Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Hello, Campers!

I fulfilled a long-standing childhood ambition on Friday night. Some people are born wanting to climb Everest, others have a burning desire to advance science and explore the mysteries of the universe. I wanted to watch all 58 episodes of Hi-De-Hi in order of transmission.


And I’ve done it! Not all on Friday night, I hasten to add. If that was the case I’d now be a gibbering wreck in the corner of the room, repeatedly hammering out my three-note signature on a toy xylophone and mumbling the words ‘First rule of comedy, Spike’ to myself over and over and over again. No, it’s been a long haul, and a voyage of discovery that I’m incredibly proud of. I started the journey when the first DVDs came out in 2003, and for the last five years Ted Bovis, Spike Dixon, Gladys Pugh and all the rest of the motley team have been a lovely part of my life.

And I think that’s part of the appeal. I don’t find a lot of TV comedy these days that offers me characters that are both likeable and believable, but Hi-De-Hi does it without batting an eyelid as it winks at the Yellowcoats and pushes lesser sitcoms into the Olympic-sized swimming pool.  And yes, it’s got brilliant belly laughs, but it also has pathos in spades. What David Croft and Jimmy Perry knew instinctively was that the laughs are much better if you surround them with sadness.

When I watched Hi-De-Hi as a kid, I never got that – but working through them these last few years, the melancholy seeps through every scene. I recommended the series to my old mate John Jaques a while back, and the next time we chatted he just shook his head and uttered the immortal line ‘I can’t believe it’s so sad’. And it is – all of its characters are failures. From Ted Bovis the failed comedian, eking out his years in a filthy holiday camp chalet, to Fred Quilly the disgraced jockey, grumpily awaiting the reinstatement of his licence. From Mr Partridge the Music Hall child star turned bitter alcoholic, to snobbish dancers Barry and Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves, trapped in a loveless marriage and desperate to escape both each other and the squalor of Maplins.

The performances shine through as well… yes, Su Pollard jumps up and down and whistles a lot, but the episode in which Maplins hitman Alec Foster tramples over her trusting, wide-eyed nature with a threatening, blackmail-laden sexual advance is beautifully played. And the Christmas story, in which Paul Shane’s cynical Ted Bovis falls helplessly in love with a pony-tailed camper half his age, is heartbreaking. There’s a scene in which they embrace at the piano in the Hawaiian ballroom, and Ted grips onto her for dear life, and mouths ‘I love you’ with his eyes closed. It’s barely picked up by the camera, but it’s a brilliant and subtle and heartbreaking piece of acting.   

Best of all though, is Simon Caddell’s amazing performance as Jeffrey Fairbrother, the university lecturer turned holiday camp entertainment manager, on the run from both stuffy academia and a bitter divorce. The scenes in which he reads Joe Maplin’s semi-literate missives (‘Now get this, you lot…’) to the gathered staff are worth, as they say, the entrance money alone.

And, yes! All of this heartbreak and melodrama and ribald fun was broadcast on BBC1 at 7.30pm on weekday nights, to audiences larger than the population of Belgium. Including the Walloons. I still think the mainstream family sitcom is one of the greatest art forms of the 20th century, and it’s sadly fallen into neglect.

I love The Mighty Boosh as much as the next desperately misguided 35-year-old man, but it’s weird, culty brilliance, tucked away on BBC2 or (gasp) 3, and wilfully out of reach of most of the country’s population. Back in the 1980s, my nine-year-old self watched and laughed at Hi-De-Hi, and so did my forty-year-old Dad and my 75-year-old Gran. Sometimes all in the same room together. And we did the same with Porridge, Open All Hours, Last Of The Summer Wine, Ever Decreasing Circles, To The Manor Born, Only Fools And Horses, Allo Allo, Are You Being Served, Dad’s Army, Rising Damp and any other 28-minute sitcom chucked onto the schedules with casual abandon by people that rightly considered this kind of brilliance to be the norm.

I’d love to see the high-quality, mainstream, family sitcom make a comeback. In fact, in the unlikely event that my agent or any passing TV executives are looking at these ramblings, drop me a line and make me an offer. And then we’ll start assembling occult tarot equipment to tempt Simon Cadell (and Leonard Rossiter and Ronnie Barker and John Inman and…) down from whichever strange corner of sitcom heaven they’re currently residing in.

With, naturally, hilarious consequences. Anyway, must dash – I’m about to make a start on all You Rang M’Lord.

Wish me luck – I’m going in.

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3 Comments»

  Andrew T. Smith wrote @

While I’d say Hi Di Hi looses it’s way a bit towards the end it’s all worth it for that final perfect episode at the end. Warm, funny and heartbreaking; it really hammers home the melancholy end of an era feel to the series.

Perry and Croft could run a masterclass in the art of series finales. Between them they wrote great cappers for Dad’s Army, IAHHM, Hi Di Hi, Allo Allo and You Rang M’Lord.

  bobfischer wrote @

Yeah, Hi De Hi has a brilliant ‘end of an era’ feel to it… obviously there’s the final episode, when our heroes are told that the camp is being modernised and their old school talents are no longer required, but all the way through there’s a feeling of everything being slightly past its best – the peeling paint, the clapped out horses and the old, old jokes. I think there are increasing references to dwindling numbers of campers all the way through as well, aren’t there?

It captures brilliantly those few years when the British holiday began to change from low-rent working class fun to more aspirational jollies. I love the scene right at the end of the final episode were Ted – late for the final bus away from the camp – is found sitting by himself, smoking a fag in his demob suit at the side of the deserted swimming pool. ‘They’ll have the sun, Spike, but they won’t have the fun’ he mutters. It’s a great bit of writing, and another fine performance from Paul Shane.

  Andrew T. Smith wrote @

Dare I say the end of an era feel possibly even reflects Perry and Croft’s sitcom career. After this they only did You Wrang M’Lord and that was quite quite a departure from the regular format at 50 minutes in length.

You do realise I’m now going to have to buy the fucking DVDs. You owe me many pounds.


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