Sunday, 20 November 2016

541 Horace

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.

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