Monday, 6 September 2021

L for Lester: Episode 1


Gosh, I must be becoming flexible in my old age. Recently I've written about a couple of period dramas ayin a change to my usual playbook here I am writing about a sitcom. Gratifyingly I have only just discovered this show - I like it when that happens because it suggests the well of old TV shows hasn't completely dried up. 

L for Lester was a short-lived show and its only six episodes are readily available on the internet. The only problem seeming to be that episode 5 isn't complete. I don't think for an instant this will ever have a commercial release - it doesn't seem to have a cult following despite retaining happy memories, and I suspect it would be difficult to get your money back from restoring six episodes of such a show.

According to the internet the show was devised as a vehicle for the popular actor Brian Murphy (readers will know him from George and Mildred, Man About the House and possibly Last of the Summer Wine as well as numerous appearances as a jobbing actor including in The Avengers), after his George and Mildred co-star, Yootha Joyce died. This mere fact instantly catapults us back to a time before the nineties, when a TV show could be devised for an actor who was popular with the punters. I mean as opposed to being an Instagram influencer, celebrity and probably model and sex symbol. In fact the whole cast look like real people. I just don't think that would happen now, and demonstrates the gulf in attitudes between forty years ago and now.

Compared to most of the seventies/eighties shows that I like, this puts Murphy's vehicles in a different league. In fact I have just realised that the other shows of that era I like are not set in most people's reality. Most people will never be an agent for CI5 for example. Whereas Lester Small (Murphy) is a driving instructor and that's much more relatable.

He's a distinctly disaster prone driving instructor though (in this episode a pupil drives the car down a railway), and I wonder whether this was in the seventies zeitgeist. I have been watching a Candid Camera over the weekend, in which they did their stunt of getting a member of the public to watch a parking attendant wreck several cars then watching the reaction when the attendant offers to park their car. Perhaps car ownership was widespread enough in the seventies for this to be identifiable, or perhaps poor driving has always been amusing and I've just missed it!

There's an extra twist in this one (Lester's pupils' driving naturally causes him endless conflict with his insurers and the constabulary) in that he takes on a stolen car. It's quite a classic plot of the clown getting into a situation which is progressively complicated. The good visuals of the car driven down the railway line are later complicated by his arrest in an old quarry.

In another episode the car used is a red Vauxhall Chevette, which brings back the true awfulness of 1970s UK cars. The mother of a school friend had one and we would talk her into giving us a lift if we missed the bus to school, which then created the problem of trying to get it to start! In this episode the cars are classic Minis with the speedo in the centre.

In the manner of sitcoms this one builds up the complexity but ends at the pinnacle of complexity although it's obvious what's coming next. This could be a criticism if you like everything nicely resolved, but these shows are a pleasant way to spend half an hour.

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