The family from Series Three onward
Egg-heads say there are only seven basic jokes in all the world – or is it eight? I suppose this one is about undermining authority. Dudley, always late getting his work done, is supposed to be scared of his Editor boss. Because of a terrible weakness in his boss’s character, he’s able to recruit his family in undermining this otherwise scary geezer, without getting all the blame. Yes, comics do analyse their craft.
It was an honour to be the straight man to my long-term mate, Roy Kinnear. I think he was at his best in this kind of scene. Having got my own series, it was a revelation to see who would come on for a special appearance – after all, it’s work. I’d spent a great deal of my career doing just that. I’ve still got a raincoat of Roy’s – left it behind when he came round to our house in Ewell. My ma loved feeding actors.
And this is Robbie Coltrane (who’s a Scot) playing a cockney. Even in the ’80s he was known and I was surprised to see him accept a one-scene part – it’s a good scene, though, and he gets away with a bold exaggeration. He was extraordinarily nervous, I remember – it doesn’t show at all, though. Robbie’s now something of a superstar – with baggage.
Brian Cooke, above all, wished to write a series solo, so that he could try things that he couldn’t have got past his co-writer, Johnnie Mortimer. Dudley’s borderline manic personality encouraged him. There’s a whole history, I think, of comics who’ve pretended to be several different people during a ‘phone call. The great Peter Ustinov and Spike Milligan and Woody Allen spring to mind. I admit, I loved trying to get it right.
This sequence leads up, I think, to the biggest laugh I’ve ever had in my life. One distinguished viewer later told me that she fell out of bed, laughing. It’s always a sign when you can’t finish your pay-off sentence because the audience is ahead of you. Lovely to see Pat Coombs, another distinguished guest, doing her stuff. The nearest thing – second ever biggest laugh — was when I played Dodger at the Mermaid and ran on stage to say, ‘I come to bring bad news!’ with great glee.
Brian Cooke was suggesting outlines for stories even after he stopped writing full episodes. This is Brian getting back at the unions, I think. He had a great comic riff on Arthur Scargill – loathed him. We all had to tiptoe round what we said about unions. Commercial TV crewing was hugely over-manned at this time and the boys were very powerful. They’d shut down a studio at the drop of a hat. Everybody who didn’t live in a tent had this from builders, so they were fair game.