Sunday, 22 March 2009

Mighty Moments in TV History

Wednesday, January 10th 1979

4.40PM Take Hart
The new Arts Centre caretaker visits Tony for the first time and is disturbed by what he finds!”

- Radio Times.

Cue a nation of pastel and poster paint-crazed children screaming to the heavens: “Why? Why did they think The Master needed comedy interruptions to his sacred creative process from a comedy, accident-prone clown with a bucket on his foot?” But even the most committed bubble paint fanatic gradually grew to love (or at least grudgingly accept) the inevitable off-screen crash and anguished cry of ‘the council aren’t going to like this, Mr Hart!' And anyway, Mr Bennett got more complex as a character as his storyline developed. (January 24th: “Tony invites two of the Why Don’t You..? Gang to help with a painting; the caretaker calls and puts his foot in it!”)

(Mr B was also, coincidentally, one of the last manifestations of the ‘meddling council’ in British children’s entertainment, after a decade of Clive Dunn’s Grandad facing similar official woes, and endless films wherein Ronnie Barker in a bowler hat threatening to knock down the lovely old stately home where two stripy-pullovered kids passed the time innocently with bickering 17th century ghosts.)

I’ve always liked Colin Bennett. Like the inestimable Brian Trueman, he’s one of those TV figures who’s never quite been centre stage, but the more you find out about them, the more impressive they get. He co-wrote the barking teatime sci-fi comedy Luna, which boasted its own Clockwork Orange-lite dialect and posited that Patsy Kensit was artificially grown from a batch of green slime, as well as the decidedly odd semi-drawn sci-fi drama-cum-whodunnit-game-show Captain Zep - Space Detective, which would take another post to explain.

He was also Vince Purity, oleaginous mainstay of You Should Be So Lucky!, a sort of fairground stall/snakes and ladders/talent show hybrid, which took that already universally hated tribe, the stage school graduate, and made them seem appreciably more repellent. A weird attempt to make the most obnoxious children’s programme ever, it bombed abysmally. That is to say, it was a perfect success. Then he spent the early 1990s running round town centres in the middle of the night interviewing emergency glaziers and night-watchmen for the mystifying late night schedule filler Night Shift.

As you might have gathered, our Mr B has an affinity with the high concept and the oddball. He adapted Harry Nilsson’s offbeat fantasy LP The Point (about the round-headed outcast of a pointy-headed race and his dog) for the stage, and runs a production company called Acquired Taste TV. It’s a given that anyone operating in those sorts of backwaters is never going to achieve star status, but thank God they don’t seem to care. As TV fills up more and more with rigidly career-oriented types, it becomes a much, much duller place.

And have you tried getting hold of an R186 signal box lately?


Matthew Rudd said...

I think he was also the man in the "there may be trouble ahead"/"I think WE are the ones who should have been careful" edition of the ads for some insurance company, I forget which.

Was he playing himself? Both he and Tony called each other by their real surnames, and the credits always said "featuring Colin Bennett as the caretaker". At what point did his persona on the programme stop being him and start being someone else?

Phil Norman said...

You're right, I forgot that one, matt. Took me several views to recognise him at the time.

I like to think the 'real names' bit was in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, with Colin as STan of course. In fact, Ton y Hart could do a great hardy-esque 'slow burn', in his own genteel way.