Neglected comedy classic
, 04 May 2007
It seems that someone in where ever it is that decides that these things get released has got his/her head screwed on because this DVD is more overdue than a Trans Pennine train. Happily it is now due for DVD release which as I've intimated is quite right as it's in the dictionary under overlooked and if you flick forward is possibly included under underrated as well .
Dear John ran from 1986-87 for fourteen episodes with a one off Christmas special and was written by John Sullivan and I would go as far as suggesting it's the finest thing he's ever put his name to. Centring on the John of the title played with maudlin brilliance by Ralph Bates , a schoolteacher whose wife has left him for his best friend and is now relegated to living ain a tawdry bed-sit while paying his former spouse exorbitant maintenance. So depressed he can barely function on a social level John joins a divorced and separated encounter group-the 1-2-1 club- to seek solace in like minded company.
It's the characters that make up this group and the interaction between them that makes Dear John so special. Chaired by the slightly snooty Louise (Rachel Bell), a woman whose primary objective is to discover the sexual history of her charges ( her catch phrase of 'were there any sexual problems?' pops up frequently but then catch phrases do) John forms a bond with Kate( Belinda Lang) , an attractive but insecure and bitter woman who clashes repeatedly with the groups most vociferous character Kirk(Peter Blake)who boasts of a playboy lifestyle and a glamorous undercover job. Ralph( Peter Denyer) is the groups timid misfit while Mrs Arnott (Jean Challis)doesn't say much and when she does it's usually not worth listening to. Every actor is superb in their respective role but Bates is worthy of particular praise as he carries the title role with a character far less dynamic and eye catching than those around him yet his beautifully judged and nuanced performance is just what the show needs to allow the other characters to breathe. A sturdy oak to their weeping willows and shiny evergreens.
They are joined for the second series by Kevin Lloyd as Rick , an ex rock star whose relative tales of a glamorous lifestyle are a red rag to a bull as far as Kirks concerned. As the series progressed we learnt more about the characters -including the eventual truth about Kirk in a fantastic episode with some classic lines Kirk; ' The only woman I asked to dance told me to sod off creep.....and she calls herself a mother'. My personal favourite is 'The Party' where Ralph premieres his mobile disco-'Dazzling Darren'- which he only has one record for-Shakin Stevens 'Green Door' which he plays on endless rotate while sheepishly mumbling 'boogaloo' and other inanities over the top. The episode where John electrocutes Ralph's pet terrapins is terrific as well but really every episode is a classic of it's kind and the relationship between John and Kate while mainly played for laughs has some wonderful bittersweet touches. The final Christmas special see's a biker gang infiltrate the 1-2-1 club and augers the conundrum can Kirk back up all his bragging and save the day?
Dear John may have continued if Ralph Bates hadn't succumbed to serious illness ( He died in 1991) but I think it's perfect as it is. John Sullivan , great writer though he is , has a tendency to drag out an idea past its sell by date-witness 'Only Fools And Horses'. The show was sold to the U.S.A. where it was made with the same title and with Judd Hirsh as John. This version though is quintessentially British and with Sullivan's empiric ability to nail the cadence and cynical humour of the way people actually do talk to each other is one of the great British comedies and an inexplicably overlooked one at that .
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