Slinger’s Day

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[This is Part 6 of my Shitcoms series. Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five]

Since starting the Shitcoms series, I occasionally get suggestions tweeted at me, and Slinger’s Day has come up more than once. I’d never seen it, and at first glance, it didn’t seem like it would be that bad. It’s not one of the obviously problematic ones like Bottle Boys or Curry & Chips, nor poisoned with the presence of Jim Davidson, like Up the Elephant and Round the Castle. It’s just Bruce Forsyth running a supermarket, how bad could it be? The answer is real bad; Plaza Patrol bad; visiting the local chemists dressed as Oliver Twist, dumping a basketful of Ibuprofen on the desk and begging “please, sir, can I have some more? Enough to put me into the long sleep? In the ground? In the dirt, where there’s no more suffering?” bad.

Unapologetically, I was a big fan of Sir Brucie. His wallpapering routine with Norman Wisdom at the London Palladium is one of my favourite pieces of comedy, and I once played him in an audition piece for our school’s arts festival, in a Generation Game skit. Chin jutting and tash drawn on with biro, I did the famous pose; the standing Rodin’s Thinker; and most incredibly at the time, even convinced the girl I most fancied in the world into playing Miss Ford (some 20 years later, she went onto rebuff my Facebook friend request). Though the act did not get selected for the show, if we’d instead chosen to portray his 1986 sitcom, it’s likely we’d have been pelted offstage with bricks. And rightly so.

01

Slinger’s Day is an oddity, as a quasi-sequel to a series that was retooled (and renamed) after its lead actor, Leonard Rossiter, died. Though this suggests the original show, Tripper’s Day, was so successful, they simply had to find a way to continue; like Two and a Half Men after Charlie Sheen’s brain broke; it too, was reviled by critics and audiences alike. I’ve not seen the coroner’s report, but Rossiter’s death, which occurred following the second episode’s airing, was likely due to shame. Stepping in to replace Rossiter’s Norman Tripper as manager of Supafare, Bruce was an odd choice for a sitcom leading man, having done little onscreen acting, aside from the exaggerated version of himself that hosted all those game shows, forever giving exasperated looks to camera. Though he’d done a lot of stage work, and played a henchman in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, his placement in the series is as ill-fitting as his wig, which here resembles someone who’s risen from the depths of a lake with a covering of fine seaweed.

Like many other bad series, the writing of Slinger’s Day comes from one very specific school of comedy — if the characters are mistaken, then you’re laffin’! A more fitting title would be Confusion Ensues! Who needs jokes when you can just have characters confusing one person for another person, or a thing for an entirely different thing? This end-of-pier farce bollocks, which drags on interminably, is practically the whole show. The first episode starts with the staff mistaking some random old fella for their new boss, the old fella thinking the secretary is the new boss (“well I never, a woman!”) and Bruce (the actual new boss) being mistaken for an applicant for the tea boy position. All in the first five minutes.

02

This is a big cast, though I hesitate to use the word ‘ensemble’, as it’s little more than a pack of thinly-drawn stereotypes. Among others, there’s Mr. Christian, the clipboard-wielding lickspittle; Higgins, the Jack-the-Lad (played by PC Dave Quinnan from The Bill, a regular on Noel’s House Party); Dottie, the gum-chewing black girl, manning the till with her walkman on; and beloved character actor David Kelly as yet another piss-drunk Irishman, always hungover, and with every rambling piece of dialogue recanting tales of horse-racing, priests, shagging widows, or going to funerals. Man, did the Irish and Scots ever get kicked about in comedy back then.

Brucie’s Cecil Slinger lines up all the staff, so he can march up and down berating them like a Nazi commandant. “I want you to think of me like a father,” he says, before reaching Dottie and correcting himself; “father figure.” Snarling with that glorious chin fully cocked, it’s the classic sitcom boss, where they’re more like drill instructors than your modern CEO, posting inspirational statuses on LinkedIn about 4am kale enemas and bravely making time to see their kids for one hour a month. They even do the Full Metal Jacket bit, where he dares the stock boy to laugh while leaning right into his ear. Sadly, if anyone’s likely to blast the top of their head off with a rifle at the end of the first act, it’s me. From the get-go, Bruce is falling over his words, struggling with the structure of scripted performance, which allows no elbow-room for improv or asides to the audience, and throws his legendary timing off-whack. And what a script it is. How’s this for a gag?

I had a bit of trouble with the bus.

What sort of trouble?

I missed it!

03

The back-and-forth dialogue clearly thinks it’s Vaudeville, but is just tedious repetition, with every interaction that panto comedy of spinning around looking for someone, and not realising they’re behind you the whole time. The “plot,” (said in air-quotes 100-ft high) sees a sit-in by a group of women protesting against whale-meat dogfood. It’s the 80s, so you get the picture; shrieking lefties in badge-covered denim jackets, with Greenham Common haircuts and masculine voices, waving SAVE THE WHALES signs. Of course, there’s a hilarious misunderstanding between ocean-going whales and Wales the country, though we do get a classic “I studied origami” threat from the elderly security guard; a line legally required to feature in every sitcom between 1977-1995. A pregnant protester goes into labour, threatening to sue, so Bruce agrees to take the dogfood off sale, and it’s eventually revealed the ladies take turns stuffing a pillow up their shirt to pull the “I’m giving birth, see you in court!” act at various protests.

The end of each episode gives a little Brucie Bonus, with the scene continuing wordlessly beneath the scrolling credits. This week has him running round the shop in a fury, knocking over a big stack of cans, spilling a glass of Alka-Seltzer all over the desk, and ending with his head in his hands right on the beat of the closing kettle drum. And I must make special mention of the brilliantly naff theme; a childish composition of wacky synth noises, oddly reminiscent of Roobarb and Custard, it sounds like a monster bouncing along on its own farts. Episode one does contain the only legitimate chuckle in the entire series, albeit an inadvertent one, during a moment Bruce peers in through the window in the exact manner of Scum‘s greenhouse bumming scene.

04

My heart sank with the mere title of the next episode, A Right Royal Mix-Up. A mix-up? Oh good. Double-peril for this one, which was written by Vince Powell, who previously appeared in my Shitcoms series as the writer/creator of Bottle Boys. Deep breath, lads, I’m going in. First ensuing confusion concerns the arrival of a Frenchman to man the promotional display of cheese. Brucie greets him with Del Boy Frenglish and cheek kisses, but “steady on, old chap!” he’s got the wrong man! Stammering posho, Forbes-Fortescue, is merely one of many bowler-hatted toffs armed with umbrellas to show up over the twelve episodes and be confused for someone else. In reality, he’s an envoy from Buckingham Palace, here to announce Charles and Di will be dropping in to visit the supermarket tomorrow.

But that’s not all, as the Frenchman turns out to be a French woman; sacré bleu! There’s less comic mileage than they think in having Brucie mispronounce French words, and mistake her suggestion of cheese counter “nibbles” as an offer for sex. There is a decent sight gag, when Bruce fantasises about getting a tapped with the sword for a knighthood, and his jacket sleeves fall off, but the royal visit gets cancelled. It’s then that all the misunderstandings and poor performances come back to bite Slinger’s Day, as Prince Charles shows up to do his shopping. Or does he? Obviously the real Prince Charles isn’t going to cameo, but it’s unclear if it’s meant to be him, or if the joke’s that Brucie’s confused again, doling out a golden trolley of free shopping to a commoner. He has got big ears, and does the Charles hand movements and voice everyone did in the 80s, “errrr, my wife, errrr…” but as it turns out, no, just another regular guy who happened to act and look like exactly someone else who was due to show up anyway. The under-credits action sees Brucie knock a policeman’s helmet off and get rushed through the store with his arm pulled behind his back, hopefully to get a 10-stretch in the nonce-wing for crimes against sitcom.

05

There is another aspect to Slinger’s Day I’ve yet to go into, and it’s a huge part of its construction. A handful of times each episode, the action’s broken up by these weird interludes, amounting to small quickie skits, where Brucie interacts with customers on the shop floor. A posh Major back from India who refuses to basket his own goods; a woman crying over a milk carton because her husband left her, and it’s not worth getting a full pint; a vicar who’s paying with a cheque signed by Donald Duck; most are so thin on jokes, they’re effectively pausing the story to show us Bruce Forsyth running a supermarket for real. As another example, an old man asks where the potatoes are, so Brucie reels off a long list of the varieties they’ve got in stock. Turns out, he wants instant mash, causing a fourth-wall break, as a disgusted Bruce looks at us to spit “instant mash!” By the time we hit the second series, Slinger’s Day is almost entirely composed of these filler sketches, for those wanting to wind down from a hard day at work by sitting in front of the box and watching a Knight of the Realm roleplay customer assistant.

Series 2’s Whose Baby? is the classic ‘look after/hide the baby’ episode, as best seen in Saved by the Bell. With a straight one-in, one-out policy, token black character Dottie’s been replaced by Shirley, whose baby niece has to be hidden from Brucie while her sister-in-law goes to the dentist. He does a lot of “What was that?! I thought I heard a baby!” stuff, but aren’t babies often taken into supermarkets anyway? Eventually, it wees on him, and he tries to feed it with a jug of milk poured through a washing up glove. The mix-up comes when he hilariously assumes the baby is Shirley’s, leading to another cross-purpose scene, entirely based around the comic potential of an unmarried mother. This is Thatcher’s 80s, where it wasn’t terrorists and grooming gangs tearing apart the fabric of British society, but the moral plague of the single mother. “Like Eve,” he tells her, “you fell.

06

Also in Whose Baby, the staff are introduced to the new secretary. Like I always do with these things, I casually fired up IMDB to see what else the actress had been in. Now, permit me a few moments to go off on a sidetrack. Consider it a well-earned intermission. I saw the actress had starred in a show called Number 96 for 130 episodes. I’ve never heard of it, but it turns out to be an Australian soap opera, you know, like Neighbours

Drama examining the lives of residents of a Sydney apartment block. Initial storylines focused on adultery, drug use, frigidity, rape, gossip, homosexuality, marriage problems and racism. Original residents included busty blonde virgin Bev Houghton who fell in love with her neighbour, homosexual lawyer Don Finlayson.

Sounds interesting…

An early storyline was the dreaded ‘knicker snipper’, a devious intruder who ransacked the women’s bedrooms and cut holes in their panties and bras.

And there I go, right down the rabbit hole.

…the Mad Bomber storyline, in August–September 1975…

…the horrific pantyhose strangler killing off two young women residents, and attacking one other.

The show’s final months in 1977 included a range of shock storylines including the exploits of a group of Nazi bikers and a psychopathic blackmailer.

…a scene where Jane Chester becomes a prostitute and is asked to whip her male client gave viewers a brief glimpse of full frontal male nudity

In one outrageous moment, Miss Hemingway wore a bra but no panties and yet despite screening at 8.30pm on free-to-air TV

07

An Ozploitation soap opera?! Get me every goddamn one of the 1,218 episodes immediately. Oh right, Slinger’s Day. Christ, I don’t want to get back to it after this. I want the Knicker Snapper and fannies out at tea-time! Alright, final episode, A Pane in the Neck, begins, because this is the Hell I have made for myself, with Supafare’s chairman Mr. Crawford turning up unannounced, and Bruce mistaking him for the dogfood rep and shit-talking old “Clueless Crawford.” One of the staff chucks a tin can right through the shop window, smashing it, and hitting Crawford on the bonce, and as the glassiers can’t come until tomorrow, Brucie has to stay in the store overnight, to guard all of the stock.

With the second half consisting of Bruce’s stay, perhaps this will be one of those masterclasses in solo bottle episodes, like that One Foot in the Grave where Victor does a crossword, or The Bedsitter from Hancock’s Half Hour. Nah, it’s more of the same shite. Bruce puts on a radio play about cops and robbers and a real policeman charges in, thinking he heard gunshots, then his staff keep turning up, including the staggering-drunk Irishman, who’s looking for more booze. In the end, a burglar breaks in, so Brucie wraps him in a blanket and beats him with a foil tray, but when he lets him out, it’s only bloody chairman Crawford, ain’t it?! Cuh.

08

I wish some posh bloke had turned up at my flat and been mistakenly shepherded to sit down at the computer and watch this nonsense. Though it doesn’t outwardly give the sense of an all-time toilet of a show, I probably should have known, with such electrifying episode synopsis as “the store must move five hundred units of fishcakes before they go bad.” Thankfully, it all ended after series two, and didn’t go on in perpetuity, with every comedian taking their shift as Supafare manager like national service, until all the comics ran out, and they started hiring people off the street. Minimum wage and a six episode contract, to mistake a mayor for a bog-roll salesman, or show an angry farmer to the tinned veg aisle, in an endless cycle that marches on until the sun burns itself out. Davidson’s Day. Edmonds’ Day. Sutcliffe’s Day. Millard’s Day. Sorry, I think I got lost in the piece. I’ve watched so much Bruce Forsyth over the last week, I’m starting to see double. Chin, chin!

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on May 17, 2019.

2 Responses to “Slinger’s Day”

  1. […] [This is Part 7 of my Shitcoms series. Part One — Part Two — Part Three — Part Four — Part Five — Part Six] […]

  2. […] Part 8 of my Shitcoms series. Part One — Part Two — Part Three — Part Four — Part Five — Part Six — Part […]

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