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Auf Wiedersehen, Pet: the show that painted men as they really are

It wasn’t, of course, just about Geordies. Admittedly there was a degree of impenetrable language ( nar for know , gan for going , heedtheball for not very sophisticated etc ). And the de facto leader of this gang of seven British workers escaping the mile-long dole queues in England to take up cash-in-hand jobs in West Germany, as the country used to be known when they still had the Berlin Wall, was indeed a stubby Geordie from central casting. But it was also packed with as many regional stereotypes as you could get away with in the 1980s. So, Moxey , the scouse plasterer, was an ex-con; Bomber from Bristol seemed to be suffering from the kind of mild form of concussive brain injury you might expect in a 6 5 prop forward (in real-life, actor Pat Roach had been a professional wrestler not a massive leap for a casting director); and Barry was a fall guy from the Black Country, presumably christened Barry by the scriptwriters so he could pronounce his name Barroi and play it for laughs. Naturally, there was a smart-arse cockney with dyed hair, Wayne , who thought he was ‘the dogs’ and knew it all. But wasn’t and didn t. The millions watching recognised and loved them all instantly, particularly Dennis (Tim Healey), but also Oz , the huge, almost four-dimensional idiot played by a very young Jimmy Nail.

Sample dialogue:

Oz is unexpectedly at the front door of the house Dennis is staying in with his sister, that is to say, Dennis s sister Norma:
Dennis [turning off the TV, telling Norma to Just stay there , she ignores his instruction and follows him to the door]: It s you
Oz: Den. How are you, mate? Cheers [the assumption is that he will be welcomed in. He is ]
Dennis: [To Norma] It s my mate, it s my mate, Oz. It s my sister, Norma
Oz: [Intelligible Geordie small talk] I didn t like to because I didn t know what you know…
Dennis [To Norma]: Right, it s alright, you don t have to worry about owt being spilled on the carpet.
Nora: Right, I ll just get off to work now, Den.
Dennis [To Oz] Right, do you want a beer?
Oz: Lovely, ta

In retrospect, the cast was stellar. Nail, Healey (we ll leave Benidorm to his conscience), Kevin Whatley ( Neville in Pet, but later Lewis in Inspector Morse and, of course Lewis) and Timothy Spall (most recently JMW Turner in Mr Turner, the Cannes Film Festival award-winning film). Not bad for a comedy-drama with just seven main players. Think of it as a working class Downton Abbey but with recognisable contemporary characters, first broadcast at a time of massive social upheaval. They were all men s men. It was all to do with that very unfashionable truth about how men communicate together, what they talk about on their own and how they deal with each other. Neville , Kevin Whatley s character, was very definitely under the thumb, but it was his business. The others might have had a laugh at his expense, but it was his business. And that s how it is. There is a brutal honesty to the show, an aversion to the metaphor that comes from directness and a need to just get on with everyday life.

The programme wouldn t be commissioned today. Somebody would demand at least two or three STRONG female characters. Idiocy.

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When Auf Wiedersehen, Pet first aired in 1983, huge swathes of Britain, outside the South East of England, were experiencing industrial decline and the resultant unrest and misery occasioned by Margaret Thatcher s Conservative government. Economic migration was a fact of life for many people. Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly men, had to get on their bikes and look for work as Tory minister Norman Tebbit helpfully suggested they might do in the aftermath of the 1981 riots. This show was about a group of men, thrown together by circumstances not of their choosing, about how they reacted to and with each other, got on together, how they fell out on occasion but found a way through it. Think Sex In The City, with working-class Englishmen, less Sauvignon Blanc and lip gloss, more beer and cement under their fingernails and less conversational diarrhoea. This was the thinking behind Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. The comma is vital, it s the pause for thought before the unwanted separation. The brutal Germanic, followed by the sentimental Northern afterthought. However, in the same way that Only Fools and Horses, depicted working and lower middle class life for comic effect, so Pet struck a chord with the viewing public who had, as David Cameron is reported to have recently boasted, not been born with two silver spoons in their mouth . The viewers were, in typically British fashion, rooting for the underdog, the man who had to make a living and move to Dusseldorf and live in wooden barracks or duck and dive on the streets of South London. And there were only three channels on television, and less in life for the working man, so options were limited.

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet: The Show That Painted Men As They Really Are

But this is where Auf Wiedesehen, Pet and Only Fools and Horses part company. The former spoke to the whole country, Britain that is, and not just England no matter where the characters were from. The latter series, equally as loved and fondly remembered, simply pandered to what people wanted to believe were street-wise wide boys trying to buck the system (well, one of them anyway, sort of). And this time next year they were going to be millionaires. Lets it call it the Lottery ticket mentality . Very low rent and very South East. But then I repeat myself. One’s BBC, one is ITV…

Pet was defiantly Northern. It was not about just sticking it to The Man . It was about trying to provide for your family and hold down a job. And that is why it has just been announced that, on the 60th anniversary of ITV, it has been correctly declared by the Radio Times to be the best independent TV programme of all time – the fact that Thunderbirds finished second, above Coronation Street, and Blind Date made the top ten need not detain us here. The people have, after a fashion, spoken. So have the writers. Dick Clement, the Dick Clement of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais fame (also co-writers of Porridge and, by a nose, and in this writer s judgement, the winner in a five-horse race that also involves Pet, Fawtly Towers, Only Fools and Dad s Army as the best British comedy series of all-time) claimed to be astonished by the result of the poll of 5,000 readers. I knew it had a strong following in the North East, he said. But I didn t realise its reach. He was born in Essex so that explains that. Writing partner Ian Le Frenais, obviously not the dick in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and born in the North East, added, more helpfully, It had a significant social context at the time, because of Thatcherism, and people going abroad to find work. There was a strong contrast between the affluence of some and the have-nots that really resonated, and still resonates today. Indeed it does. It s worth re-watching all over again. The actors are the best their generation had to offer and the song remains the same.

telegraph.co.uk[1]

Follow @TelegraphMen[2] How we moderate[3]

References

  1. ^ telegraph.co.uk (www.facebook.com)
  2. ^ Follow @TelegraphMen (twitter.com)
  3. ^ How we moderate (my.telegraph.co.uk)

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