You Rang, M'Lord? - The Complete First Series

You Rang, M'Lord? - The Complete First Series

***1/2

Reviewed by: Darren Amner

The image of a bunch of middle-aged maids and stony-faced servants is hardly appealing to some one brought up as part of the MTV generation. And yet...

Back in the Eighties, this was deemed a British comedy classic and I must admit, when growing up, I was familiar with the antics of Alf Stokes (Paul Shane), a stocky scavenger, who during the First World War discovers the body of an officer, with fellow soldier James Twelvetrees (Jeffrey Holland). Assuming he's a goner, Alf robs the "corpse," much to James's disgust.

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When the body is delivered to the field hospital, it turns out to be that of the Honourable Teddy Meldrum (Michael Knowles), who is merely unconscious, not dead. Upon awakening, he thanks the two men for saving his life and promises to be forever in their debt. Ten years pass and Teddy has kept his promise, employing Twelvetrees as the head of his brother's household, so when Alf answers the advertisement for a butler, the scene is set for all sorts of carry on.

Once in place, Alf starts putting his stamp of authority on things by employing his daughter Ivy (Sue Pollard) as the maid - cue all manner of comedic moments, as he teaches her the tricks of the trade and how to deal with the upper-classes.

We are introduced to an excellent cast of actors who, no matter how minor the role, shine in every scene they are in. As the philandering Teddy, Knowles is joyously camp, but incredibly funny. It is Teddy's fault that they get through so many maids and its only after number seven has to leave, due to an inconvenient pregnancy, that Lord Meldrum (Donald Hewlett) insists that Teddy may need to have treatment to cure his wandering hands.

Pollard excels as Ivy, the simple but sweet maid, who really doesn't know what she has let herself in for. Mavis Pugh plays Lady Lavender, who's medicine comes in the form of a bottle of Gordon's gin and Catherine Rabett plays Cissy Meldrum, one of his lordship's daughters, who has a fondness for the same sex and dresses like a chap.

Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, the series contains innuendos, campy humour and enough one-liners to share amongst the ensemble. The pompous Twelvetrees knows where his bread is buttered and is constantly challenging Stokes when it comes to running the household. Shane is straightforward enough in his portrayal of Alf and stern in his delivery, not instantly likeable and a bit of a rogue. It's only his relationship with his daughter and lust for Blanche (Brenda Cowling) , the head cook, that helps him win the audience over as the series unfolds.

Perry Benson, as Henry Livingstone, steals every scene he is in, a young lad who says what everyone else is really thinking. His outspoken manner leads him to being constantly clipped around the ear and at one point his loose tongue leads all the staff to take it in turns to administer punishment. In the second episode, The Phantom Sign Writer, the focus switches to Lord Meldrum's bed-hopping with Lady Agatha (Angela Scoular), which is commonly known amongst the servants, although not above stairs, so when Lady A's husband, Sir Ralph (John Horsley) inscribes "Fornicator" on his lordships car, it is up to Alf to conceal the damage before word gets out.

Occasionally the tone is a little off and some jokes hit the spot while others miss their mark and are too knowingly obvious in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of way. It's all family friendly, however, although there are mentions of sexual references to both straight and homosexual relations, which are alluded to, not exploited, nor made explicit. Each episode furthers character development and aids its audience in feeling and caring for this motley band of hired help. It's the downstairs staff who come off the best and the poshos who are the main butt of the jokes, especially Teddy and Lord Meldrum, with their wayward womanising ways.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2006
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You Rang, M'Lord? - The Complete First Series packshot
British TV class comedy series on an upstairs/ downstairs theme.
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