The one drawback about this Sunday Watch business is the sheer number of television series I have to get around, in an utterly random manner. Sure, it’ll keep me in viewing for years to come, but I was shocked to realise that it’s six months since I last settled down to watch any Victoria Wood – As Seen on TV.
It doesn’t really matter, though. This morning’s viewing is the first half of the second – and final – series. You could say that it’s more of the same, without change, and be right at that: the monologue, the sketches, Susie Blake as the snobby Announcer, Acorn Antiques, the documentary, the song, but the beauty of it all is not just Wood’s seemingly limitless invention, nor the range of imagination she puts into investing things with such a thoroughly human banality/surreality, but also the fact that she’s canny enough not to overload us with the same thing in the dame placeb, week in, week out.
For instance, there’s Patricia Routledge as Kitty, who only appears in episode 2, never two weeks running. And Wood and Julie Walters, as Joan and Marjorie (actually, it’s the other way round), TV magazine show presenters of stunning indifference, who only appear in episode 3. That way, Wood manages instant recognition without repetition.
Of course, Acorn Antiques appears every week, but one such feature is fine, even if the whole thing is ultimately one note. But it’s such a relentless lampoon of the kind of cheap daily soap – cough, Crossroads, cough – that we are as hooked on it as fans of the deadly originals are on their choice.
And episode 1 featured the debut of what was probably Victoria Wood’s most famous and beloved song, the saga of Barry and Freda, ‘Let’s Do It’. The song itself is an orgy of glorious lines, bringing overwhelming passion and sexual experimentation into the living room with pleas to ‘bend me over backwards on me Hostess trolley’ and ‘beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly‘ and Wood hurls herself into it with abandon, as the suddenly libidinous housewife Freda, demanding some long overdue orgasms from her mousey and reluctant spouse and his tired and snivelling excuse for a passion that’s not so much gone cold as been locked in a glacier maintained for that purpose in his garden shed.
And that’s perhaps the epiphany of a strand of British humour that made play with the comic-reversal of reluctant men and gagging-for-it wives.
This series was made and broadcast first in 1986, making it thirty-five years old, but it hasn’t aged a minute. It’s gloriously and riotously funny, and every time you marvel at not just Victoria Wood’s ocean-wide comic sensibility but also her unbounded generosity to her gang of supporting players in giving them the great lines too: Julie Walters, Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie and Susie Blake are at the heart of things, but everyone around her in even the smallest roles is perfect, and in the Kelly-Marie Tunstall sketches, Mary Jo Randle is brilliant in the sheer range of ways she delivers her sole line: “You didn’t?!” (ok, sometimes it’s “You never?!” but she’s still 100%, every atom perfect).
So that leaves me another triplet of episodes, maybe in six months more time, plus a Xmas Special. But it’s a six DVD box set so, even if it doesn’t include Dinnerladies, it still gives me more to go on. Even if I can’t Watch without that little lump in the throat for the fact that Victoria is no longer with us, and all the things she could have been doing with that stolen time.