Tuesday, 26 January 2016
327 Mind Your Language
First viewed : January 1978
After Kick Off came a comedy hour on ITV. First off was this favourite ( or at least second favourite ) whipping series for the pc brigade.
Mind Your Language was set in what would now be called an ESOL class presided over by the hapless Jeremy Brown ( Barry Evans, a promising young actor in the sixties whose film career seemed to have stalled ). His class comprised people of various nationalities with varying degrees of competence in the English language. The humour derived in roughly equal parts from the characters playing up to their national stereotypes and their creative misinterpretations of the language they were learning.
Undeniably the series did rely for good or ill on national stereotypes but I wouldn't call it racist because the non-white characters were not treated any less fairly or portrayed as any more ridiculous than their Swedish or Italian counterparts. Unlike the irredeemable Love Thy Neighbour , Mind Your Language never resorted to racist abuse to get laughs and the characters were generally pretty tolerant in their relations with each other. I think the Germans had most cause for complaint, being represented by Anna Schmidt , a frigid and severe blonde played by the non-Teutonic Anna Harding. The characters I remember most were the jolly Pakistani Ali Nadim, though this was probably because he was played by Dino Shafeek , instantly recognisable as Char Wallah from It Ain't Half Hot Mum and busty French sexpot Danielle ( Francois Pascal ).
I enjoyed it but did not stick with it after the first series. It was very popular around the world particularly in those countries who were represented in the class. Despite this, and the fact that he originally commissioned the series Michael Grade cancelled it in 1981 ostensibly through distaste at offensive stereotyping. Grade is Jewish so it can be taken at face value though it's possible he needed a daring decision on his c.v. and chopping a popular series he personally disliked fitted the bill.
The continued success of the series abroad prompted an independent company Tri Films to produce another 13 episodes in 1986 with about half the original cast including Evans but not Pascal who had moved to Hollywood when the series finished. Grade had moved on to the BBC by that time but the individual ITV companies were divided in their response. Anglia, Granada and Central showed the whole series while the others showed only a few episodes or none at all.
Once that had finished Evans found work very hard to come by. He made a surprise return to film in 1993 in The Mystery of Edwin Drood but it failed to re-ignite his career and he ended up working as a taxi driver. His death in February 1997 remains a mystery. His body was found at his home when police went there to tell him his stolen car had been found. He had a head wound and high levels of alcohol in his blood but there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the car thieves. The Coroner returned an open verdict. Pascal returned to the UK in 1987; since then she has worked exclusively in the theatre but is listed as having a couple of film projects in production.