We all know that technology is cyclical, so this week I picked up a couple more VHS tapes at a charity shop… one was a compilation of sketches from Victoria Wood As Seen On TV (1986), and the other contained three episodes from a series of one-off sitcom playlets simply titled Victoria Wood (1989). I found myself remembering a lot more of the material than I expected to… which was particularly surprising with the second show, because I was convinced I’d never seen it before!
Apparently you can buy all of Victoria Wood’s early sketches on DVD now, so this video wasn’t really much of a find… but it was still fun to take a skip down memory lane, and see so many familiar faces looking so young… well, relatively young anyway… I think most of the cast were in their early-to-mid thirties at the time (just like me!). Obviously the stand out sketches are the all-too-brief instalments of Acorn Antiques, the spoof soap opera set in an antiques shop, featuring hilariously bad acting, poor timing, ridiculous dialogue and contrived plot twists. It’s gloriously silly stuff, so I’m not surprised that the strand earned a separate DVD release of its own… although I am slightly puzzled by its recent revival as a West End musical! My other favourite runner would have to be Susie Blake’s turn as an arrogant middle-class continuity announcer, who pops up between sketches to talk down to the viewers: “We’d like to apologise to viewers in the North. It must be awful for them”. Come to think of it, I’d much prefer to have her doing the real continuity announcements on TV right now, rather than the dreary half-wits they use these days, reading out their lame “jokes” with all the energy and charm of a blocked toilet. Which reminds me… watching both of these tapes together, I was struck by the how many times Wood used lavatory pedestal mats as a punchline. She mentioned them at least four times between both shows, and there’s yet another reference in the jokey blurb on the back of the VWASOTV video cover! It could almost be a drinking game: Take a sip every time lavatory mats come up in conversation, and down your drink when someone mentions mashed swede. Skol!
I’ve read a number of articles recently in which proper TV critics debated the relative merits of “multi-camera” comedy shows with a live audience, versus “single camera” comedies with no laugh track. In her own self-deprecating critique of VW, Wood apparently bemoaned the decision not to record it in front of a studio audience, and described the filming as a “boring, diabolical and awful” experience. On the contrary, I often found that her jokes in both shows were being trampled on by the audience, and think they might have benefited from a bit of respectful silence… because the way she writes, there’s often a big gag followed by a quieter afterthought, and this was frequently lost under the laughter. It was also a little bizarre to hear people going into hysterics over VWASOTV’s opening title sequence, where a giant pair of hands mucks about with a claymation version of Wood. I mean, it’s cute… but does it really warrant its own laugh track? Apparently so. Anyhoo, in VW we follow Wood as she accompanies a friend to a health farm, accompanies another friend on a series of blind dates, and then accompanies yet another friend to the recording of a TV talk show… making pithy, slightly disparaging comments all the while. The playlets are quite funny in places, although I’d agree with Wood’s own observation that she probably shouldn’t have played such a prominent role in every episode… or at least, I would have preferred it if she didn’t keep talking to the camera and breaking the fourth wall, and gave the other characters slightly more to say and do, beyond simply being the straight women and/or targets for her jokes. Sadly the full series was split over two tapes, and all of the episodes with Celia Imrie in them were on the second tape (i.e., the one I don’t own). Pesky!
Oh, while we’re on a nostalgia kick… a few weeks back I picked up some giveaway DVDs from the same charity shop, featuring Imrie’s two-episode run on The Darling Buds of May, but I didn’t have enough to say about them to warrant an individual post. Imrie is fantastic as a devious femme fatale who tries to lure ‘Pop Larkin’ away from the family fold, and Blake was a lot of fun as the naive townie who gets caught in their crossfire, but the rest of the show was far too twee for me to tolerate. No offence…