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Open All Hours
Originally conceived as the first of Ronnie Barker's 1973 pilot season Seven of One, it wasn't long before Open All Hours took on a life of its own.
Roy Clarke, who'd already created another hit Yorkshire-based sitcom in Last of the Summer Wine, once worked in a corner-shop and had realised its potential as a setting for comedy.
But the central character of miserly grocer Arkwright was the invention of Ronnie Barker, whose other sitcom alter-ego Norman Stanley Fletcher (in Porridge) was already an established classic. It's even more impressive, then, that Barker was able to transform himself once more and make Arkwright, and Open All Hours another all-time British comedy favourite.
Allied to his avarice and constant eagerness to make a quick buck, Arkwright's other goal in life is to secure the affections of his neighbour and unrequited love, Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, but at the same time he must be a reluctant father figure to his nephew and delivery boy, Granville.
As well as balancing these two relationships, the role gave Barker the chance to exercise his verbal acting muscles, especially in bestowing upon Arkwright his trademark stutter, which was not only entirely convincing but always perfectly judged for comic effect.
More so than in Porridge he was also able to exercise his physical comedy skills, such as in a rare running gag in which Arkwright would attempt to outwit his cash till and its vicious spring mechanism.
While the show couldn't have worked without the unique Barker, he found a perfect comic foil in David Jason's portrayal of the young Granville. The two actors had already worked together briefly in Porridge, immediately developing a strong chemistry, and now their double act was given space to flourish.
Supposedly of Hungarian extraction, young Granville constantly yearns of finding love, glamour and exotic encounters in life but these dreams always remain out of reach, symbolised by his flirtatious yet never-consummated relationship with the local milkwoman.
Here was the strongest evidence yet of Jason's own burgeoning acting talent, and of his rightful claim as heir to Barker's sitcom crown.
The two bona fide stars were superbly supported throughout by Lynda Baron's performance as the kind-hearted Nurse Gladys, who shows the patience of a saint in suffering the endless carnal advances of Arkwright but is instead often more interested in the health of the battered and bruised Granville.
However, in a fine example of Clarke's beautifully judged writing while Gladys always spurns Arkwright's propositions she does so with charm and warmth, always leaving just the faintest hint that in the right circumstances there could one day be something in the air.
In a trait that would perhaps be unrecognisable in corner shops today, Clarke also wrote into the scripts a steady stream of regular customers (such as the cold Mrs Featherstone) whom Arkwright would exchange gossip with while trying to fleece them of more money.
Its comedy may have been gentle and located in an unassuming setting, but amongst the heady company of Britain's top sitcoms Open All Hours still sits easily as one of the best.
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