And it reigned in British fleapits for more than ten years. The s are generally regarded in Britain as the golden age of the television sitcom.
BBC , the sitcom, inexpensive and traditional, also proved itself to be the consistent ratings pinnacle of light entertainment programming. Although the early seventies had seen films like The Devils , Sunday, Bloody Sunday and Performance break new ground in the mainstream and give British cinema a fashionably dangerous edge, by most of the major U.
Consequently, the sitcom spin-offs that flooded the screen, from On the Buses to Rising Damp , became bread and butter to homegrown companies such as Hammer and British Lion. And, although critically abhorred, the films were, initially at least, considerable crowd-pleasers — the sitcom spin-off was the only domestic cinematic trend to see the decade through.
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Between and , more than 30 British films were adapted from successful television shows. Not even the Carry On series had matched this concentrated prolificacy.
From , Carry On films had begun to peter out, from two a year to one a year, and in the Carry On backer, Rank, decided to focus on distributing Xerox machines instead of films. Similarly, the defiantly unerotic and peculiarly British exploitation comedies of the time, such as the Confessions series, were all but finished by , after a very short burst of suburban success.
It is with the later Carry Ons , however, that the majority of the sitcom spin-offs of the seventies are most comparable.
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Childishly smutty, relentlessly single-minded and lavatorially crude, many of them have nonetheless gained an aura of nostalgic affection that cannot be easily explained intellectually. Like endearing but mischievous children, films like On the Buses and Bless This House , like their TV sources, now seem refreshingly free from worthiness, irony, and political correctness, and do not attempt to work on more than one level. On the other hand, spin-offs such as The Lovers and Porridge stand up more convincingly to modern scrutiny.
British radio and TV comedy had dabbled with the big screen before the sixties. Vehicles for radio comedians such as Arthur Askey were fashioned in the thirties and forties, and, later, some radio and television shows led to more or less unconnected features. I Only Arsked was a truer spin-off in the sense of this article, in that it focused a particular character from the successful ITV series The Army Game However, much of the astute rawness of the series was lost in the process, and lavatorial humor literally crept into the proceedings — Garnett spends a fair portion of the film sitting on the toilet, conversing loudly with his neighbor in the bathroom next door.
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Perhaps this was a warning of what was to come. Till Death did not set the box office alight, nor did it set the trend. It took the release of On the Buses to really launch the British spin-off phenomenon. A tasteless and puerile antithesis to the abrasive realism of Till Death, it was, nevertheless, equally as popular in the ratings. This fact did not go unnoticed by Hammer films, which was now under the control of Michael Carreras and was keen to reverse its ailing horror fortunes.
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A deal was made, and On the Buses was brought to the screen by Hammer in a film that, instead of attempting to broaden and strengthen its TV source, merely inflated and further vulgarized it. On the Buses soon became the most financially successful release at the British box office, outgrossing even Diamonds Are Forever. This may say a lot more about British society than it does about the merits of the picture, but the returns could not be argued with. Arguments about taste and decency were futile — the sitcom spin-off had arrived. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.
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