Sunday, 20 November 2016
First viewed : April 1982
I can't remember which school mate sold this to me as being funny and I can't decide whether he or the ITV exec who decided this was suitable for an early evening slot was most in need of counselling.
Horace was originally a single play , broadcast as a Play for Today on BBC1 in 1972. Horace ( Barry Jackson ) is a mentally retarded man who lives with his mother and works in a joke shop in Yorkshire. Jackson retained the role in this series of six half hour dramas broadcast twice weekly at 7pm ten years later.
I should have known there was something up when I saw who the writer was. Roy Minton was not exactly known for comedy . The still-shocking Scum , which lifted the lid on the UK's borstal system, had been blocked by the BBC 1 Controller Bill Cotton as a further Play for Today in 1977 and had to be re-shot as a feature film two years later.
We had also read a Minton play in my Drama class at school circa 1980. I think it was called Bovver and concerned a nice middle class young man who, very unwisely, calls on the two skinheads in the flat upstairs to ask them to turn the noise down. He is subjected to a systematic process of abuse and brutalization by the articulate Vic and his Neanderthal mate Terry ( I think ) whose dialogue consisted mainly of expletives. I remember that part falling to Tony Mooney ( now a reasonably successful TV actor, most recently in Scott and Bailey ) and him relishing the opportunity to say lines like " Let's kick the shit out of him Vic !" On the other hand some of the nice girls in the class could hardly bring themselves to utter lines like "You're up and down like a whore's drawers ". Happy times !
The one episode of Horace I saw had some structural similarity to the latter play, without the bad language of course. It's the weekend and Horace has been allowed out to explore the countryside. He comes across a group of four young boys making a show of camping in a nearby wood. The merciless little bastards tease and abuse his trust in a variety of ways. My mum was appalled by the sustained cruelty and rightly so; it was as funny as haemorrhoids . The picture postcard loveliness of the West Riding setting ( Mirfield , near Huddersfield ) only made it seem worse.
It only lasted for one series. My guess is that someone saw a superficial similarity between Horace and Selwyn Froggit and thought they might have another ratings winner. But there's a world of difference between terminal stupidity and mental illness and Horace is barely remembered today.
I should mention that Barry Jackson was excellent in the title role. He had a long career in TV with a late triumph as Dr Bullard in Midsomer Murders. He died three years ago aged 75.