August 2005

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Chock-a-block with release news, here's Robert Ross's verbal meanderings for August.

Shock and horror Iím actually writing this column a few days early for a change.† And no, before you all start saying ĎI knew his career was doomedÖí it isnít because I havenít got a lot of work on!† In fact, Iím facing a fairly intensive few weeks of hard telly and film graft so I thought Iíd better get this bit of fluff written before the floodgates open!

The last few weeks have been an absolute joy.† As part of my work with A & E in the States Iím compiling the complete Benny Hill collection for DVD release.† The sets cover his entire output from Thames Television from 1969 until his unceremonious sacking in 1989.† The hot weather combined with Bennyís love of dolly birds in stockings and suspenders has combined to create a fevered brow and a little weight loss over the course of the work!† God bless his sexist soul!

Iím also in the middle of working on an exciting interactive DVD quiz for all-the family Ė sales pitch over! Ė which should be released in October to† mark ITVís 50th anniversary.† More release info when I get it but I couldnít help a little self-indulgence and feature clips from The Goodies, Carry On Laughing and Rising Damp.† Bliss!

July was a mammoth month for comedy on DVD.† Not least the eagerly awaited Comic Strip Presents box set that I still havenít had a chance to tackle† yet.† Mind you, August is even more mouth watering.† So here goes. Firstly, Cinema Club are staring misguided political correctness in the face and gleefully releasing the first series of the classic Jimmy Perry and David Croft situation comedy It Ainít ĎAlf Hot, Mum, a show very close to my heart, not least because my late, lamented beer buddy Christopher Mitchell played that lovely boy Gunner Parkins.† These early episodes bristle with the comic tension between Windsor Davies, Melvyn Hayes and the late Don Estelle.† And thereís the added bonus of George Layton before he left the show for pastures new.

The BBC unleashes a bumper stock of class comedy as well.† Thereís series 4 of Dadís Army; a show proving one of the beebís big DVD hits, and series 1 of The Catherine Tate Show.† If you havenít all ready, please do yourself a favour and check out Catherineís second series currently airing on Thursday nights on BBC2.† Itís Little Britain meets The Fast Show with perhaps a soupcon of I.T.M.A. tossed inÖand itís magic!

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant certainly havenít disappointed with their second sitcom hit, Extras.† Itís such an inspired idea that itís amazing nobody has done it beforeÖand Ricky is as toe-curlingly funny as ever.† Canít wait for the Les Dennis episodeÖsupposedly a corker.

But I digress.† Back to BBC DVD.† And, as you probably know, for me writers donít get any better or more hilarious than Messrs Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.† Itís been a fair wait but at last the BBC are issuing series 2 of Steptoe and Son Ė check out Wilfrid Brambell in the tin bath Ė and Hancockís Half Hour volume 2.† Itís nearly fifty years since these episodes were first shown and the chemistry between Tub and Sid James is as electric as ever.† The surviving episodes preserved on this release are Erickson the Viking (a cracking companion piece for Networkís swashbuckling box sets from Robin Hood to Sir Lancelot), The Set That Failed, The New Nose, The Oak Tree and The Knighthood.† Hancock, Steptoe and Dadís Army are released on 8 August, Ainít ĎAlf Hot on the 15th and Catherine Tate on the 22nd.† Get stuck in!

Also on the 22nd, film connoisseurs with be delighted to know that a Preston Sturges box set is surfacing.† A master writer and director who found his niche in 1940s Hollywood the set includes his best loved films: Sullivan Travelís (starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake and arguably the finest social comic documentary on the American depression ever made), The Lady Eve (with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda), The Palm Beach Story (with the drop dead gorgeous Mary Astor), Hail the Conquering Hero (with all-purpose all-American sap Eddie Bracken), The Great McGinty (with a pre Quatermass Brian Donlevy) and Christmas in July (with a laconic Dick Powell ĎIf you canít sleep at night it isnít the coffee itís the bunk!í).† At £69.99 this is an essential purchase but as always with DVDs it pays to shop around.† Iím probably being greedy and all, but I would have loved to have seen Harold Lloydís last picture, Mad Wednesday, featured in the set.† Call it a guilty pleasure but I love it!

Finally but finally, we made it to the National Theatre on July 20th to see Jim Broadbent excel as Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart in the theatrical adaptation of Theatre of Blood.† Vincent Price had giving a moving, heart felt, towering and delicious performance in the 1973 filmÖthe poster of which I have signed by Price in my study.† But that probably says more about me than it does about the film!† Anyway, the staging at the National was outstanding and is recommended.† It ends in September so get your skates on.† Moments to treasure include Steve Steen recreating Harry Andrewsís lascivious critic and his Merchant of Venice inspired death and a glorious addition to the script concerning a Ďcarry on with an actorí and a pondering whether ĎSid James was in it!í† But it is Rachael Stirling who steals the show as Miranda Lionheart, bravely recreating the daughter role her mother Diana Rigg played in the film.† Rachael is bright, electric, and loyal to the feel of the original, unabashed and beguiling.† Itís just a pity she opted out of recreating the American actress seduction scene but hey you canít have everything!† Thanks to the one and only Henry Holland (one of Telly Nationís favourite sons) for sorting out the tickets!

Anyway, thatís your lot for this month.† See you next time.

Robert Ross

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