Arthur Haynes Show (The) (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (6th June 2011).
The Film

The Arthur Haynes Show (ATV, 1957-66)

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Once one of Britain’s favourite comedians but sadly now largely forgotten, Arthur Haynes has been cited as ‘the first star to be produced by the new independent channel [ITV]’, his long-running sketch-based series The Arthur Haynes Show (ATV, 1957-66) one of ITV’s most popular programmes (Oliver, 2003: np). This may be partly because, as John Russell Taylor (1971) has noted, The Arthur Haynes Show ‘was never a prestige show, or rated much attention from the more intellectual critics (unlike Milligan’s A Show Called Fred and The Idiot Weekly, or Simpson and Galton’s Hancock shows)’ (302). Instead, Haynes’ series was seen as ‘coast[ing] along nicely as good popular entertainment, based closely and profitably on the personality of its star’ (ibid.). Praising Haynes, the critic and novelist B S Johnson once claimed that Haynes was one of the last comics in the vein of the ‘dying music hall tradition’ and suggested that Haynes’ comedy was ‘truly vulgar in that he is in touch with and appeals to the common people’ (quoted in Coe, 2005: 128).

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Much of The Arthur Haynes Show was written by Johnny Speight, and as with much of Speight’s other work (for example, his sitcoms Till Death Us Do Part, BBC, 1965-75; and In Sickness and in Health, BBC, 1985-92), a large proportion of the sketches revolve around class conflict and feature cocky working class characters who butt heads with those around them. As Speight himself noted, Haynes ‘specialised in “various know-all working class types bucking against authority”’ (quoted in Wagg, 1998: 10). Commenting on this aspect of Haynes’ publice persona, John Russell Taylor has suggested that Haynes’ ‘principal trademark within the context of the series was a sturdy working-class obtrusiveness, not unmixed with slyness, in dealing with toffs and snobs’ (op cit.: 302). According to Taylor, the sketches were sometimes ‘gleefully brutal’, putting their characters in uncomfortable situations, ‘with a weakness for the dentist’s or barber’s chair as a location for funny business’ (ibid.). Taylor suggests that Haynes’ stock-in-trade was therefore ‘a comedy of discomfort’ that was often ‘liberally laced with fantasy’ (ibid.).

The episodes included in this set show a fairly rigid formula: the episodes open with a sketch, often a mock news item or a sketch set in a specific workplace; this is followed by a song performed by Aileen Cochrane; another sketch follows this; then a comical musical number; a parody of current affairs programmes (‘Candlelight’) follows; then another short sketch; another song from Cochrane and a final sketch end the show. The dovetailing of sketches and musical numbers was derived from music hall theatre and vaudeville, and for a long time was a standard of television sketch shows, from The Morecambe and Wise Show (BBC, 1968-77) to The Two Ronnies (BBC, 1971-87).

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The series was arguably ahead of its time in its satirisation of television. The first episode opens with a parody of a news programme about the nuclear age, with Haynes appearing on screen as a caretaker, sweeping the floor, as the narrator intones that nuclear technology requires ‘a man who can be relied upon and, above all, trusted’. Haynes accidentally flicks a switch and sends a nuclear missile skyward before shrugging his shoulders at the camera. A similar recurring sketch features a fictional series called Candlelight; the sketches are a parody of current affairs programming, skewering such programme’s use of technique and their ignorance of the ‘real world’. Each sketch opens with a presenter sitting at a desk in the studio, introducing a topic to the camera (and audience) before cutting to a specific workplace, the presenter (offscreen) interviewing people at work and insistently reminding them that they are ‘Under the glare of “Candlelight”’. In one very funny sketch, the presenter introduces a special feature on the work of plumbers. The apparently idle plumber (Haynes) is asked by the presenter what he is doing. Haynes replies that he is ‘contemplating changing this washer’, adding that ‘It might be a simple job, but on the other hand it could lead to complications [….] I was once three weeks changing a washer […] [because] my mate was on strike’. The plumbers are taking a washer from one tap and putting it on another, and the presenter asks why they are doing that. ‘Well, we’ve got to get next week’s work from somewhere, haven’t we?’, the plumber replies: ‘It’s not exactly honest, but it’s profitable’.

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With sketches such as this, it’s easy to see why Haynes was so popular with the British public, and the majority of the sketches are still as relevant today. (The Candlelight parodies of current affairs programmes remind us just how little the techniques used by current affairs programmes have changed over the past fifty years.) Haynes’ interaction with Nicholas Parsons, usually cast as the ‘straight man’ of the sketches, is consistently good. As Jasper Rees commented in The Independent in 1995, ‘The comedy doesn’t appear to have dated: […] Haynes played the tramp, the burglar, the working-class man with a bumbling, uppity style that was underdone but never soft-centred’ (np).

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Disc One:
One (24:49)
Two (24:59)
Three (25:24)
Four (24:28)
Five (24:48)
Six (23:54)
Image Gallery (3:30)

Disc Two:
Seven (24:19)
Eight (24:07)
Nine (23:59)
Ten (24:08)
Eleven (24:22)
Twelve (23:07)
Thirteen (24:02)

Video

The episodes were shot on monochrome videotape, in a studio environment. They display the visual characteristics of material shot on tape (for example, burnt highlights). There is evidence of tape wear scattered throughout the episodes on this set. Despite this, the episodes on these discs look pretty good. There’s certainly nothing here that should prevent a viewer’s enjoyment of this very good sketch show.

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The original break bumpers are intact.

Audio

Audio is presented via a two-channel mono track, which is crisp and clear. Sadly, there are no subtitles.

Extras

The sole extra is an image gallery, on disc one, containing images from the production of the series.

Overall

Highly-regarded by many contemporary comedians (for example, Paul Merton, who hosted the 1995 Heroes of Comedy special about Haynes, for Channel 4, and the BBC’s more recent special Me & Arthur Haynes, broadcast in early 2011), Haynes has – despite his immense popularity during his career – largely been forgotten by the British public. Thus his work has been sadly absent from the DVD format until now. As others have suggested, this decline in popularity could be because Haynes wasn’t as celebrated by intellectual critics as some of his contemporaries, or on the other hand it could be because Haynes sadly passed away in 1966, before the explosion in colour broadcasting that took place in the late-1960s and throughout the 1970s: with some exceptions (eg, Hancock’s Half Hour, BBC, 1956-60), programmes recorded in colour have tended to have a longer shelf-life than those shot in black and white (see Rees, op cit.: np). Nevertheless, as the episodes of The Arthur Haynes Show included in this DVD release prove, Haynes was a great television comedian (although the contributions of writer Johnny Speight and ‘straight man’ Nicholas Parsons shouldn’t be ignored), and this series captures the flavour of music hall comedy at its best. Hopefully more of Haynes’ work will appear on DVD. Many thanks to Network for bringing the work of this great comedian to home video.


References:
Coe, Jonathan, 2005: Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B. S. Johnson. London: Pan MacmIllan

Oliver, John, 2003: ‘Haynes, Arthur (1914-1966)’. ScreenOnline. [Online.] http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/838493/

Rees, Jasper, 1995: ‘Heroes of Comedy (C4): He’s dead brilliant that Arthur Haynes. Brilliant but, alas, dead’. The Independent. [Online.] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/television-heroes-of-comedy-c4-hes-dead-brilliant-that-arthur-haynes-brilliant-but-alas-dead-by-jasper-rees-1537173.html

Taylor, John Russell, 1971: Anger and After: A Guide to the New British Drama. London: Taylor & Francis

Wagg, Stephen, 1998: '“At Ease, Corporal”: Social class and the situation comedy in British television, from the 1950s to the 1980s'. In: Wagg, Stephen (ed), 1998: Because I Tell a Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics and Social Difference. London: Routledge: 1-31


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

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The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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