Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tripper's Day (Leonard Rossiter sitcom)

A DVD has recently been issued of Leonard Rossiter's last sitcom, Triipper's Day, written by Brian Cooke. It will, I imagine, sell on the strength of Rossiter's name - and it is indeed worth acquiring for his performance if you are already a fan.

The casual purchaser needs to be warned, however, that this is not another Rising Damp or Reggie Perrin: but a broad and knockabout sitcom of the sort which might have been more common when it aired in 1984.

Of its type it's okay, and Rossiter certainly knew what he was getting into, saying in an interview that he had been warned it was "smash-bang basic comedy in short, sharp scenes", but there's no doubt it has dated more badly than either of the above.

It might be that blame can be placed at the door of writer Brian Cooke - and, ironically, Rossiter himself. Cooke says in an accompanying text (the extras don't run to a filmed interview) that the show was conceived as more of an ensemble piece, but when Rossiter came on board - attracted, Cooke says, because it was the first part he'd been offered which wasn't a carbon copy of Rigsby - Cooke rewrote the scripts, placing Tripper more firmly at the centre.

Whether or not it's down to that decision, while Rossiter gives a good performance as the manager, you can't help feeling sorry for the rest of the cast, who aren't always given much to do - especially as there is quite a large company for the comparatively limited running time of an ITV sitcom episode.

A love interest (of sorts) was apparently added for Tripper, but you can't quite buy it, maybe because there isn't enough time devoted to it. And quite often you are aware of other cast members being given Funny Lines to speak at the expense of character.

That said, some episodes are better than others,and it does seem to improve along the way. I liked Tokens of Esteem, which features Reginald Marsh, and has a neat ending. And Rossiter's character goes off on a riff about Arthur English and comic catchphrases which is well developed. Another episode, about an unexploded bomb, may not be terribly adventurous, but it does allow Rossiter to do a convincing impression of abject fear at the appropriate moment.

In comparison to Rising Damp, however, there are limited opportunities for the carefully choreographed comic business which was such a regular feature of that series, and the reader is strongly advised to purchase Rigsby and Reggie box sets before considering this DVD.Yet it's odd: it may not be a whisker away from greatness, exactly, but allowed the extra running time of a BBC sitcom might have given us a stronger sense of the other characters. The pilot suggests a certain young man will be central to the series; alas, not so.

And a young and a naive trainee manager seems underused. Had Rossiter lived, maybe there would have been a better balance in a subsequent series; as is well known, some longrunning sitcoms did not get off to an auspicious start.

Tripper's mantle was assumed by one Slinger, played by Bruce Forsyth. This I didn't see, but it would be interesting to compare.Though my dream Brucie sitcom would star him as an embittered tobacconist, seeing his contemporaries rise to the top and forever cursing the cowardice which made him give it all up when times were bad.

The odds are if you've read this far you already know the story, but for those who don't, I think it's Barry Cryer (probably not alone) who tells of running into Bruce just before his big Sunday Night at the London Palladium break, when he was indeed at this point, then meeting him again after The Mighty Atom had gone into oirbit: Bruce, says Barry (or whoever), what happened to that little tobacconist's? "Mveh, mveh - postponed."

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