“Hell’s Bells, Ann!”

The hapless Martin Bryce, played by wonderful Richard Briers (RIP), was often heard to frustratedly exclaim the above in one of my favourite sitcoms, Ever Decreasing Circles, during the 1980s.

I am delighted by the current reruns of this dreadfully underrated show on BBC4. I absolutely adored EDC as a kid, and it’s interesting to watch it as an adult; view it from a mature perspective.

When I was nine or ten, I would giggle at Howard and Hilda’s matching jumpers. Their twee, blissful marriage was my fairytale ideal; I dreamed of ultimately finding such a devoted a husband (incidentally, I’m happily married these days, but would have to say my hubby and I have yet to sport coordinated woollens).

With age, came an understanding of the deeper, darker themes of that programme; an appreciation of what lay beneath the more obvious humour.

Martin Bryce is a nightmare. OCD, overbearing, ‘sad,’ in the modern sense of the word; a big fanatical fish in a small pond (The Close). A complex character. If he was my neighbour, I’d pretend to be out if he rang the doorbell. Yet as portrayed by Richard Briers there was something very lovable and vulnerable about him. There is – and I hesitate to use this word as it always sounds pretentious – pathos in that performance. His childlike inferiority complex in the shadow of suave neighbour Paul (Peter Egan) is something I’m sure a lot of us can identify with.

His beautiful wife Ann (understatedly played by Penelope Wilton) enjoys an innocuous flirtation with Paul, of which Martin remains oblivious, and which never progresses due to both of their loyalty to Martin.

I like to get my teeth into poignant comedies like this that are rooted in reality. Dear John is another example.

I am a huge sitcom fan. My tastes in humour are quite diverse. I’d be hard pressed to name my all-time favourite sitcom; my top ten fluctuates. What I find funny can depend upon my mood. Fawlty Towers – as if you need reminding – is a classic, witty farce; Only Fools and Horses and Watching boast cracking dialogue and astute characterisation; Steptoe & Son is gleefully coarse; there’s Open All Hours which is as cosy as a cup of tea, and then I love Miranda or Hi-de-Hi for more escapist, silly fun.

I am also enjoying the new run of Birds of a Feather, another favourite, which follows EDC (Thursday is a good night on the telly at the moment).

Now where did I put that his ‘n’ hers knitwear catalogue…?


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