Dawson's Weekly
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (16th January 2009).
The Show

Yorkshire Televison, 1975

This review of Dawson’s Weekly should be considered as a companion to our review of The Galton and Simpson Playhouse (YTV, 1977).

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Ray Galton and Alan Simpson are most famous for their work on the BBC’s situation comedies Hancock’s Half Hour (1956-60), Hancock (1961) and Steptoe & Son (1962-1974). Like the work of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Porridge, BBC 1974-7; The Likely Lads, BBC 1964-6; Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, BBC 1973-4), Galton and Simpson’s work is known by its sense of pathos. Like Clement and La Frenais’ sitcoms, Galton and Simpson’s humour is often bittersweet: in Steptoe & Son, the bickering between Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett) and his father Albert Steptoe (Wilfrid Brambell) is the show’s source of comedy but is made bittersweet by the fact that the characters are trapped within an existence that is making them increasingly bitter, Harold’s aspirations for a better life (through education, through finding new employment, through finding love) thwarted at every step by society’s expectations of his behaviour as a working-class man and by his responsibility for his father. As John Oliver’s biography of Galton and Simpson on the BFI’s ScreenOnline website notes, ‘working not with comedians or comic actors but with two straight actors, Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell, they created a sitcom that was often as achingly poignant as it was funny. The two main themes of male love/hate relationships and the thwarted desire for self-advancement were familiar from the Hancock scripts, but they were elevated here to a dramatic level that would have been impossible with comedians in the lead roles’ (Oliver, Year Unknown: np).

Galton and Simpson’s work tends to be known for its focus on boorish and petty middle-aged men, epitomised by the character (known by the pompous moniker Anthony St John Aloysius Hancock) that Tony Hancock played in Hancock and Hancock’s Half Hour. In Dawson’s Weekly, produced in 1975 for Yorkshire Television, Galton and Simpson returned to this character type, essentially reworking the formula of Hancock and Hancock’s Half Hour for the comedian Les Dawson.

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Hancock’s Half Hour was the first British television sitcom, and in its approach to television comedy the series was quite revolutionary, redefining television comedy and situating it within parameters that are still present today: each episode of Hancock’s Half Hour contained a sustained narrative (rather than a series of disconnected sketches), and what’s more the show also deviated from the classic ‘two-hander’/double act mode of comedy that had derived from the music halls and vaudeville. Writing about the origins of the British sitcom in his BFI monograph on The Likely Lads (2008), Phil Wickham notes that ‘[w]hile the situation[s]’ within Hancock’s Half Hour ‘retained some of the looseness of radio (Tony’s profession could change from week to week as the comedy dictated) it was Hancock’s character, the “lad himself”, […] who sent British sitcoms’ down a unique path (85). Hancock was a ‘loser, a deeply inadequate, pompous, slightly pitiable fellow’ who inhabited the ‘shabby everyday’ (ibid.). Although the situations changed, the characterisation of ‘Hancock’ (the screen character, not the actor) remained consistent: in 50 Years of Hancock’s Half Hour (2004), Richard Webber notes that ‘[a]lthough Hancock’s character changed cosmetically, inside he possessed the same foibles, weaknesses and personality traits […] Hancock cut a sad, lonely figure, a man whose gullibility was his biggest undoing. Whenever he experienced a problem, he lacked the confidence and maturity to tackle it himself’ (41).

In Dawson’s Weekly, Galton and Simpson create a similar character for Les Dawson and the series functions in a similar way, with Dawson (playing ‘Les Dawson’, as Tony Hancock played ‘Hancock’) finding himself in a variety of different situations. Where Hancock’s television shows usually featured regular supporting stars (such as Sid James), Dawson’s Weekly finds support in Dawson’s regular comedy partner Roy Barraclough; in the series, Barraclough plays a different character each week, although each of these characters are modelled on a similar type, the ‘camp’ male (a recognisable archetype in much bawdy British stage, radio and television comedy, from Kenneth Williams to Frankie Howerd), in order to accommodate Barraclough’s effeminate mannerisms and voice. However, Dawson’s character is different in many ways to Hancock: where Hancock was usually introduced wearing a Homburg and Astrakhan collared coat, Dawson enters into each episode wearing motorcycle leathers (his mother’s, we are told more than once), a motorcycle helmet and a long white scarf. Possibly to accommodate Dawson’s size and physique, where Hancock would often implode due to the frustrations he experienced, in Dawson’s Weekly Les Dawson often explodes and becomes aggressive with the other characters.

However, like Hancock Dawson’s character is riddled with pomposity: in Stage Struck he sits in his dingy one-room bedsit, and when his telephone rings he answers it with an exaggerated ‘RP’ accent, saying ‘Hello, Dawson residence here [….] Mr Dawson? Just a moment. I shall ascertain as to whether or not he is in? … Yes, I can see him through the French windows. Yes, he’s in the swimming pool, swimming round and about’. These ‘flights of fancy’ are a characteristic of Galton and Simpson’s comedy: as Wickham notes, in British comedy the ‘flight of fancy’ is ‘a spiralling of dialogue into areas of absurdity that take the speaker, and the audience, away from the reality of the moment through comic exaggeration [….] Galton and Simpson are particularly fond of the “flight of fancy”; Hancock and Harold Steptoe frequently go into extended monologues where they imagine themselves as someone else, or form a fantastical comic contrast with their own position’ (op cit.: 98). This obsession with the ‘flight of fancy’ as a comic device runs throughout Dawson’s Weekly too.

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Each episode is set in Leeds, described ironically by Dawson in as ‘this flower of the North, this gladioli of the Pennines, this seat of learning, this citadel of enlightenment’.


Episode Outline:

‘Les Miserables’ (25:22)
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The episode begins in the waiting room of a psychiatrist. Les arrives, dressed in full motorcycle leathers. ‘I can’t even laugh at me own jokes anymore’, he complains aloud; ‘I was always able to do that. It’s getting worse. These black depressions. Life doesn’t seem worth living anymore. I don’t want to do anything; I don’t want to see anybody; I snap at people for the slightest reason’. When the woman sitting next to him asks politely, ‘How long has this been going on?’ Dawson shouts at her ‘Mind your own business, you nosey old…’

In the psychiatrist’s office, Les declares that ‘This’ll be a waste of time [….] You’ve had some right miseryguts in here, but never one like me’. When asked why he’s depressed, Les reels off a huge list of reasons to be depressed: ‘You ask me why I’m depressed; every man […] gets me depressed… Especially Max Bygraves’, he notes.

After being threatened with a frontal lobotomy by the psychiatrist, Les returns home to find his bedsit invaded by a camp health visitor (Roy Barraclough). However, he finds that his health visitor has more reason to be depressed than he has, and the two men find their roles reversed, with Les offering support to the health visitor.


‘Where There’s a Will’ (25:13)
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Les’ family are gathered for the reading of Les’ uncle Enoch’s will. After waiting for Les to arrive, the other attendees are surprised to see him turn up in full motorbike leathers, loudly proclaiming ‘Good God, what a sight. The Dawson family en masse. Just look at them: they’re Hammerfield’s answer to the Archers’.

Through the will, it’s revealed that Les’ late uncle Enoch is in fact Les’ father. However, in order to claim his inheritance Les must marry and sire a son: ‘That’s a reasonable request: I will produce a Dawson or die in the attempt. What a way to go!’

In desperation, Les attends a matchmaking company; the receptionist tells Les that she co-owns the company with her husband and she is sure they will be able to find someone who will ‘make you an ideal wife’. To this, Les responds: ‘I don’t want someone to make me one; I want one already assembled. Who the hell’s your husband, Peter Cushing?’ In the waiting room, Les finds himself giving advice to one of the other clients (Roy Barraclough). Later, back at Les’ bedsit he waits for his date to arrive, only to waiting for his date to arrive only to discover that the matchmaking company have mistakenly sent him the other male client due to confusion over his name (Evelyn, ‘as in “Waugh”, Les is told).


‘Stage-Struck’ (25:34)
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Les finds that his gas has been cut off (‘Just because I didn’t pay last quarter. They can’t be that hard up for 78 pence, surely’). A ‘resting’ actor, Les decides to pester his agent in the hopes of getting a stage role; but when he arrives at his agent’s offices, Les is mistaken by the secretary for ‘the man who’s come to unblock the drains’.

Dawson is given a job as a stand-in at the Giggleswick Repertory Company, in their production of ‘Moon Over Tahiti’. However, a series of confusions lead to the Giggleswick Repertory Company switching plays at the last minute but failing to inform Les.


‘Accident Prone’ (24:32)
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Following a traffic accident, Les is rushed to hospital in an ambulance. The doctor declares ‘Good God! His head is completely twisted around’. However, Dawson simply has his motorcycle helmet on the wrong way around.

When he comes to, Les expresses concern for ‘Gladys’. The doctor tells Les that ‘There wasn’t a woman with you’. However, Dawson irritable declares ‘Not a woman, you daft pillock: me bike, Gladys’.

After taking delight in being given a blanket bath by a pretty nurse, Les receives a visitor (Roy Barraclough), a nurse from the geriatrics ward. (the nurse tells Les, ‘I’m a male nurse. Geriatrics’. Dawson responds by declaring, ‘Well, then, Mr Atrics. May I call you Gerry?’)

Les spends the rest of the episode trading stories with the man in the next bed (Richard Kiel), who it is revealed was the victim of the same traffic accident that left Les in the hospital, and who still blames Les for his injuries.


‘All Pools Day’ (24:57)
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At the Post Office, Les is mistaken for a robber due to his motorcycle helmet. He is frustrated by the experience of trying to buy a 25p postal order for his football pools coupon, as the Post Office is packed. He bumps into another customer, Roy (Roy Barraclough) who asks him, ‘Are you hear for the same thing as me?’ Warily, Dawson replies, ‘I’m not sure’.

Les is shunted from one queue to another. During this process, he bumps into an elderly woman who berates him: ‘You… You… You clockwork orange’. In response, Les aggressively tells the woman to ‘Get back to your massage panel, you rancid old bat’.

Due to a series of complications, Les and Roy eventually decide to share the coupon, the postal order and the stamp. However, will they win the pools or will fate conspire against them?


‘The Clerical Error’ (25:15)
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The episode opens with a vicar (John Bird) waiting for the arrival of his babysitter for the evening. A knock at the door reveals Les, who presents himself as ‘a temporary infant custodian’. As the priest expresses shock, Les pompously asserts, ‘And now, sir, if you’ll kindly show me where the little cherub is ensconced, you may feel free to whip away to your ecclesiastical booze-up’.

Before the vicar and his wife leave, Les tries to find out the location of the vicar’s alcohol: ‘Where’s the liquor, vicar?’ he asks.

With the vicar and his wife away, Dawson rummages through their things and takes delight in reading the letters from the vicar’s parishioners (‘What else has he got?’ Les declares, as he sifts through the vicar and his wife’s nightwear. ‘If there’s one thing I like, it’s a good root’.) Les finds the vicar’s spare dog collar and cassock; after trying them on, he discovers a glamorous blonde (Sharon Duce) frantically knocking at the door. Les lets the woman in and she faints. He carries her onto the sofa. When the woman comes to, she states ‘I was attacked’. Defensively, Les asserts ‘It wasn’t me; I’ve been here all night’. The woman tries to seduce Les (‘Put a dog collar on and you have to beat ‘em off with candlesticks’, Les bemoans). Soon, some elderly women arrive, and as in many of Hancock’s shows Les finds himself trapped in his own deception, continually digging a deeper hole for himself, eventually managing to fill the vicarage with homeless people before the vicar and his wife return home.


‘Strangers in the Night’ (24:38)
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Les is travelling to Scotland on an inter-city sleeper train. When the chief steward in the dining car (Edward Sinclair) directs Les to the third-class carriages, Les protests, ‘My dear mush, I’m not a member of the lumpen proletariat, the petit bourgeois’.

In the sleeping car, Les has an argument with another steward (Kenny Lynch) about a tip before sending the man off with 5p.

At dinner, he sees a blonde (Sue Lloyd) enter the carriage: ‘It’s come true. It’s Marlene Dietrich without her leopard’. When the woman asks Les ‘Is this seat taken’, Les tells her ‘Well, I was travelling with Raquel Welch, but I’ve given her the elbow. She can find somewhere else’.

The blonde tries to seduce to Les, and they agree to meet back at Les’ sleeping car. However, Les doesn’t know how to respond to this sexually aggressive woman, and as he returns to the sleeping car Les lasciviously notes that ‘There’s no doubt about it: it’s worth paying that bit extra to travel first class. “British Rail make the going easy”, but this is ridiculous’.

Les awaits the arrival of the blonde, and when he hears a knock at the door of his car he declares ‘Enter my lovely, I thought you were never coming’. However, Roy (Roy Barraclough)—not the blonde—enters and asserts that ‘I very nearly didn’t. Well now, where do you want me: on the top or underneath?’ Les must find some way of getting rid of Barraclough, so that he can have his way with the wanton blonde, but as per usual he will find his desire thwarted by fate.

Video

The series was mostly filmed in-studio, on videotape. Network’s DVD contains a more than adequate presentation of the series, with a very clean image and no major defects. The original break bumpers are intact.

However, in ‘The Clerical Error’ there is a strange jump-cut (and a noticeable jump on the audio track) at 3:41. This may be indexical of some damage to the tapes, or it may have been present during the original broadcast of the series. Either way, it’s a very minor ‘glitch’.

Audio

Audio is presented by a dual-channel monophonic track. Dialogue is clear and audible. There are no subtitles.

Extras

The series is packaged with one ‘extra feature’, the one-off special ‘Holiday With Strings’ (29:48). Written by Galton and Simpson and starring Dawson and Barraclough, this one-off special was made prior to Dawson’s Weekly.

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In the special, Les arrives at a travel agents. After being chastised for bringing his bicycle into the shop, Les threatens to go across to the Co-Op because he was pleased with the service he received from them when they buried his mother-in-law. The manager (who asks Les ‘Do you like Corfu?’, to which Les responds ‘It’s my favourite programme’) soon loses interest when he discovers that Les isn’t willing to pay more than ‘twenty-two quid’ for his holiday. Les eventually ends up buying a cheap flight to Spain; on the flight he makes friends with Roy (Roy Barraclough).

Overall

This is a little-seen gem of a series. Although it’s not as good as Hancock’s Half Hour or Hancock (what is?) it’s a strong attempt by Galton and Simpson to recreate the formula that made the Hancock-starring shows so successful. Dawson and Barraclough show the comic timing and enthusiasm with malapropisms that led to their sketch being so well-loved, and many of the situations are very funny.

References
Oliver, John, Year Unknown: ‘Galton, Ray (1930-) and Simpson, Alan (1929-)’. [Online.] http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/467108/ Date accessed: January 2009

Webber, Richard, 2004: 50 Years of ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’. London: Arrow

Wickham, Phil, 2008: BFI TV Classics: ‘The Likely Lads’. London: British Film Insitute

For more information, please visit the homepage of NetworkDVD.

The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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