Wednesday, 24 May 2017
690 In at the Deep End
First viewed : 31 October 1984
This series was a replacement for The Big Time ; instead of following amateurs looking to break into the professional ranks ; Esther Rantzen now sent in "those two nancy boys " ( c/o Not the Nine O Clock News ) Chris Serle and Paul Heiney from That's Life to take up challenges for which they had no obvious aptitude.
This added a new ingredient to the mix - humour- and although the individual episodes varied, some of them were bloody hilarious especially the ones featuring Serle. His lugubrious demeanour had already been put to good use as a comic foil to Dave Allen in the seventies and his hangdog expression as he was repeatedly humiliated was comedy gold.
A classic example was the first episode I saw, the second in the second season ( the first was in 1982 ). Chris went into training to be a snooker player but had little talent to develop. Despite a whitewash in an amateur match with Barry Hearn looking on askance, Serle was allowed to play an exhibition doubles match with Steve "Interesting " Davis as his partner. I remember Ray Reardon winding him up beforehand with sadistic relish. After potting an early red , Serle went to pieces and not even Davis could rescue the situation.
The other episode I recall from that season was Heiney's attempt at competing in a sheepdog trial and the lump in his throat at the end when it came to parting with his canine partner Tim.
The third and final season was in 1987 and I think I saw two of them. One was Heiney's attempt to become a hairdresser with his guinea pig, novelist Jilly Cooper who threatened to kill him if he botched it. The other was the final episode of the series, and for my money the best , where Serle became a press photographer ( I don't recall the term paparazzi featuring in the programme ) . The scene I recall most vividly is Serle being invited to take a few snaps of scantily-clad glamour model Linda Lusardi.
He stooped to the camera with the words "One hardly knows what to say".
"Don't be shy" cajoled Linda.
"Could you erm. squeeze them together a bit more ?"
Serle stood up straight from the camera , his face a picture of exquisite embarrassment, and said "Thanks".
I don't know why the series was discontinued; perhaps it was too costly. Heiney remains a TV presenter , currently on ITV's Countrywise but Serle retreated into radio in the nineties and has rarely been seen on TV since the series ended.