CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: It’s Mind Your Language for 2019… with a few 1970s gags thrown in
This Way Up
Fake Or Fortune
Of all the most toe-curling, outdated sitcoms of the Seventies, the ones we cringe to admit once made us hoot with laughter, Mind Your Language is near the top of the list.
The half-hour ITV comedy, which aired at Saturday teatime between 1978 and 1979, was set in a London evening class where an assortment of jolly immigrants came to improve their English.
Writer Vince Powell used to insist that, far from being racist as po-faced critics claimed, this was an equal opportunities sitcom. It took the mickey out of every nationality.
This Way Up is a pungent comedy about the pain of the perpetual outsider and can be found on C4
In one typical set-up, Pakistani Ali (Dino Shafeek) thought he’d won half a million quid on the ‘football puddles’, as he called the pools. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be his best mate — even Ranjeet Singh (Albert Moses), the Sikh who usually wouldn’t even look at Ali.
‘We are practically bloody brothers!’ declared Ranjeet. ‘Oh yes, I am loving Muslims — especially when they have half a million pounds.’
The show was so popular that it earned a comeback in 1986, and a remake called What A Country! proved a smash-hit in the States.
Aisling Bea, who wrote the series, stars as Aine, a woman from Cork adrift in the English capital and tormented by mood swings
Still, no one could revive that scenario now . . . could they?
Well, Irish actress Aisling Bea has found a way, with a pungent comedy about the pain of the perpetual outsider, This Way Up (C4).
Bea, who also wrote the series, stars as Aine, a woman from Cork adrift in the English capital and tormented by mood swings that can send her wisecracking manically one day, speechless and prostrate with depression the next.
Aine teaches English to immigrants. Cue lots of Mind Your Language gags, such as the confusion over when to use ‘may’ instead of ‘can’. One baffled but polite East European asks carefully: ‘Can I have a may of Coke, please?’
Though Aine makes ill-judged attempts at a Jamaican accent, and one of her Chinese students rants about how ignorant Indians are, this isn’t race-based comedy. Golly goodness me, no. It has a Brexit twist, you see, so that means it’s satire.
Decent chap of the day:
Earlier this year, presenter Ben Fogle pledged his fee from this week’s morning show Animal Park Summer Special (BBC1) to fund free TV licences for the over-75s. How many celebs copied his example? Er… none!
It also has the outstanding Sharon Horgan as Aine’s big sister, Shona, desperately juggling a high-powered job in the City with the demands of caring for a fragile sibling who is prone to meltdowns at any moment. The scene where Shona breaks off from a crucial meeting to take a call from a hyper-ventilating, disintegrating Aine will touch a nerve with anyone who has tried to have their own life while offering 24-hour support to a needy loved one.
This Way Up is fragmented, with scenes strung together rather than woven. It sometimes spirals so deep into Aine’s anguish that it forgets even the most self-absorbed sitcom must have jokes. But when it remembers to be funny, it offers plenty of old-fashioned laughs.
The family that brought an 18th century Venetian canvas to Fake Or Fortune (BBC1) didn’t have many reasons to laugh. Publisher Nick Hopkinson hoped the picture, purchased by his great-grandfather 100 years ago, would prove to be by Canaletto’s contemporary Francesco Guardi and worth £10 million.
By the time the experts had finished X-raying, carbon-dating and spectrum-analysing the work — wielding lab equipment including the marvellously nicknamed ‘Gun of Truth’ — Nick had found out a lot of things he really didn’t want to hear.
It turned out that great-grandad knew perfectly well when he bought it at auction that this was no Guardi, but faked the evidence — and even spun the family a tall tale. This is such a marvellous show for exposing old lies. Roll on the next series.
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