With the audio-visual corpses of To the Manor Born et al littered among the pages of old Radio Times Christmas Specials, one wonders what commissioners – having run out of dead shows with living casts – will do next.
Dad’s Army as a one-man show by Ian Lavender, perhaps? Or Are You Being Served with Mr Rumbold and Betty Slocombe’s wig?
Still Open All Hours was something in that direction. With Ronnie Barker gone, it was TV as Garfunkel without Simon, Wise without Morecambe, Hale and Pace without one of Pace or Hale.
As loved and brilliant as David Jason is and was, this was Ronnie Barker’s show. With its star having passed away in 2005, the decision to bring back Roy Clarke’s classic for a one-off Christmas special seemed odd.
To get over the stuttering, cheapskate-shaped ghost in the room, Clarke produced a simple sleight of hand. He turned Granville into a proto Arkwright and gave him a young son, Leroy (Emmerdale’s James Baxter) as a modern Granville.
All the rest of the old cast were here: Stephanie Cole was as good as ever as Delphine “The Black Widow” Featherstone and even managed to plant a kiss on Granville’s lips; Nurse Gladys Emmanuel (Lynda Baron) is still shopping at Arkwright’s and indecisive Maggie Ollerenshaw’s Mavis still can’t make her mind up. Although their various appearances – succinctly recounting their roles and relationships in the original series (“You look better since you got rid of that bum of a husband”) – seemed to presume that the last 28 and a bit years hadn’t happened.
Other cameos included Johnny Vegas as an unlucky-in-lovemaking regular to whom Granville flogs two tins of anchovy paste as a sex aid. The Fast Show’s Mark Williams was a tea salesman ripped off by Granville, and there’s even an blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Barry Chuckle.
Despite all that action it was difficult to get away from the oddity of Granville as a reprise of Arkwright: he even wore his dead uncle’s brown grocer’s jacket and did an impression of the old fella in front of a portrait of a wonderfully swivel-eyed Barker. And there was a demi-recreation of the famous loose-wheeled bike scene from series three when Granville falls off his cycle and ends holding his groin in agony and, you suppose, tribute.
But heck, Clarke’s not trying to do Seinfeld here (not that Larry David would be averse to a good old groin gag). This was Boxing Day telly, an old relative popping in briefly for a nice chat before you go back to seeing your new friends (Modern Family, Fresh Meat…).
Even if it wasn’t quite what you’d hope, there’s consolation in the idea of an all-in-one local store going strong in the age of Big Supermarket. That and the idea that this might push younger viewers to the original are enough to suggest it was w-w-w-worth it.