Thursday, 13 March 2014

Theme Time : Robert Lindsay - Nightingales

Paul Makin's Nightingales is an underrated but fondly remembered cult sitcom classic. As one YouTube poster so eloquently puts it; "Wednesday night C4 not wanting to go to school, wanting a Super Nintendo for Xmas"

My sentiments exactly!

Nightingales was written by Paul Makin and ran for just two series in 1990 and 1993. Concerning the antics of three nightwatchmen, it starred Robert Lindsay as Carter, a pseudo-intellectual with ambitions and dreams, David Threlfall as Bell aka 'Ding Dong', a moronic thug and lastly James Ellis (who sadly passed away at the weekend) as the avuncular and optimistic Sarge.

So far so so?

Well no, because this was one of the must wonderfully surreal programmes ever to grace our screens. Episodes would play out as Shakespearean tragedies, complete with cod Jacobean dialogue, characters like Eric the temp nightwatchman turned out to be a werewolf, whilst Sarge seemed to have a delusion he was Dixon of Dock Green at the close of many an episode (a fun in joke given Ellis' work on its 60s stablemate Z Cars) meanwhile one character was dead throughout all of the first series, but still clocked in thanks to the trio who would then keep his wages! It was positively Beckettian, as numerous flights of fancy took hold each week. As a viewer, one was never quite sure if these bizarre antics were supposedly truly happening or if they were in fact some kind of sleep deprived collective hallucination for our heroes. Not that it mattered, it was hilarious!

As an 11 year old, recording it to watch often before school on the following Thursday morning, it baffled but delighted me, and its rich flavour is still a delight. But for all its strangeness there was still actually a very traditional sitcom relationship at the show's heart; with Carter, Bell and Sarge like an odd family trapped together wanting to both break away from one another to thrive and stay together for support. Such a theme runs right through the history of TV comedy, notably in Galton and Simpson's work; Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son being prime examples.

It even gave us the classic catchphrase "There's nobody here but us chickens!"

Lindsay not only starred but sang da feem toon too, a wonderfully quirky capella Flying Pickety version of the old 1940s ballad A Nightingale Sang On Berkeley Square

Sadly Paul Makin died of a brain tumour in 2008 aged just 54. You can read his obituary here

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