Friday, 24 December 2010

Home to Roost (continued)

“I have found [the part of Henry] the most frightening in 24 years of acting.  To make people laugh in a TV comedy is the most unfunny thing I could have done.

“In a series like that you are acting.  It’s far tougher than playing Regan – or Inspector Morse” --  John Thaw quoted in “Sweeney” John cops new crime beat by Garth Pearce, Daily Express Sat 5 July 1986.

Series Two was recorded in April-May 1986, during Elizabeth Bennett's hiatus between seasons 1 and 2 of You Again, and not long before John Thaw began filming what was to become arguably his biggest role, that of Inspector Morse.

Broadcast for 7 weeks from 5th September, again on Fridays at 8.30pm, I recall being quite disappointed in this run.  Looking back on it now it's still a funny show, but perhaps lacking in the very strong punchlines of the first series.  Incidentally, if you're flicking channels and stray upon the show on ITV3, this series can be immediately identified by Reece Dinsdale's long hair - surely not inspired by his US counterpart...?
Anyway, highlights this time round include Matthew learning to drive in "The Test", featuring a short film sequence, "Protest" with Matthew liberating Henry's goldfish in the name of animal rights, and "Julie", starring Rebecca Lacey in the first of three appearances as Matthew's younger sister, who calls her father 'dumpling' and can wrap him round her little finger in a way Matthew most certainly cannot!

The episode "Open House" deserves a mention for its now terribly dated depiction of teenagers at a party Matthew holds at the house in Henry's absence.  Matthew himself largely avoids these shortcomings throughout the 5 year run thanks in no small part to the deft performance of Dinsdale, always likeable and believable in the role, but I think it's fair to say the series was walking a continual tightrope in this regard.

A quick mention of the series' production methods: Home to Roost, like most Yorkshire Television sitcoms of the era, rehearsed in London before being recorded in Studio 4 of YTV studios in Leeds - a look at the sets for Series 2 by production designer Mike Joyce can be found here, whilst a nifty 360° tour of the studio is here.

Like in most of Eric Chappell's sitcoms, the studio audience seem particularly receptive which adds to the enjoyment of the show immeasurably.  A million miles away from the hollow guffawing which passes for  audience appreciation in today's, admittedly few, multi-camera comedies.

Ratings of around 10 million guaranteed a further series the following year.

Series Three began on 24th October 1987, this time on Saturdays at around 8pm.  A big change was the absence of Elizabeth Bennett.  With the US show now defunct, perhaps she felt she had portrayed Enid for long enough?  I'm inclined to say it was a last minute decision however, because apart from the opening episode which deals with her departure - Enid has won £100,000 on the premium bonds! - and the hunt for her replacement, the remainder of the scripts contain her in all but name.

Actress Joan Blackham more than capably portrayed her successor, Fiona Fennell, for this run - another widow with a keen interest in her employer.  Other guest stars include Leslie Ash, Nicky Henson as Henry's younger, better-looking and supposed more successful brother Edward in "Success Story", and Lysette Anthony as Matthew's object of infatuation in "The Real Thing".

Whether due to the change in timeslot or John Thaw's higher profile after the debut of Morse, this series enjoyed the show's highest audience to date with an average 12m tuning in.

Funnily enough, or not as the case may be, I just have to mention the change in lighting style from this point onwards in the series.  Lighting cameraman Peter Squires takes over from Vince Barber and invests the principal location, the Willows house, with a much more subdued look which I personally feel gets in the way of the comedy.  I missed the bright look of Series 1 and 2, but there are conflicting schools of thought on this issue.

This wasn't quite it for 1987 as, in keeping with Eric Chappell's other big hitters, the show enjoyed a solitary Christmas edition, the double-length "Family Ties" on Sunday 27th December.  In this, Henry hopes to enjoy Christmas at a luxury hotel with a lady friend, Cynthia - played by Sherrie Hewson, currently of Loose Women fame - but his plans are greatly complicated by the arrival of all his offspring, including youngest son Frank, a bedwetter, who book into the hotel too.
In keeping with the festive spirit, there is more of a farcical element to the proceedings here as Henry tries to keep the presence of his children in the hotel from Cynthia for as long as possible.  It is also much more of a vehicle for John Thaw himself than usual, perhaps in deference to his newfound fame as Morse.  But then again, perhaps not and I'm reading too much into it.  Wouldn't be surprised.

The Enid/Fiona housekeeper character was dropped from this point on, with neither Elizabeth Bennett nor Joan Blackham reappearing.  Creative?  Budgetary?  Who knows.

No series appeared in 1988, possibly due to Thaw's commitment to the Arthur Miller play "All My Sons" at the Manchester Royal Exchange theatre taking up his annual hiatus from Morse, but a fourth and final batch of seven episodes followed in 1989.

Recorded in March-April but not screened until December, this last run was very welcome and proved as strong as ever, with "Bridge of Sighs" kicking things off with guest star Jill Gascoigne as Henry's old flame, the thrice-married Judy Schwartz, returning from America to pick things up where they left off.  Matthew's jealousy rears its head at the thought of his father's departure. 

Guests in this series include Sam Kelly and Ray Winstone.

The series ended on 19 January 1990 in a touching but far from cloying manner with "Leaving" as Matthew finally goes off to University - Reece Dinsdale was 30 by this point - having passed his "A" levels in the Series 3 finale "Paper Chase".  He got the same results as me by the way, watch the episode if you're interested!

And so Henry looks forward to resuming his quiet life, until in the closing moments youngest son Frank comes to stay, his mother having decided that its his turn to look after him!

Like Only Fools and Horses.... six years later, this final episode rather fittingly gained the highest ratings of them all, with almost 14m tuning in.

The generation gap is usually a good starting point for a sitcom, and like Steptoe and Son before it the conflict in Home to Roost came from right vs. right, as both parent and child have, or should have, equally valid points of view.  Maybe that's why I like it so much.

Or maybe simply because it's so funny, plus in my opinion it's a masterclass in comic delivery by these two guys below.

Home to Roost is somewhat overlooked in the John Thaw canon, not to mention that of Eric Chappell and I've never understood why.  Occasionally corny but always a good laugh, well acted and at its best, sheer brilliance.  Check it out.

"I loved working with John.  He gave me good advice.  He said keep people guessing.” - Reece Dinsdale quoted in interview with Steve Hendry, Sunday Mail 5 April 2009

Merry Christmas one and all!


  1. Muchísimas gracias por escribir sobre Home to roost, que en España se tituló Un lugar donde dormir. Es una de mis series favoritas; creo que es la que más me han hecho reír.

  2. I have just bought the box set, definitely one of my favourite sitcoms, loved the one about the haunted train station...

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