to Mosquera’s regime having the backing of the Russians, who are building a nuclear base in the Caribbean, within striking range of US soil. President Adams has the difficult task of trying to keep the peace by stopping the increasingly unhinged Chris from launching a nuclear strike on Maguadora if Princess Wendy is not returned. With the world on the brink of a global nuclear war between rival superpowers, even the slightest mistake could lead to mutually assured destructionL and all the while the clock is ticking…
While not exactly slouching in the casting stakes on TV, the movie of Whoops Apocalypse musters an impressive roster of talent. Cook is just superb as the demented Sir Mortimer, someone who is patently unsuited to the role of PM due to his insanity, and his lust for popularity by launching a major military operation. While not quite as gleefully maniacal as John Cleese in the LWT version, Michael Richards (perhaps best known as Kramer in Seinfeld) still acquits himself well as eccentric master of disguise terrorist Lacrobat.
Lom always gives great value, and is just a superb Mosquera, the very essence of the archetypal South American dictator. Alexei Sayle – who was also in the original sitcom – turns up as a Soviet agent (although the fact he actually gets credited as ‘Alexei Sayle in a Hawaiian Shirt’ probably tells you what to expect). Ian Richardson gives his all as an incredibly nervy Rear Admiral, in charge of the British fleet, and with ultimate responsibility for launching the nice lad strike. Adding to his impressive pantheon of Southern hick Sheriffs, we also have the inimitable Clifton James.
Although a definite late entry in the film, turning up only in the last twenty-or-so minutes, the ultimate scene stealer is Rik Mayall, who just bursts onto the screen as the violent and inept leader of an SAS squad who are deployed to track down and rescue Princess Wendy. He totally owns every moment, with his brand of anarchic – and what, at he time, was called ‘alternative’ – comedy. It may not be a very large part, but he totally runs away with the entire picture, and it all reinforces just what a hole he has left since his passing in 2014.
Comparisons can be drawn with Dr. Strangelove (due to the thematically similar nuclear brinkmanship which sits at the heart of the story), as well as In The Loop (which also has the clash of British and American politics). Although the comedy on display here is somewhat broader and more absurd than in the latter, it does not mean that the satire is any less sharp or lacks teeth. In fact, Marshall and Renwick’s script is able to perfectly skewer the jingoism stirred up by the Falklands War a few years earlier, as well as parodying Princess Diana rather effectively.
Network has to be applauded for the effort put into making this quite a formidable package. The inclusion of the original theatrical trailer provides a handy visual comparison, so you can see just how nicely the main feature has been spruced up for this release. The mini featurettes involving interviews with members of the crew, as well as actor Daniel Peacock, are both welcome. The true highlight, however, has to be a fifty-plus minute feature which has Marshall and Renwick talking in depth about the TV iteration, and how it made the transition to the cinema.
Another triumph from Network which is no accident, but is guaranteed to blow you away. You absolutely must get this Apocalypse, now.
Whoops Apocalypse is out now on Blu-ray from Network Releasing.