Television Review

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The Independent Culture
YOUR STARTER for 10. In which English classic will you find the line "I must congratulate you - you've always had magnificent balls"? Is it a) Pride and Prejudice, b) The Last Chronicle of Barset, or c) Carry On Don't Lose Your Head. The answer is c), as it happens, but the judges will not enter into any correspondence over their decision, given that almost any of the 30 or so Carry On films might also have contained this deathless example of British double-entendre. As Channel Four's tribute to the series, A Perfect Carry On (Sun), demonstrated, with a brisk montage of three "big one" gags (Woman to man carrying a large weapon: "Oooh, you've got a big one") the success of the films was never dependent on novelty. People paid for a ticket because they knew exactly what they were going to get, not because they wanted to be surprised by some departure from the formula. "They've stolen my steers," shouted one man in Carry on Cowboy. "Bullocks?" says another. "No, it's true... they've stolen my steers". You can almost imagine the audience chanting along.

A Perfect Carry On attempted to analyse the enduring success of the films - an enterprise that was roughly as successful as trying to dissect a whoopee cushion. Celebrities of varying brilliance and miscellaneous competence (Dale Winton as an expert on camp, Barbara Windsor as a shard of the True Cross, Janet Street-Porter as Gawd knows what) interrupted the clips of knee-buckling innuendo to witter on about the series' magical qualities and the way in which it represented good, clean fun. Occasionally this was funny in itself - as when Malcolm Bradbury conscientiously set about drawing up a historical pedigree for the films' low comedy. We were taking bets in our house on how long it would be before he mentioned the Wife of Bath, but sadly, the moment never came. Mostly, these analytic contributions just made the programme sag, reduced as they were to stating the obvious with an affectionate smile on their lips. The best contributions came from Barbara Windsor, and that was less for what she said than the fact that every remark dissolved into a helpless, lubricious giggle - the best distillation of the Carry On films' appeal. But I also valued Richard O'Brien's economical summary of what it had taken all the other guests paragraphs to get across. "Crap", he concluded, "but good crap".

Which will also serve very nicely for Families At War (BBC1, Sat), which is essentially The Generation Game with Vic and Bob. The programme is actually presented by Alice Beer, trying her best to look severe and icy and unyielding (a persona that is completely at odds with her previous television appearances, in which she comes across as the viewer's friend). Vic and Bob act as team-captains, their job being to make fun of everyone on set and deploy the dubious skills of their own team members. Last night, for instance, Chris's ballet performance was set against Kelly's rather underpowered limbo dance, an unthreatening backward tilt which was only saved from being embarrassing by the fact that she was limbo dancing underneath a life-sized cow. When they spot a strategic opportunity, the team leaders can don their "challenge hats" - miniature leather trilbys which allow them to add a surreal game of their own. Having successfully made a quoit of sausages (accompanied by Vic singing "I've Got A Sausage Machine" to the tune of Hawkwind's "Silver Machine"), Bobby the Butcher then had to identify cuts of meat by touch alone, his hand appearing through cut-outs of celebrities who were notionally attending a meat-touching party. The pre-game interviews are particularly good, spiking the familiar matiness of many game shows with little shards of weirdness: "Chris, you collect monkeys" Bob Mortimer says sincerely, introducing one of his team-members. "What percentage of them would you say are cheeky?"

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