Stay Lucky: The Complete First Series (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (7th September 2009).
The Show

Stay Lucky: Series One (YTV, 1989)

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Devised as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman, Stay Lucky was produced for Yorkshire Television, and this first series of the show was broadcast on ITV in 1989. The series was written by Geoff McQueen, the creator of ITV’s long-running police drama The Bill (Thames, 1984- ). Waterman has become an institution within British comedy-drama (or, to use a relatively recent designatory label, the genre of ‘dramedy’), thanks to his long association with shows such as Minder (Thames, 1979-1994) and the current series New Tricks (BBC, 2003- ). Since the 1970s, Waterman has been stereotyped as a perennial Cockney ‘cheeky chappy’. In The Phenomenon That Was… Minder (2002), Brian Hawkins notes that with both Minder and The Sweeney (Thames, 1974-8) Waterman became typed as an actor associated with characters who are ‘tough, streetwise yet slightly naïve underdog[s]’ (13). These underdogs were usually the apprentice to an older mentor: in The Sweeney, Waterman’s Carter was the subordinate of Regan (John Thaw); in Minder Waterman played Terry McCann, the bodyguard of the middle-aged ‘businessman’ Arthur Daley (George Cole). Even today, in his 60s, Waterman is still playing overgrown ‘lads’ who refuse to grow up: his role in New Tricks requires him to occasionally ‘act the fool’.

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Stay Lucky plays to Waterman’s strengths: once again, Waterman plays Thomas Gynn as a ‘lad’ who refuses to grow up. In the first episode of this series, ‘A1 Rain Dancer’, Thomas is first seen in a clinch with a woman, Su Li (Ling Tai). When Thomas and Su Li hear her front door being unlocked, Su Li warns Thomas that it must be her husband (Anthony Chinn), a Chinese gangster. Thomas hurriedly tries to escape the house, climbing out the window and lumbering down a drainpipe which fails to hold his weight and eventually breaks. Returning to his flat the next morning, he finds the flat wrecked and his possessions destroyed. Taking flight to the North of England, he hitches a lift with truck driver Angus (Alex Norton), who offers to ‘spring for the grub’ at a motorway café if Thomas gives him ‘a wee look’. After hastily exiting the cab at the nearest stop, Thomas meets Sally Hardcastle (Jan Francis). He asks Sally for a lift to Leeds but she drops him off in a small town forty miles outside the city.

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Meanwhile, Sally returns to her home, a canal boat, and finds that she has apparently been burgled. Her husband Steven died in bed with Ruby (Rosemary Martin), the wife of Ken Warren (James Grout). Ken has ransacked Sally’s home, looking for a ‘black book’ that was in the possession of Steven before he died. The book identifies the location of a valuable painting, stolen by Steven, which Ken has promised to an American gangster named Millhaven. However, the book is held by Ruby, who describes it to Sally as ‘a record of his [Steven’s] slightly “iffy” dealings’ which holds ‘a key to a small fortune’. Ruby passes the book on to Sally.

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Sally and Thomas are thrown together again when Thomas sees Sally involved in a scuffle with Ken’s knicker-sniffing, sexually ambiguous crony Studs (Tom McGill). Thomas intervenes and he and Sally flee in Sally’s car. Sally allows Thomas to stay on her canal boat, and she enlists Thomas’ help in tracking down the painting. Thomas, Sally and Sally’s friend Kevin (Chris Jury) aim to find the whereabouts of the painting before it falls into the hands of Ken. However, they have to contend with Ken, Studs and two American hoods hired by Millhaven.

Stay Lucky sees Waterman playing to his strengths as a performer: like Waterman’s other major television roles, Stay Lucky positions Waterman as a foil to another, more responsible, character. However, whereas until this point in his career Waterman was usually accompanied by an older male (John Thaw in The Sweeney, George Cole in Minder), here he is positioned alongside Jan Francis’ strong-minded Sally; and where Waterman’s earlier television roles often resembled a mentor-student relationship, in Stay Lucky Thomas’ relationship with Sally is romantic. In the relationship between Thomas and Sally, Stay Lucky also offers a cultural conflict between the North and the South of England: where Thomas is a roguish, streetwise Londoner, Sally is a sophisticated and stubborn Yorkshire woman. Thomas finds himself to be the object of prejudice based on region – both from Kevin and from the snooty Lady Karen Winderscale (Belinda Lang). As Thomas tells Kevin in episode three, ‘Listen, you Yorkshire pillock [….] You lot are always goin’ on about Londoners being conmen, untrustworthy and all that bullshit. Well, let me tell you something: you don’t know anything about us, absolutely nothing [….] Big, ‘ard, straight-talking Yorkshireman, eh? Well, I’ve heard it all before, know what I mean? All that Jack Tartan stuff, and the other one – what’s his name? – Michael Parkinson: “Oh, nay lad, nay lad – there’s nowt but Yorkshiremen talk straight”. You make me want to crack up, you really do. I mean, you honestly believe you’ve got a monopoly on straight-talking, straight-walking… even poverty, don’t ya! Yeah, we don’t know we’re born down South, do we?’

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Stay Lucky is a reasonably entertaining, if unremarkable, series. Waterman is good in his role, and he and Jan Francis work well together. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this series is the way in which the predominantly light humour is undercut via the threat represented by Studs. When Studs is introduced whilst raiding Sally’s canal boat, he is first seen crudely sniffing at a pair of her knickers. This violation of Sally’s underwear is both a clear sexual threat and a signifier of Studs’s deviance. Later, when Studs confronts Sally he repeats the gesture in front of her, letting her know that not only has he raided her home but also stolen some of her underwear: Studs is both reminding Sally of the violation of her private space and also threatening her sexually. Understandably, the otherwise strong-willed Sally’s reaction is to break down in tears. Dressed in black leather, Studs also has the appearance of a sexual sadist: he wouldn’t look out of place in William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980). His threatening presence is reinforced by both his sexual ambiguity and his incredibly strong Belfast accent. The threat represented by Studs is therefore both overtly sexual (his knicker-sniffing antics are unsettling because for the viewer, and later for Sally, they represent a symbolic sexual assault) and subtly political, thanks to the combination of his Belfast accent with his underworld antics. The ‘odd couple’ pairing of Studs and Ken – the middle-aged and outwardly respectable businessman – parallels the pairing of Cockney Thomas and Yorkshirewoman Sally, even down to their bickering. However, Studs remains a curiously underdeveloped character: he is little more than a series of weakly-defined but potent cultural anxieties bubbling under the otherwise lightweight drama.

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Stay Lucky ran for three series, until the death of writer Geoff McQueen – after which ‘the cast opted not to make any further episodes’ (Fairclough & Kenwood, 2002: 24). The broadcast of the last two series (in 1990 and 1991) coincided with the success of Waterman’s situation comedy On the Up! (BBC, 1990-2).

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Episodes:
'A1 Rain Dancer’
‘The Howling’
‘Fool’s Gold’

Video

The original break bumpers are intact. The episodes are presented in their original broadcast screen ratio of 4:3. The episodes appear to be wholly shot on 16mm film, and the series is well-presented on this DVD: there is almost no damage evident throughout the three episodes, and colours are strong. The image displays good contrast.

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Audio

Audio is presented via a two-channel stereo track. Dialogue (and Waterman’s theme song) is clear. There are no subtitles.

Extras

There is no contextual material.

Overall

Whilst not a top-tier comedy-drama, Stay Lucky is a good vehicle for Waterman's talents as an actor, and he and Jan Francis work well together. This first series of the show is interesting for its focus on the collision of the cultures of the North and the South of England. However, many interesting elements remain underplayed: for example, Tom McGill's character represents a fascinating element of threat bubbling under the otherwise light drama, but is given relatively little screen time and the menace that he depicts is underplayed throughout all three episodes. The cultural conflict between Yorkshireman Kevin and Londoner Thomas is also hinted at but remains underwritten. In all, the series feels either like a two hour drama expanded to fill three episodes, or possibly like a six-part drama condensed into three episodes. Nevertheless, fans of comedy-dramas will almost definitely want to get hold of this release.

Sources:
Fairclough, Robert & Kenwood, Mike, 2002: Sweeney! The Official Companion. London: Reynolds & Hearn, Ltd

Hawkins, Brian, 2002: The Phenomenon That Was… Minder. Hong Kong: Inkstone Books

For more information, please visit the homepage of Network DVD.

The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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