Mar 08


FT + Popular131 comments • 8,392 views

#371, 7th June 1975

I’m going to try and recreate the context for this one from memory. Wikipedia and – god forbid – YouTube make this a pointless exercise, I know… but then that’s rather appropriate, wouldn’t you say?

It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was a British sitcom of the 1970s, set in…. Burma? During the second world war? The hook was that a tyrannical and pompous sergeant major, played by Windsor Davies, had been put in charge of a squad not of soldiers but of entertainers, who were out in the jungle to boost the troops’ morale. I can’t remember if the entertainers were meant to be any good or not (“Whispering Grass” surely suggests not!) but certainly they were terrible soldiers, much to the unending dismay of Davies.

This isn’t a bad set-up for a sitcom in the short-term, and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was a roaring success in its day, but is rarely repeated now because it drew a disproportionate amount of jokery from two sources: i) misunderstandings between the squad and the comical natives, who I seem to remember were generally white actors ‘browned up’, ii) clashes between Windsor Davies’ character and Melvyn Hayes, who played a nervous and effeminate gay man. Both men are good comic actors and I found these second gags hilarious at the time, but I was 5 or 6.

Neither of these wells of humour is drawn on for “Whispering Grass”, though it’s quite bad enough without them. I’m assuming this is straight out of the series, probably an episode where they give a concert party, and someone falls ill, and so the Sergeant Major has to sing… WITH HILARIOUS CONSEQUENCES. That’s the only way I can explain the weird structure of “Whispering Grass”, which starts with a bit of Davies in-character, and then gives you most of the song with Don Estelle doing an adequate nostalgia turn, and just as you might be settling into enjoying the song back comes Davies doing it as an awkward spoken word. There’s no joke-value in the first half and no pop-value in the second, so whatever you’re coming to it for you’ll be disappointed.



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  1. 101
    Marcello Carlin on 28 Mar 2008 #

    Some pretty hot Branford Marsalis sackbut action on that Sting album…

  2. 102
    Erithian on 28 Mar 2008 #

    Yup, “Welcome Home”, “Eye Level” and now this – the motley assortment of songs with 100 posts!

  3. 103
    Waldo on 28 Mar 2008 #

    – Over one century is it? To be sure we are a tragic gang observed Mr Bloom wistfully.

    – In love I’m not added Stephen to the gloom.

    – SPOILIUS BUNNIUS! roared the mob.

  4. 104
    Marcello Carlin on 28 Mar 2008 #

    “Whispering Grass” thread now officially >>>>>>>>>>>>>> David Beckham.

  5. 105
    Erithian on 28 Mar 2008 #

    The record-holder “Welcome Home” is >Bobby Moore but not by much. Nothing has approached Shilts yet…

  6. 106
    Brian on 28 Mar 2008 #

    Party like it’s 1599 !! perfect !

    For a couple of kids from Canada, we were probably as pretentious then, as Sting is now, about all that Dowland stuff. I much prefer it played by John Williams , but that’s another story

    Party we did though …….amazing party ( a White Ball, no less ) with fashion models and assorted oddities through a Model Agency called ” Ugly “. Trafalgar Square , in a white sports coat, red carnation, freezing night and not a London hack willing to take us to Wimbledon – one of the models spotted us and drove us to our boat bulilding house in her ” private car”. too cool

  7. 107
    Chris Brown on 28 Mar 2008 #

    @77 & 82 – I was trying to formulate the Life On Mars cast analogy too. I think you probably would have to include John Simm as he’s dabbled in music too, like Don Estelle.

    @79 – Having got the complete Fawlty Towers on DVD for Christmas, I can confirm that there was indeed an audience for the other episodes – but Basil The Rat was filmed about six months after the rest of the series because of the strike. For some reason, they also got an extra day’s rehearsal.

  8. 108
    Drucius on 31 Mar 2008 #

    This column has simply proved the old adage that all the best comedies were on the BBC. Apart from Rising Damp and….er…oh.

  9. 109
    Marcello Carlin on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Selwyn Froggitt?

  10. 110
    Billy Smart on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Agony? After Henry? err…

  11. 111
    crag on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Hot Metal? The New Statesman?It Takes A Worried Man? The Gaffer? (the last two mainly getting a shoutout just for the v strong memories i have of their awe-inspiring title sequences however..)
    I have a chum who swears by Shelley- and lets not forget Channel 4 of course…

  12. 112
    Billy Smart on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Oh well, if you’re including Channel 4, then ‘Chance In A Million’, ‘The Kit Curran Radio Show’… And I’d be fascinated to see Peter Jenkins’ ‘Struggle’ again.

  13. 113
    crag on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Not wishing to turn the site into “Comedular” or anything but if anyones interested the Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy has a top 20 non BBC sitcom listing!The top part of the list is obvious enough(Rising Damp is predictably #1, then the aforementioned After Henry, Agony plus Father Ted) but as for the lower half of the list, well, most of it is a total mystery to me-Outside Edge, anyone? Last of the Baskets? Up the Garden Path? ? Did they they just make titles up to fill the rest of the list and think nobody would notice?
    (If there are any huge Last of the Baskets fans out there please forgive me for my ignorance and flippancy…)

  14. 114
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Apr 2008 #

    I Googled all of these, and they do exist, but I’m blowed if I can remember any of them.

    I remember Only When I Laugh though. And Hardwicke House which starred Roy Kinnear as a headmaster and lasted for precisely one episode.

    And the one set in the supermarket which starred Leonard Rossiter until he died and Bruce Forsyth took over, whatever that was called.

  15. 115
    Billy Smart on 1 Apr 2008 #

    ‘Tripper’s Day’/ ‘Slinger’s Day’!

    What of Robyn Askwith milkman comedy ‘The Bottle Boys’?

  16. 116
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Don’t even get me started on Jim Davidson in mirthfilled eighties sitcom Up The Elephant And Round The Castle.

    One ITV sitcom I did like from this period was The Fosters which was a sort of forerunner to Desmond’s. Starring Norman Beaton and featuring a young Lenny Henry with IIRC a questionable Afro.

  17. 117
    Mark G on 1 Apr 2008 #

    The Fosters was all right.

    What about “The Wackers”? A scouse family, who kept getting drunk and fighting and that. It was basically “Shameless” wayy too early for the DMailreaders, and got withdrawn. Possibly Keith Chegwin’s finest hour, definitely his first.

  18. 118
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Apr 2008 #

    I do remember that vaguely.

  19. 119
    intothefireuk on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Was ‘the Fenn Street Gang’ still soldiering on after the demise of ‘Please Sir’ ?

  20. 120
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Apr 2008 #

    It did for a bit, but not that much longer.

  21. 121
    rosie on 1 Apr 2008 #

    After Henry certainly began on the BBC (on Radio 4) and was the first of many, I think, to make the big leap from radio to screen. Many, including me, would say that it worked best as a radio three-hander. It also had me combing London for a recording of George Gershwin’s Three-quarter Blues.

    Up The Garden Path followed the same path later on. That wasn’t improved by the move either.

  22. 122
    Waldo on 1 Apr 2008 #

    I remember “After Henry” on Radio 4 but not the tv series. It’s all too easy churning out the worst ITV “comedies” but Auntie not infrequently came out with some quite astonishing rubbish also. “Rosie”, for example (nothing to do with our dear fellow blogger) and more recently “Bloomin’ Marvellous”, starring Clive Mantle, who I used to sit next to at Chelsea when I was a season ticket holder (circ 1997). I wanted to tell Clive this, ready with the “it’s not your fault, it’s the script” bit but decided not to. Actors are very sensitive/easy to offend creatures and Clive is a bit of a big lad.

  23. 123
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Apr 2008 #

    Rosie, the lovable yet unfunny policeman and unacknowledged forerunner to scintillating long-running ITV cosy cop show Heartbeat.

  24. 124
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 1 Apr 2008 #

    my dad liked “rosie” and “shelley”, and hence i remember them both fondly — perhaps skewed by his enjoyment (the sukrats en famille tend to love making one another laugh a lot, and thus overvalue those mere outsider proejcts which do the same)

  25. 125
    DV on 4 May 2008 #

    When I was small I used to gamely watch IAHHM in the hope that this week the Japanese would attack and the programme would turn into a war film. This never happened.

  26. 126
    Chris Brown on 4 May 2008 #

    I remember Outside Edge, although I wouldn’t have called it a sitcom as such – maybe because it was shot on film and IIRC had no studio audience. Brenda Blethyn was in it.

  27. 127
    AndyManc on 17 May 2009 #

    and here they are in all their glory .

  28. 128
    Erithian on 18 May 2009 #

    I thought this thread had been revived because of the quote from Peter Sallis that made the news yesterday – that “Last of the Summer Wine” was almost stillborn because Michael Bates, who was somewhere to the right of Margaret Thatcher, and Bill Owen, who was somewhere to the left of Lenin, were arguing about politics within minutes of meeting each other. Wonder how that influenced Bates’ relations with the cast on IAHHM?

  29. 129
    Mark G on 19 May 2009 #

    my dad liked “rosie” and “shelley”

    Rosie, i.e. “Chief inspector Penrose” in his dreams, was one of those BBC comeedies where everyone in it was funny except the lead part.

    “Shelley” had a theme tune which sounded remarkably like “Cornflake Girl” Tori Amos, which came many years later. So I’d say “blimey that sounds like Shelley’s theme tune” and the people would go “Shelley? Hywel Bennet? Nope, never heard of it.”

  30. 130
    Michael Garfield on 30 Jan 2013 #

    Don Estelle had a No.1 record. Did any of you piss takers? Don Estelle had a lovely voice, and was a singer before and after ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’. Such comments don’t surprise me though. Oh so clever, talentless piss takers who knock someone’s talent because it doesn’t appeal to their modern sensibilities. Tossers.

  31. 131
    thefatgit on 30 Jan 2013 #

    I’ve had quite a few #1 records actually. In my collection. Not this one though. No. Not this one.

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