Mel Smith was a gambler, a smoker, a drinker, a liver of a life. As such, Christmas Eve’s tribute to his work, Mel Smith: I’ve Sort of Done Things (BBC2), was less a maudlin tribute to a man who died young– whatever his excesses – at 60 in July than a tribute to his powers of imbibition (they called it “getting Smithed”).
For those who grew up straddling Generations X and Y – just before the age of multichannel prime time, it seemed like Smith (and Jones) were de facto staples of TV. It felt – or at least feels like now – that some nights of TV consisted solely of Mel and Griff staring at each other in profile while engaging in witless pub chat. Not to mention the countless Not the Nine O’Clock News repeats.
The latter still felt fresh then (I’ll cop to naively thinking it was contemporary, even with the Reagan jokes). The wit of Smith – who came via theatre – was a style best summed up here by one of NTNOCN’s creator’s John Lloyd as the kind where you can “turn the sound down and you can’t tell someone is trying to be funny”.
Watched in parts here (and then later on YouTube, having got a thirst for it), they still feel fresh now. One, it has to be said, still likes trucking. And no matter how many times you see the Gerald the Gorilla clip, it is impossible not to laugh at Rowan Atkinson’s line, “Wild? I was absolutely livid!”
So he’ll be missed. While most of the anecdotes here seemed to focus on Smith’s relentless hunger for a good time – going straight from a vodka-fuelled game of poker straight to Selina Scott’s sofa to do the papers was one highlight – there was one particularly tender moment when Griff Rhys Jones described the actual realisation of not being able to work with his comedy partner again.
Levity swiftly returned, however, with a Smith and Jones sketch – “A Tribute to the Late Mel Smith” – in which Smith almost has a heart attack upon seeing its title. He’d no doubt prefer this real tribute’s title – named after his own take on “My Way” – I’ve Sort of Done Things. He certainly had.
Others in Smith’s generation are now playing elderly dads in sitcoms. Vic and Bob are in Hebburn and Drifters respectively and Rik Mayall is Greg Davies’s dad in Man Down (Channel 4, Christmas Day), which had the honour of a Christmas special after just one series.
A certain Christmas spirit was in abundance here thanks to Mayall’s demented turn as a father whose festive regimen focused solely on terrorising his son, including shoving Davies’s Dan headfirst into a Christmas tree and rigging his car with a rowdy seagull. That’s my kind of Christmas spirit, right there. And any show which can come up with a kids’ school nativity called Scrooge 3000 (sample lyric: “Look at the tasty futuristic geese/ you can’t afford a goose to eat”) is all right in my book.
Finally, in an act of a solidarity with the millions of you forced to sit through hours of TV you don’t want to watch (and the fact that the BBC wouldn’t let me watch Dr Who in advance), I thought it would only be proper to end this review with a few words on the last show I would want to spend Christmas evening watching… Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special (Christmas Day, BBC1).
It may have been the sherry, it may have been the wine, it might have been the clever metatextual moment when Brendan O’Carroll asked a workman to say something – “You’ve got a speaking part now, they’ll have to pay you extra. Merry Christmas son!” – but I almost made it all the way through. Almost. So here are my six words on Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special: “I really miss The Royle Family.”