The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
ranville: Look at the time! Quarter to nine and I'm held here in the clutches of my wicked uncle.
Arkwright: Your uncle is going to be wicked across the road, clutching something else entirely.
Ronnie Barker is one of those great stars of British comedy who never managed to make the transition into worldwide success – or, at the very least, he’s not someone that the average American would recognize, neither by his name nor by the names of his most famous series. Call it an overreaching generalization, but only the more dedicated PBS viewers will be familiar with such shows as “Porridge,” “The Two Ronnies” (the other titular character being Ronnie Corbett), or this series.
Barker’s played many popular characters in his time, but there’s little question that Arkwright, the proprietor of a small corner shop in South Yorkshire, is among the most quotable. The only problem is that, with his notorious stutter, it might take you a bit longer than average to offer up some of his more famous lines like, for instance, “G-G-Granville, fer-fer-fetch your cloth!” (It’s a phrase that Arkwright utters on a regular basis, addressing his long-suffering nephew / assistant, Grenville, played by David Jason.) You wouldn’t think that a stutter would manage to stay funny throughout the course of four seasons, but there’s something about Barker’s delivery – exaggerated just enough that real stutterers with a sense of humor will still have a laugh about it – that turns it into a continued highlight of his performance.
A plethora of customers, both regulars and one-off visitors, pass through the doors of the store, and Arkwright is there to greet them all and, if at all possible, get them to spend a few pounds. Arkwright is one of the town’s most notorious skinflints, an issue which has long kept him at arm’s length from Nurse Gladys Emmanuel (Lynda Baron). He refers to her as his fiancée, but it’s clearly more of a pet name than a true status, given how he’s forever fighting to get her to let him touch her, let alone go out with her. Much of the show’s comedy comes with refusal to spend money and his ability to find new double entendres to signify what he’d do with Gladys if he could only get her alone. As for poor Grenville, he seems to have two goals in life: to find love, and to get the true story about his parentage. (Arkwright offers up punch lines whenever the latter subject comes up, often claiming that Grenville’s father was Hungarian.)
There’s nothing deep about “Open All Hours.” What you see is what you get: Arkwright’s a dirty old man who’d come closer to parting with his life than his money, Grenville endures the abuse from his uncle as best he can, and Gladys fends off Arkwright’s cheeky advances while remaining forever bemused by them. It’s not high comedy – in fact, it’s quite low at times – but hey, funny’s funny, particularly if you enjoy the “nudge, nudge” school of humor.
In closing, you will probably be unsurprised to learn that there was a short-lived and rather loose American adaptation of “Open All Hours.” Now entitled “Open All Night,“ it aired on ABC in 1981, but despite being created by Jay Tarses, whose resume included “The Bob Newhart Show” (and later added “Buffalo Bill” and “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd”), the series only lasted for a dozen episodes. Unlike many of its adapted peers, this one was actually pretty good; it’ll probably never make it to DVD, unfortunately, but that doesn’t keep the occasional fan from wishing and hoping for its release.
Special Features: What a piss-poor showing for a BBC Video release. All that’s offered up is the original 1973 pilot episode for the series and a text-only profile of series creator Roy Clarke. Very disappointing.