Cradle to Grave, TV review: The cockney accents are a load of pony in this south London caper


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When I first heard about Danny Baker's autobiographical new Cradle to Grave, a tale of a London family's life centred around rackets, fiddles and scams, and loosely based on his own south London adolescence, I immediately thought; "Ah, Del Boy". If only.

Now, Baker is an accomplished broadcaster, a highly intelligent and a well-read man, and he tells a mean anecdote. However, something got badly lost in the translation from memoir to televisual nostalgo-comedy, and most of what ought to work to devastating effect just didn't.

Not even the delinquent tortoise demolishing a display of novelty teapots; not even the teenager's outing to see embalming fluid passed off as hooch – and certainly not the accidental death of a child.

Peter Kay does his very best to play the part of a 1970s docker, that is Baker's father Fred "Spud" Baker, but his accent was too often a bit more Bolton than Bermondsey, and that was very painful on the ear. So talented and versatile is Kay as a comedy actor and writer that in many ways he bears comparison with Ronnie Barker, but his cockney is a load of pony.

So far as south London capers go, this was about as funny as getting on the wrong side of the Richardsons (sarf London's answer to the Krays; less famous but just as vicious). We owe a heavy debt to the late John Sullivan and the uneven masterwork that was Only Fools and Horses: Baker and Kay failed to pay it off.

Still, Cradle to Grave did give us yet another chance to wallow in a sort of Corbynesque better yesterday, and snigger, not for the first time, at flares and geometrically patterned olive wallpaper. Someone, somewhere – probably Danny Baker himself – should be writing a doctoral thesis on why everything from Heartbeat to Downton Abbey has to have loads of old clothes and vintage cars involved to make for compelling telly. It's not that new of course – witness the enduring appeal of the American Western – but attention to period detail does sometimes seem to be more important than anything else.