Posts Tagged ‘Open All Hours’

Just thought I’d shoot off a quick Five for Friday to remind everyone that it’s Mo-vember, that month-long campaign to raise awareness of men’s health issues by growing some hair above your lip. For those of you who are already sporting a bit of stubble, here are a few examples you might want to aspire to.


Ronnie Barker as Albert Arkwright in Open All Hours image credit BBC

Ronnie Barker as Albert Arkwright in Open All Hours
image credit BBC


Stephen Fry as General Melchett on Blackadder Goes Forth image credit BBC

Stephen Fry as General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth
image credit BBC


David Suchet as Hercule Poirot image credit Carnival Film & Television

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
image credit Carnival Film & Television


John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers image credit BBC

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers
image credit BBC


James Nesbitt at Tommy Murphy in Murphy's Law image credit Tiger Aspect Productions

James Nesbitt at Tommy Murphy in Murphy’s Law
image credit Tiger Aspect Productions

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Welcome back to my Who Did It Best series. If you recall last time we talked about telly butlers. Fifty-two percent of those who participated in my poll voted Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson as the one who did it best, followed by the “other” category at twenty-four percent. I assume from the comments people offered, “other” includes Mr. Hudson from the original Upstairs, Downstairs and Magersfontein Lugg from the Campion mystery series. Jeeves came in third with nineteen percent and sadly I must conclude that I was the lone vote for Edmund Blackadder. He might not have been the best example of a dutiful butler on TV, but he made me laugh the most and that counts for something in my book.

Onward and upward. This time I’m asking you to consider the enterprising local shopkeeper.

Dead Parrot

How not to handle a customer complaint image credit BBC

You know you were thinking of  Michael Palin as the inept and quite possibly dishonest pet shopkeeper in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch.

Small business entrepreneurs must bring every bit of consumer psychology, organization and persuasiveness they possess to the sales floor everyday in order to make a profit particularly in today’s world of quick and cheap superstores and on-line shopping. From books to novelties to the neighborhood grocers’, all these vendors have an uphill battle when it comes to keeping their business viable.

Now it’s time to take a look at our match-up for British telly shopkeepers and discover their tricks of the trade…


Albert Arkwright (Ronnie Barker) – Arkwright’s is a small neighborhood grocery store in Doncaster and is the setting of the classic sitcom Open All Hours. Its proprietor and namesake is a master salesman and a tightwad as well. Just ask his beleaguered nephew and errand boy Granville (David Jason).

Arkwright makes it his mission to see to it that no one who walks through the door of his shop leaves without making a purchase. His true genius is in his ability to convince people to buy the items he needs to move most.



Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) – Black Books is a chaotic, disheveled looking establishment. Shop owner Bernard Black has no discernible customer service skills nor does he seem to have any desire to sell any of his disorganized stock. His assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) does his best to help the shoppers, but Bernard’s rude manner and total disregard for his business is impossible to overcome. Or is it? Perhaps it’s all a brilliant ruse and Bernand is employing reverse psychology tactics on his customers with no self-esteem. Why else would people keep coming back to put up with his abuse?



Miranda (Miranda Hart)- If you had inherited a decent amount of dosh what would you do with the proceeds? Miranda thought it would be fun to buy a joke/novelty shop with hers. Apparently her interest in running the place wore off fairly quickly because she’s left the day to day operations of the business to her far more organized best friend, Stevie (Sarah Hadland). And thank goodness because if she were stuck in the store all day we’d never get to witness all the Miranda-ish shenanigans she gets up to such as fashioning friends from fruit and using alternative appliances to wash her unmentionables. That being said, Miranda doesn’t shy away from enthusiastically greeting her customers when she encounters them in the shop.



So there you have it, my candidates for the telly shopkeepers who did it best. I didn’t consider department store moguls like Mr. Selfridge, but might do so in a future contest. Whose shop would you want to frequent? Which character has the ability to sell ice to an Eskimo? Vote for your favorite or write in your own choice in the comment section.


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Boston Duck Tour - Amphibious transport

An unexpected benefit of a recent family vacation to Boston was that my experiences on that trip have made me a more informed commuter and therefore completely qualified to complete this series of posts.  During this vacation, I relied on just about every form of public transit possible from airplanes to the subway; commuter trains, buses and a duck.   Don’t get me wrong.  I felt good about what mass transit does to help the environment and the lessons I learned about bus and subway etiquette were very valuable.  The people-watching opportunities alone were worth the experience.   But by the time I got back home, I was looking forward to hopping into my trusty 1998 Toyota Camry and driving where I wanted, whenever the fancy struck me.  Americans love their cars and the freedom driving represents.  So what has television taught me about the British attitude towards automobiles?  Let’s look at a few examples:

Mr. Bean shows us that sitting inside your car is for the conventional and unimaginative driver.


Minder – Used car salesmen are slimy and suspect on either side of the pond.


Open All Hours – In the UK, a Morris Minor can double as a changing room.

From the reckless speed of tedious car chase scenes in The Sweeney and Minder (and later Life on Mars  featuring a 1974 Ford Cortina) to gingerly navigating narrow village lanes and the even more treacherous winding country roads of All Creatures Great and Small, Doc Martin and Ballykissangel, I don’t think the British are all that different when it comes to taking to the open road.  The biggest difference of course is that whole driving on the left side of the road business and maybe roundabouts…

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In my quest to discover the Real Britain through television, I often have more than one series going at the same time.  I could be watching a legal drama, a period mini-series and a sitcom at various times during any given week.  Recently I was doubling up and realized that while the two programs I was screening were very different in tone and level of success and were made decades apart, there were some areas of common ground.  So today I offer you a double nutshell review.

Open All Hours: Series 1-4 ****

BBC, 1976-1985 – available on DVD

Starring Ronnie Barker, David Jason and Lynda Baron

Setting:  Doncaster, Yorkshire; modern-day (for the time it was produced)

Genre: Sitcom

Synopsis: Arkwright, a stuttering, gossiping, miserly grocery shop owner is an ace salesman, but can’t seem to sell his “fiancée”, Nurse Gladys, on the idea of marrying him or even allowing him the privileges of most engaged persons. Granville, Arkwright’s long-suffering nephew, hopes for a more exciting life outside the shop and possibly love with the milk woman.  Unfortunately, since they’re open all hours, carrying on a proper social life seems to be out of the question.

Monday Monday: Series 1 ***1/2

ITV, 2009 – can be watched in the US on Hulu

Starring:  Morven Christie, Fay Ripley, Tom Ellis

Setting: Leeds, modern-day

Genre: One hour comedy/drama

Synopsis:  Butterworth’s, a large grocery store chain, has encountered some financial problems and is forced to relocate to Leeds in order to restructure. Office romance and intrigue abound amongst the very attractive young PA’s and executives.  But there are darker themes as well including blackmail, addiction and sexual harassment.

First of all, let’s explore what these two programs share.

1.  Both take place in Yorkshire.

2.  They center around a common workplace – the grocery business.

3.  Sexual tension and longing play a large part in the plots.

4.  The competitive nature of retail sales is present in both shows.

Of course there are many more differences than similarities between these two series.   Sitcom laugh tracks, numerous double entendres, catch phrases and ethnic and gender stereotypes are employed in Open All Hours while Monday Monday is an hour-long drama which features comic situations and no question about what members of the opposite sex are saying or doing.  OAH is considered a classic British sitcom with beloved comedic actors.  MM doesn’t appear to be on the schedule for a return to television and received generally poor reviews.  I would like to say I enjoyed Monday Monday for what it is, especially the ensemble cast, who tackled the soap opera-ish elements without being too melodramatic.

In the UK just as in the US, small, independent grocers like Arkwright have been made obsolete by large corporations.  Butterworth’s has budget and health conscious ranges, first aid training, incentives for innovative ideas and  numerous HR-sponsored social occasions.  Arkwright took care of his own marketing (whitewash and a clean front window), transportation (antique shop bike), security (recorded dog sounds and garden implements) and HR… well, there’s no employee discount for Granville, I’m afraid.  We can’t go back to simpler times, but it would be nice to have the personal attention of the shopkeeper who knows your name…without knowing your personal business.



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I was watching the special features documentary on a Doctor Who series the other day… because I have all the time in the world and have somehow without intention started becoming a novice Whovian.  Anyhow, executive producer Russell T. Davies was talking about a cargo spaceship created for an episode entitled 42.  He said they decided on a design which had a “slightly British, slightly knackered, slightly homemade feel” to it.  I hadn’t consciously acknowledged it before, but I knew exactly what he was talking about – that distinct look of being drained, worn out and drab with no attempt to be anything but functional.

From stained, faded, or outdated wallpaper prints to stacks of clutter piled round a room, this type of decor can be observed in a great number of television programs, past and present.  One of the most common scenarios is the bachelor flat which adds an extra dimension, uncleanliness.  Gary and Tony’s living room (Men Behaving Badly) is notorious for it’s filthy couch.  The squalid student apartment of The Young Ones is only rendered worse by Vyvyan’s destructive tendencies.  Even Sherlock and John Watson sharing 221B Baker Street live in shabby and sometimes quite creepy conditions, especially when Sherlock leaves a severed head in the refrigerator.

Sometimes less than fashionable home interiors are due to the occupants’ financial situation.  Daisy and Onslow (Keeping Up Appearances) seem perfectly happy in their dilapidated abode while overworked and under appreciated Barbara (The Royle Family) does her best to keep up her family’s modest castle.  And though the Being Human house has a peeling pink exterior, Annie works to make her home warm and inviting while the boys bring in their meager hospital janitor wages.

As for workplaces, Arkwright’s, the small grocer’s shop in Open All Hours is drab and hodge-podge with every space used to it’s fullest utilitarian potential.  Besides, the proprietor is too cheap to foot the bill for any renovations.  Part workplace, part domicile, the parochial house shared by Father Ted and his fellow priests looks as worn and craggy as the island they live on.  And maybe the oddest example of all, in the basement of the chic and shiny Reynolm Industries building is the dreary IT Crowd department with the carcasses of old computer parts strewn about.

I know this style intimately because I lived in such a room for five months during my college study abroad days in London.  Since we faced a back alley, we kept the curtains drawn – curtains which drooped from an inadequate number of hooks.  The color scheme was dingy neutral, the furnishings were bland, and an out-of-commission fireplace was coated in off-white paint so thick it made the only potentially interesting feature in the room fade into the woodwork, so to speak.  We tried to jazz it up with posters and mementos from home; however the room refused to brighten.  But we were college students, accustomed to more spartan accommodations, and besides, we had access to all of London outside our drab door.

I have discovered that my old program house has been transformed into a posh four star hotel now, all gleaming white and elegant.  But I’m not sure if I don’t prefer it as it was before.  After all many structures in Britain and across Europe are much older than those in the States – they have earned their grunge as it were.  Some still display battle scars from WWII.  The time-worn quality emanates humbleness and persistence that those of us from newer lands don’t always appreciate.  Besides, according to Moss and Roy, tampering with a delicate ecosystem can kill the rain forest and we don’t want to kill the rain forest, do we?

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