Happy Families – The Tripods – tape 94

Here’s another Ben Elton sitcom. Probably less well remembered than the others, but I liked this one a lot. It’s got a completely different feeling than Filthy Rich and Catflap, that’s for sure.

Jennifer Saunders plays all the female members of the Fuddle family, all estranged for years from their grandmother, but when she learns she’s dying, she sends their brother, Ade Edmondson, to find them and bring them back home.

This episode is Joyce, who is a novice nun in a closed order, who seems to think she’s a character in an old girls’ own adventure comic.

Una Stubbs plays the Mother Superior.

Una Stubbs

Arthur Smith appears as a policeman

Arthur Smith in Happy Families

BBC Genome: BBC One – 7th November 1985 – 20:25

The next episode is Roxanne in which Guy finds the last missing sister in prison. Part of the show is a faux documentary about life in the prison, featuring narration by Kieran Prendiville and Chris Langham as the reporter.

Chris Langham Jennifer Saunders Claudette Williams

Even Keith Chegwin turns up.

Keith Chegwin

At home with Granny, Helen Lederer plays the maid, Flossie.

Helen Lederer

Sandi Toksvig is head of prison security

Sandi Toksvig

Lance Percival turns up briefly

Lance Percival

Even Ben Elton himself appears as Roland Tarquin, incoming prison governer

Ben Elton as Roland Tarquin

The soundtrack for this show is interesting. It has a composed theme tune by David McNiven, but the incidental music is taken from various sources. There’s Elton John’s Song for Guy, and a theme from Giorgio Moroder’s score for Midnight Express.

It’s also unusual for a half hour sitcom in that it’s shot entirely on film. I wonder why.

BBC Genome: BBC One – 14th November 1985 – 20:25

Now we come to the final episode. Guy Fuddle has found all four of his sisters, so they can be with their grandmother before she dies. Dawn French, as the cook, is very excited to see them all again.

Dawn French

The girls are assembled thanks to the magic of split screen. Here’s Cassie and Joyce

Cassie and Joyce

and Roxanne and Madelaine

Roxanne and Madelaine

So we get the final revelation of why Granny wants the girls back so desperately, and why the girls were sent away. I think this plot might be a hard sell today – they were sent away because Grandpa Fuddle was a paedophile. And Granny wants them back because her illness requires a transplant from each of them.

And this went out at 8:25 in the evening. It was acceptable in the 80s.

BBC Genome: BBC One – 21st November 1985 – 20:25

And speaking of things that were acceptable in the 80s, next on the tape, after the end of Final Score is the last episode in the second series of The Tripods.

Will and Beanpole are travelling with the circus, trying to get back to the White Mountains. The man running the circus isn’t to be trusted.

It seems like half this episode is taken up with circus skills performed in an embarrassingly small big top.

When they escape with the circus kids, there’s a big Tripod attack in the woods, and it’s unclear to me quite why they’re not all killed. But they aren’t.

Tripod Attack

Then they reach the Freemen’s headquarters in the White Mountains, only to find them burned out and empty. “Has it all been for nothing?” asks Will.

Then credits roll, and there’s no announcement whatsoever that the programme will return with a new series. So the answer to Will’s question is “yes”. Thanks, BBC.

I wonder if it’s just coincidence that this was broadcast on the anniversary of the first episode of Doctor Who?

BBC Genome: BBC One – 23rd November 1985 – 17:20

After this, recording continues with a trailer for the programme which replaces The Tripods in the schedule, The Krankies Elektronik Komik.

Then the recording stops during an episode of Terry and June.


One comment

  1. The Tripods took one of my favourite series of books as a kid and made it into a complete yawnfest, dragged out to tedious length and with hardly any tripods in it. The BBC were doing us a favour not recommissioning it. Although the way it ended with a big raspberry to anyone who might have been enjoying it was quite funny.

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