Hippies Review

The Series

Writing partnerships are intriguing things. In this country, we have a fine history of comedy writers who have worked in pairs, and perhaps it is the very nature of writing comedy that lends itself to collaboration. Very few people can write something on their own and know that it is funny, but once you write with someone else they can tell you that what you've created is genius or bobbins. The greatest of all such collaborations is probably the one that brought the world Hancock's half hour and Steptoe and Son, and in both these Galton and Simpson pieces there are echoes of the writing partnership itself with the duos of Hancock and Sid and the rag and bone man and father also working together to give the audience its laughs.

You could extend this idea to the writing of Father Ted with Ardal O'Hanlon and Dermot Morgan being perfect foils for one another and for the writers Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan to play comedy tennis. The essential joys of that series were the priestly double act and their quirky relationship, combined with surreal use of coincidence, pop culture references and a gentle amount of satire on Catholicism. When the series ended, they moved on to the sketch show Big Train and an even more free form comedy. After the first series of Big Train, they planned a new sitcom dealing with the late sixties called Hippies, but after the pilot show Linehan left Mathews to continue on his own.
Without the collaboration element in the writing it seems to me that Hippies becomes broad farce, and that the four central characters are lacking relational depth or real colour. What the show retains is some wonderful moments of coincidence upon coincidence which lead to some rather brilliant sequences of unexpected humour. The series also benefits from fine comics performing well, and those watching the episodes for the first time will see the gorgeous one from Smack the Pony, the posh gorgeous one from Green Wing, this generation's Scotty, and that bloke whose name you can't remember from you know, that funny thing. Stir in cameos from the likes of the marvellous Kevin Eldon and the radiant Peter Serafinowicz, and top off with direction from Martin "Men Behaving Badly" Dennis.

This means that the parting of the ways for Linehan and Mathews actually results in a very presentable product that keeps many of the virtues of their previous work. Hippies ran for six episodes with the basement flat of Roy(Pegg), Jill(Phillips) and Alex(Rhind-Tutt) the basic milieu for a celebration and a parody of the spirit of free love, protests and herbal remedies. All of their adventures include Boyd as their regular visitor Hugo, and each instalment concentrates on a particular element of the time.
Episode One captures Ray and Alex protesting and having a visit from a counter culture guru which results in Jill making her relationship with Roy even more open. There is a superb gag involving Pegg and some sandpaper, and a cameo from Eldon as a sledgehammer wielding know it all. Hairy Hippies captures Roy putting on a naked musical, not unlike Hair, and dealing with Jill's rather more successful attempts to grow a beard than him. The writer himself cameos as a folk singer in Sexy Hippies and Eleanor Bron fails to seduce Roy, whilst Jill's efforts to assert herself lead to some pretty odd requests to her flatmates about not looking at her arse.

The remainder of the series features plots that take in fighting the police, going to a festival and getting caught up in an obscenity trial. The situations are broad enough to not be obscure to the uninitiated, and most new viewers will be familiar enough with the real-life inspirations for the comedy to appreciate the wit here. The awfully nice coppers who get the stolen print run back for Roy's anti-police magazine, the folk singer who gives up festivals to become a bank manager, and the school-kids who land Roy and co in trouble with the courts, all these jokes work well as the counter culture revolution burns out and the incompetent radicals screw up time after time. In the end, Hippies condemns itself to a single series by wearing out its subject and leaving all its protagonists as clowns and mess-ups, and the end of this era leaves the comedy nowhere else to go.
The series is fun, juvenile, and with little opportunity for anyone other than Roy and Alex to provide the laughs. Phillips is reduced to being very cute and violent, and Boyd is simply the stupid stoned one. Still it makes you laugh and occasionally you will delight in the set-ups for Pegg to disgrace himself whilst Rhind-Tutt does posh and urbane - the very qualities which make Hollywood and Barclaycard knock down their door to acquire their services these days. For Mathews he would move on to the weaker second series of Big Train and he has not done much of his own since, much as Linehan only really has the It Crowd to mention on his own CV. Neither have re-captured the greatness of Ted, but Hippies is an acceptable, if inferior, substitute.

The Disc

Fremantle rustle up a dual layer region free disc with hippy dippy animated menus and a single extra, bar the commentary, of the infamous hippy invasion of the Frost Report. This sequence of the unspeakable Sir David Frost being assailed by hairy men who dare to use the "C" word is rather tame now, and Frost comes over as a bit of a numpty as he helps his audience of appalling bourgeois side partings to have their say on the unwashed interlopers. It neatly sums up the rather inadequate nature of both that one side could imagine the revolution was coming from the drug addled miscreants, whilst the other side enjoys the childish fun of upsetting the suits.
The transfer here varies a bit from episode to episode in terms of the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the arithmetically minded will note the difference in proportions between the individual screen-shots, and some of the image positions within the anamorphic frame differ. These points are quite pedantic when I report that this is a very nice transfer for a series coming up to its tenth anniversary with excellent contrast levels and well balanced colours which are true to the gaudy fashions without ever bleeding or seeming unnatural. This is very good work for such a budget disc.

The episodes can be watched with a commentary from the writer who is joined by different folk for different episodes. Kevin Eldon, director Martin Dennis and production designer Dick Lunn join Mathews at different times and I am happy to say that in this department Mathews is far more comfortable than his former writing partner. Where Linehan keeps an apologetic tone through the recent IT Crowd 2.0 disc I reviewed here, Mathews keeps things enlightening and he seems rather proud of his work. He is honest about the cast and the BBC's reluctance to go ahead when Linehan bowed out, and explains the real-life inspirations for the events in the series to those unaware of them. It isn't a commentary you will be transfixed by, but it is one you can dependably dip in and out of.


A cheap chance to own some solid comedy with a few belly-laughs. Pretty much as good as anything either of the co-creators of Ted have managed on their own, this is a fine release from Fremantle.

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Last updated: 26/06/2018 11:23:24

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