Friday, 6 June 2014

Harry and Paul's Story of the 2s: A Review

Narrator: It's 1964. The BBC, or Auntie Beeb as she was known, is 45 years old. So far, she's given birth to one televisual child. And on April the 20th of that year, she was to find herself once again in labour.
Do come on, Auntie Beeb, stop making a fuss and push.
The child was on its way. But what was it to be called? We have one television channel. Tonight we launch a second. What on earth are we going to call it?
Pipes in. Pencils out.
I've calculated that if we do indeed have two channels, then the current channel - BBC Television - should be known as BBC One.
I've checked your calculations and they're correct. If the current channel equals BBC One, what does the new channel add up to?
X to the power of -13. This new channel shall be called BBC X To The Power Of -13.
You've blundered in your reduction of this fraction, you horrid little homosexual. X to the power of -13 cancelled out is two. BBC Two.
Can't we call it BBC Stalin?
Are you a communist?
This is the BBC - we're all communists, aren't we?
ALL:  Shhhh..
I've just caught up with Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse's "Story of the 2s". It is a very amusing, if somewhat barbed, takeoff of a number of BBC2 shows which are famous, such as the Forsyte Saga, Ascent of Man, I Claudius, Top Gear, Fawlty Towers, QI etc.
The two, and their fellow helpers, are brilliant at cheeky impersonations. These are not impersonations in the strict sense, like Mike Yarwood used to do, or Dead Ringers did more recently. Rather they are impressionistic portrayals, where enough of the style and mannerisms of people are given so that you know quite easily who they are lampooning.
Of course, one problem is knowing the shows. I know about "The Ascent of Man" and "I Claudius", so the lampooning of those is very much on the mark, and very funny. But if you are not familiar with the shows involved - and some of them go back some time - you will largely miss the joke, and for example, the send up of Jacob Bronowski, or the way in which Frankie Howerd from "Up Pompeii" creeps into the send up of "I Claudius", called "One Clavdius".
Narrator: Colour television brought with it endless possibilities for grand documentaries. And there was none more grand than Jacob Bronowski's epic series...The Pottering About of Man.
Bronowski (in distance on sand dune): I'm rather a long way away from you.
Bronowski (closer to camera): Now I am much closer.
Bronowski: Now you can observe with clarity the riot of beige which is my jacket, shirt and tie.
The names are fun parodies too - John Cleese-Shop-Sketch, Germaine Dreary, Joan Bakewell Tart, and Gerald Manley Paxman
So I think its full appeal will be limited to an audience of a particular age, who are familiar with and watched the shows. Obviously seemingly timeless shows like the much repeated Fawlty Towers will still resonate, and the more modern send-ups, such as Stephen Fry on QI, will appeal to a wider audience.
Harry's rendering of Ian Hislop is also extremely good, but they seem to have completely overlooked the fact that "Have I Got News for You" goes out on BBC1 and not BBC2. (Yes, I know repeats are there, but that doesn't really count, does it?)
But there is a sharp edge there as well in the commentary. A parody of "Call my Bluff" has the word "paedophile" given various explanations  - as the original show used to do with strange words - with Harry Enfield's  brilliantly capturing Robert Robinson (with just the right kind of patronising manner)
Narrator: "As the '70s wore on, rumours of a culture of sexual depravity at Television Centre began to circulate. It was decided to tackle this potential time bomb head on, on prime-time BBC Two."
Robert Robinson (Harry Enfield:) "Hello and welcome to a show which could quite easily be called Would I Lie To You? will soon to be known as Call My Bluff and is currently entitled Speech Impediment. And we like it that way.
Robert Robinson (Harry Enfield:) "And our first word is.....paedophile. Frank, what is a paedophile?
Frank Muir (Paul Whitehouse): Well, a pae-do-pa-hilly, a fruh, a fruh-fruh fruh-fruh.
Robert Robinson (Harry Enfield:) Frank thinks it's a type of chocolate bar made of nuts and fruit. Is he right, Patrick?
Robert Robinson (Harry Enfield:) Patrick says it's a type of instrument for scraping the dead skin off your feet. Derek?
"Pee-pa-pa-pe-pe, pee-pa-pa-pa, poh."
Robert Robinson (Harry Enfield:) "Or is it, as Derek suggests, a ceremonial dress worn by German women on Maundy Thursday? And the answer is... Well, you're all wrong. because there's no such thing as a paedophile."
 "There is no such thing as a paedophile". This hits at the lax attitude of the BBC in the past, where blind eyes were turned to children being abused. There's bite in that satire!
But there is good natured fun on the way, and their rendering of Stephen Fry is a delight.
Narrator: Stephen, of course, invented adult humour.
Stephen Fry (Paul Whitehouse): - Bum chums and willy biscuits. 
And the "Stephen Fry" explanations in the pastiche of QI almost sound as if they might have come from the show itself:
Fry: The interesting thing about Nazis - there's no T in it. It should actually be pronounced "nah-zee".
Fry: And the interesting thing about Ann Widdecombe is it's pronounced "Ann Wuddicome" in parts of Scotland and "Anne Wycombe" in parts of Wycombe.
For those born later, and unfamiliar with shows, a number of arrows will miss their mark. But for myself, a self-confessed TV addict, who remembers all the old shows ("Ask the Ugly Family", with Robert Robinson!), it was something of a wicked delight.

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