Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Sitcom Movie Spin-offs

The recent rumours of a new Dad's Army movie have sent shivers down the spines of all true British comedy fans. To try to resurrect such an iconic franchise when the vast majority of the stars are no longer with us is bad enough but, in a move sure to anger fans still further, the producers want the character of Captain Mainwaring to be a woman. Don't misunderstand me here - I have nothing against female comedy characters - but search through your history books and find a female Captain of a Home Guard unit. Found one? No? I didn't think so.

Instead of dwelling on this aberration though, let's look back at a time when the British movie landscape was littered with big-screen versions of small-screen situation comedies.

Sitcoms were phenomenally popular on British television during the seventies and their huge ratings success led to enterprising film producers wondering whether they could repeat that success in cinemas - ironically using a television product to lure people away from their TV sets and back out into the film theatres.

Another factor in the rise of the sitcom movie was the gradual box-office decline of the Carry On films; once a bastion of the British film industry, these bawdy classics were starting to lose their appeal by 1972. British film comedy needed a shot in the arm and big-screen versions of familiar TV favourites seemed to provide the answer.

Whatever you may think of the quality of these films - and they range from very good all the way down to buttock-clenchingly awful - they were, in the main, huge successes at the box-office.

Let's take a look at a selection of these quintessentially British films now...

Up Pompeii (1971)

Starring Frankie Howerd, Patrick Cargill, Michael Horden, Bill Fraser, Lance Percival
Without a doubt this is the naughtiest of all the sitcom spin-offs, with lots of very near-the-knuckle jokes and a positive bounty of bare breasts swinging merrily across the screen. On the subject of breasts (which I could happily stay on for a long time), just what is it about the seventies movie mammary that was so glorious compared to those of today? I think I may have to research that a bit further.

The inimitable Frankie Howerd is on top form here and you really couldn't imagine anyone else playing the down trodden but resourceful slave Lurcio, who has a nice line in ready quips for any occasion.

Sid's Place Rating 
The combination of the legendary Frankie Howerd and a liberal dose of spicy double-entendres make for a winning formula. 7 out of 10.

On the Buses (1971)

Starring Reg Varney, Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis, Doris Hare, Anna Karen.
As the Carry On ship sailed into troubled waters, so too Hammer Films, another rock of the British film industry, began to find their popularity on the wane during the early part of the decade. Who would have thought the answer lay in a cheap and cheerful ITV sitcom? To say the movie version of On the Buses was a hit is an understatement - it was massive and led to two sequels. The comedy here is base to say the least and very non-PC but it's bloody funny!  

Sid's Place Rating
Toilet humour is very much the order of the day but I defy anyone not to raise a titter at least once. Manages to be fairly vulgar but still maintain an air of innocence. 7 out of 10.

Are You Being Served? (1977)

Starring John Inman, Mollie Sugden, Frank Thornton, Wendy Richard, Trevor Bannister
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...just, oh dear! One of the worst sitcom movie spin-offs ever, Are You Being Served? The Movie makes On the Buses seem like Citizen Kane in comparison. Just the name of the holiday resort featured - Costa Plonka - tells you all you need to know. The original TV series was cheap and cheerful but it had a certain innocence about it. On the big screen, it's just cheap.

Sid's Place Rating
Best viewed in the early hours of the morning with beer and kebabs on stand-by. 4 out of 10.  

Bless This House (1972)

Starring Sid James, Diana Coupland, Terry Scott, June Whitfield, Peter Butterworth.
Starting in 1971, the original TV series of Bless This House was hugely popular and became the biggest television hit of the great Sid James' career. Considering his small screen CV already boasted Hancock's Half Hour, Citizen James and George and the Dragon, this was no mean feat. 

The big screen version is really a Carry On in all but name; directed by Gerald Thomas, produced by Peter Rogers and boasting a cast including Sid, Peter Butterworth, Terry Scott, June Whitfield, Bill Maynard and Patsy Rowlands. Unlike many big screen versions of TV comedies, Bless This House doesn't resort to sending its characters on holiday or putting them in unfamiliar situations. Instead it simply sticks to the formulae that made its small screen counterpart such a hit.

Sid's Place Rating
Probably my favourite of all the sitcom movie spin-offs, Sid James reigns supreme and is ably supported by a superb comedy cast. The perfect Sunday afternoon film.  8 out of 10

George and Mildred (1980)

Starring Yootha Joyce, Brian Murphy, Stratford Johns, Kenneth Cope
A late entry in the big screen sitcom stakes, George and Mildred was a flop at the box-office. Despite being a popular choice for ITV viewers, the film's weak performance in cinemas is understandable considering the death of Yootha Joyce just prior to its release. Yootha had been an alcoholic for many years and passed away, aged 53, from liver failure on 24th August 1980. Co-star Brian Murphy was at her hospital bedside.

Sid's Place Rating 
Although the sad circumstances surrounding the release of George and Mildred contributed to its poor performance at the box-office, the quality of the film is really not good with a lacklustre story involving George being mistaken for a hit-man. 5 out of 10    

Porridge (1979)

Starring Ronnie Barker, Richard Beckinsale, Fulton Mackay, Brian Wilde
The big-screen version of Porridge had a huge legacy to live up to. After all, the television series had been a huge hit with viewers and critics alike and was regarded as one of the greatest comedy series to ever come out of these shores. Could the film replicate that success? With a talent like Ronnie Barker aboard, you know you can't go far wrong. Sadly, this would be the last time audiences would have the opportunity to see Richard Beckinsale, as he sadly passed away soon after, aged just 31.

Sid's Place Rating
Despite not hitting the heights of the TV series, the film version of Porridge is a cut above others of its type and is undoubtedly the best of the big-screen sitcoms. 8 out of 10 

Come back soon for part two of Sitcom Movie Spin-offs featuring such comedies as the original Dad's Army, The Likely Lads and Steptoe & Son.


  1. Interesting comments. What was surprising about these films is that they kept making them despite them being largely flops - although the On the Buses were remarkably successful. They were usually made after the series ended, though a couple didn't, like the Bill Frazer 1970 sitcom That's Your Funeral went to the big screen after just one series. The Good Life and Fawlty Towers were the only big hits which didn't have cinema outings.

  2. Thanks for reading, Dave. Part two coming soon.