Thursday, 24 September 2015

Get Well Soon

This was a blast from the past - Get Well Soon, up and about again from the BBC vaults!

Get Well Soon was a BBC1 sitcom that I recall from Sunday evening in the winter of 1997. It was written by sitcom screenwriting legend Ray Galton and John Antrobus, a one time collaborator of Spike Milligan, and was based on the circumstances of how Galton met his long term scriptwriting partner Alan Simpson whilst patients at a tuberculosis sanatorium. From these beginnings Galton and Simpson would go on to write such sitcom greats as Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

Get Well Soon however does not reach these lofty heights, but it did deserve more than just one series.

This is a much gentler style of comedy than the likes of Steptoe and put me in mind of the 1962 film Twice Round The Daffodils which was also set in a TB sanatorium. Set in 1947, it focuses on the comic everyday lives of the mismatched group of patients, specifically Roy Osborne and Brian Clapton played by Matthew Cottle and Eddie Marsan respectively. The character of Osborne, naive and newly admitted to the ward, is based on Galton, whilst the scrounging old hand Clapton takes inspiration from Simpson. Poor Roy arrives at the sanatorium with his flirty, chain smoking mother played by ex-EastEnders star Anita Dobson thinking he'll only be there for a few weeks, but soon finds out from room mate Brian that it could be several months or even years before he can be considered fit enough to leave. The pair become firm friends an across the 6 episodes get up to various japes upon the ward.

Matthew Cottle is a great comic actor who came to prominence in the brilliant 90s sitcom Game On. This was his next big role after that BBC2 sitcom came to an end and it's a great shame that this was effectively the only breakout role his talents ultimately afforded him when you compare him to the steadily prominent and successful post Game On careers of his co-stars Samantha Womack (nee Janus), Ben Chaplin and Neil Stuke. I believe he is mainly known for stage work these days (Alan Ayckbourn) but he has popped up at a regular rate once more this past year with guest roles in shows as diverse as the daytime soap Doctors and the Greg Davies sitcom Man Down, as well as a regular role in BBC3 sitcom Fried. He's very good here as Roy, displaying the kind of laconic delivery Nicholas Lyndhurst was known for in Only Fools and Horses.

I'm a big fan of Eddie Marsan an actor who is know very much in demand in everything from roles in Hollywood blockbusters and US series like Ray Donovan to the films of Mike Leigh and other socially aware British indie projects. I think Get Well Soon was the first or one of the first things I ever saw him in and he's a lugubrious charm as cockney Brian, playing very well off Carry On legend Patsy Rowlands as his glum mother.

Other roles in the series are taken by Samantha Beckinsale (daughter of the late Richard Beckinsale) as an slightly older and very glamourous woman who sets her cap at young Roy when he takes the bed of her late husband, Three Up, Two Down's Neil Stacy as Roy's mother's latest love interest, Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville as Tucker, a posh know-all with unnervingly fascist leanings who shares a room with Roy and Brian much to his disgust, and Cold Feet and Toast of London star Robert Bathurst as a patient who is a former RAF officer and who still believes the war is on - he even has to an imaginary black labrador called, what else?, Blackie!

The series is made of six half hour episodes and whilst it's true you won't be rolling around the floor or laughing until you cry each episode has enough to raise a smile and even the odd chuckle. Like I say, it's light, gentle fare in keeping with the era it is set in. The nostalgia value is very good too and the production detail of the late 1940s is, as you expect with the BBC, superlative. Each episode is largely studio based, relying on just one or two sets (the boys' room and the odd corridor or two) but you do often get a glimpse of outside and the surrounding areas, especially in the very weird title sequence which consists of a patients dancing on the lawn, a revolving shelter and our two leads looking direct to camera, to the left and right, all to a catchy old time tune provided by former Snowman chorister Aled Jones. If you can make sense of that opening sequence, please write to me!

Disappointingly this DVD from Simply Media offers absolutely nothing in the way of extras which is a real shame given this brand new release currently retails at a stonking £18! The packaging is also rather misleading, placing Dobson and Stacy on the front cover alongside Marsan and Cottle and giving Dobson (and Beckinsale) star billing when, in actual fact, Dobson, Stacy and Beckinsale are only ever really frequent supporting players and don't even feature in all 6 episodes. You'd think Eddie Marsan's name would be enough of a draw these days to secure top billing for this DVD but the boys and girls at Simply Media don't seem to agree. Equally the back cover and the disc itself features two of the nursing staff, one of whom only features once and very briefly, whilst the other appears more frequently with a few sparse lines.

Overall I'd say if you enjoy traditional Sunday offerings from the BBC (everything from Last of the Summer Wine to Call The Midwife) then you'll likely as not enjoy Get Well Soon. It's a real shame it only lasted a single series as I think it certainly had potential to run for one or two more years. You got a real feeling it would have hit its stride if given another chance, but alas it was not to be.

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