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28 October 2014

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Richard Briers and Peter Jones

One-upmanship: Definition (idiomatic) A cycle of trying to one-up or outdo an opponent.

That notion was the basis for the spoof self-help book written by Stephen Potter in 1952, which inspired this sketch show.

The series was adapted by Barry Took and produced by Bernard Thompson, who cast Richard Briers in the role of Potter.

"The world is divided into two types of people," he says, "winners and losers, the one-up and the one-down. He who is not one-up is surely one-down".

Based at the fictional Yeovil College of Lifemanship, Briers is joined by Peter Jones (who'd go on to ponder further on the meaning of life as the voice of the book in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) as the snooty Gatling-Fenn and Frederick Jaeger, complete with monocle, playing Cogg-Willoughby.

Unusually, the show first hit our screens with a Christmas special in 1974, in which Potter focused on how to survive the rigours of the festive season.

The series proper didn't return until 1976, with a lesson about doctor-patient relationships in an episode looking at 'Healthmanship'. Out-manoeuvring boardroom rivals was the core of the following week's 'Businessmanship', followed by a treatise on courting with 'Woomanship' - and an early role for Isla Blair.

Across that first six-part run, it also notched up discussions on free time, art appreciation and golf.

The series returned later in the year, with lessons on workmen, women ("today's up-people"), travel and the like before vanishing off our screens until a final run in 1978.

The last episode, fittingly, acted as a refresher course for those who "by accident or sloth missed our earlier emissions". At which point, the lesson was over.

A quintessentially British comedy-of-manners, despite featuring a strong cast, One-upmanship remains a sadly neglected gem.


Richard Briers
Peter Jones
Frederick Jaeger


Barry Took
Bernard Thompson
Graeme Muir
Douglas Argent
Stephen Potter

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