Monday, June 02, 2014

You're Only Young Twice - The Adventures of Flora, Cissie, Mildred, Dolly, Katy, Miss Milton, Finchy and Roger


A scene from the opening titles of "You're Only Young Twice" - Flora Petty enjoyed her "True Romances" in the Residents' Lounge at Paradise Lodge, collected elephant ornaments, and often wreaked havoc from September 1977 to August 1981.

I had an interesting e-mail last week:

Was the ITV sitcom You're Only Young Twice anything like Waiting For God?

Good heavens, apart from the setting, it was not! You're Only Young Twice, written by Pam Valentine and Michael Ashton and produced by Yorkshire TV, was a lovely old-style sitcom which ran from September 1977 to August 1981, with two Christmas specials (1979 and 1980). Waiting For God was screened in the early 1990s, and by then a great sea change had occurred in the world of TV sitcoms. They had moved on and matured, often mixing drama and issues with comedy in a way that was just not thought of in the 1970s and early 1980s. That's not to say '70s sitcoms couldn't be daring for their time - for instance, late in the decade we had Mixed Blessings, a show about a white man and a black woman getting married. That was pretty controversial at the time (although not as controversial as many might think today), but it was a show that I (and most of my friends) found lecturing and boring. The depth and drama incorporated into later efforts in the 1980s and 1990s was quite missing from Mixed Blessings.

Watching Waiting For God, I was deeply moved by leading character Diana's sadness about her infertility. Watching You're Only Young Twice, I laughed like a drain as Flora Petty wept over the latest issue of True Romances, Mildred Fanshaw thought her son had dumped a baby on her, and Cissie Lupin fed her green jelly babies to the birdies. Flora and co gave us first-class lighthearted fun.

I think a clue to the tremendous difference between the two series can be found in their respective titles: You're Only Young Twice - old age as fun, a second childhood; Waiting For God - well, it speaks for itself.

Big Chief Flora Petty turns Cissie Lupin into a Red Indian.

You're Only Young Twice is a huge favourite of mine. I think Peggy Mount, who had been playing TV battleaxes since The Larkins in the late 1950s, was absolutely wonderful as fiercesome dragon Flora Petty, Pat Coombs as the gloriously dippy Cissie Lupin, was terrific, and I loved the... I was going to write "supporting characters", but they were more than that. They all made excellent contributions to the Paradise Lodge brew.

Let's canter through them...

Mildred Fanshaw (Diana King), widow of Colonel Fanshaw, was beautifully vinegary. She had a "pretty" purple Honda and her unseen son Damien was a cause for concern; then there was past-it actress Dolly Love (Lally Bowers) - who lived on memories of former glories and a little too much alcohol at times; Katy O'Rourke (Peggy Ledger), she of the bizarre Quick Knit creations, was endearingly dotty in the first two series; Miss Milton (Charmian May), who owned the Paradise Lodge Superior Residence For Retired Gentlefolk, was terribly posh, well meaning and endlessly harassed by Mrs Petty; and the lovely Miss "Finchy" Finch (Georgina Moon) and poor old kindly-but-set-upon Roger (Johnny Wade) assisted at the home and provided those all-so-necessary sniggers about "slap and tickle" - usually present in any late '60s to early '80s sitcom.

And what about Gladys Smallwick? Don't mention that woman to Flora!

The cast were absolutely excellent.

 The ladies of Paradise Lodge. Who will meet the Queen? Vote for Flora!

As for the stories in You're Only Young Twice... well, there was that dreadful time when Cissie won a car in a competition (it wasn't what it seemed) and Mr Chatterbox interviewed her for the local paper; the awful situation when everybody got stuck to a draught excluder on Christmas Day; and who could forget the dinner in Mr Petty's memory - when Flora put laxative in the peas instead of salt and everybody ended up queuing for the loo? Mildred's "Wall of Death" stunt at the local church fete simply doesn't bear thinking about - in fact the whole day was a disaster, particularly as Cissie put Flora's winning raffle ticket in a teacup and Flora drank it. And what about the dark day when Dolly sang I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen? Furthermore, to end this catalogue of unfortunate incidents at Paradise Lodge, do you recall Katy's baby rompers turning out a little unusually? Or dear Dolly nearly getting to star in a TV commercial, but being upstaged by Flora, who was then upstaged by a bullrush, slicing a sliced loaf?

I do.

"TV Times", September, 1977. The series begins. Writers Pam Valentine and Michael Ashton compare Peggy Mount and Pat Coombs's comic pairing to Laurel and Hardy. In the pic, Flora soaks her feet. Well, fake sleep walking through a goldfish pond can make that a great pleasure.

Early on, several of the supporting characters had catchphrases: Dolly Love's was: "Just a minute! Just a cotton picking minute!"; Mildred Fanshaw was oft-heard to squawk: "Hang on! Hang on!"; and a perplexed Miss Milton often demanded: "What are you telling me? What are you saying to me?" Once the characters were established, the catchphrases were dropped - although Mildred did occasionally give us hers. Well, "Hang on! Hang on!" suited her so well. Roger the handyman was often driven to say, "I dunno why I stick this job!" Poor geezer.

It could be said that Flora bullied Cissie. But Cissie sometimes got her own back when Flora was incapacitated, and Flora cared about her. Indeed, Flora even turned down a proposal of marriage because her fiance didn't like Cissie and did not want her living with them after they were wed.

Do watch it! If you love comic greats like Peggy Mount and Pat Coombs and the traditional English sitcom you will not be disappointed, I promise you. You're Only Young Twice is a thing of great beauty. But don't expect an early version of Waiting For God. Flora and company give us something very different, despite the similar setting. But just as good.

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