The Lovers! 2

In October last year, I wrote a piece celebrating my discovery that the film version of the late Jack Rosenthal’s Granada sitcom, The Lovers, had been uploaded to YouTube, taken from a video of the film when broadcast on the TV.

I had this to say about the film itself:

So much of it is still familiar after all this time, familiar gags, familiar cringes, familiar faces. It’s extensively shot on location in Manchester, and it’s a picture of Manchester forty years ago, when I was in my late teens, of Manchester gone, especially in the film’s pre-credit scene, which is shot outside the long-vanished George Best Boutique. That scene depicts Geoffrey and Beryl’s first meeting, as the leftovers when, one Friday lunchtime, three bank clerks pair off with three secretaries (Geoffrey: “I’m Geoffrey, and I don’t happen to be attached.” Beryl: “I’m Beryl, and I don’t happen to be surprised.”)

Rosenthal structures the film around the idea of it being about the lovers’ relationship from beginning to end. There are the old familiar lines, and several new ones, and the film structure allows the field of vision to be widened: Beryl’s mate Sandra and Geoffrey’s mate Neville (the film’s equivalent of Roland: the Roland in the film is another character entirely, though still a bank clerk) also meeting outside the boutique and their relationship – first date, lashings of sex, pregnancy, engagement, marriage and going away outfit – for hospital, not honeymoon) is the parallel to Beryl and Geoffrey’s dysfunctional course. There’s also room for several scenes with Geoffrey’s parents (the great John Comer, and Stella Moray) who are convinced that Geoffrey is actually having the life he can only dream of.

Two things are plain over the meandering course of the film: that Geoffrey and Beryl have absolutely nothing in common except the fear of being without someone, and that their genuine relaxation at the thought of having split up will never last in the face of their fear of being without someone. ‘Not really the End’ is the final caption, but it’s easy to recognise that, one day, the pair will end up marrying because they’ve nothing better to do. The gift of Rosenthal’s script, and the naturalness of Wilcox and Beckinsale’s playing is that you can see the two of them eventually being ok with it, once Percy Filth arrives for both, and N-O finally stops meaning No.

I’m also disposed in the film’s favour because I recognise that awkwardness, that uncertainty, the unbridgeable gap between what you want and how to get there, the lack of experience to know that failure now is not final for your whole life. And I don’t just recognise emotions, I recognise me: I will never forget watching on TV in Nottingham in 1978, the scene when Geoffrey takes Beryl home after their first date, and sitting there cringing in redfaced embarrassment and wondering how long they’d been watching me – a hideousness made all the worst by the fact that, as Beryl, Paula Wilcox looked so much like my first ‘girlfriend’, even to the slightly ungainly legs under the white box-pleat miniskirt…

The download is off the TV, and is no better than VHS standard, but it’s still a reasonable image and it’s been well kept between recording and uploading. I’d rather have a DVD, not just for the improved picture quality, and size aspect ratio, but if they’re not going to release it, I’ll take what I can get.

Well, it’s available on DVD now, and I’ve got my copy today and watched in, in full-screen mode and in infinitely better clarity (for 1973’s film stock) than the transferred from video YouTube effort. Enough so at any rate for the soles of my feet to tingle throughout the entire scene on the roof of the Hotel Piccadilly, during which Beckinsale and Wilcox spend entirely too much time casually leaning against parapets overlooking Manchester-as-was for the good of my incipient vertigo!

It’s still a joy, and I still love Paula Wilcox as Beryl (both Paula and Beryl), and I’m even more in awe of the subtlety of their performances and the sheer delight of Rosentha’s scripts than I was last time, now I can see it even better.

I’m also better able to appreciate the playing of Susan Littler as Sandra: a fine actress, who went on to play the lead part in Rosenthal’s famous teleplay, Spend, Spend, Spend, about the pools winner Viv Nicholson, and who had a superb reputation building when she died of cancer, only ten years after this film.

With reference to The Likely Lads, on which I’ve recently written, I recall Clement and Las Fresnais once saying that they’d have liked to have returned to Bob and Terry down the years, new series every five years or so, see what was happening in their lives and their relationship, a course rendered impossible by James Bolam’s refusal to ever work with Rodney Bewes again.

The only other sitcom that I thought could live up to that kind of continuity, to a return to the developing fortunes of its leading lights was indeed The Lovers, but that too was never to be, because of the equally tragic and premature death of Richard Beckinsale in 1979. And, of course, only Jack Rosenthal could have told such a story.

But I watch the film again, and I find myself wanting to see how this silly, naive, misunderstood and misunderstanding pair handled the rest of a life in which, however awkwardly, they were going to be together. I’d like to prove my instinct that they really would, against all likelihood, have made it. Not that I’ll ever know now.