Dear Ladies: Series 2 Review
It's like those who speak of the sixties and mention only The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground and so on without a mention that the charts were stuffed full of the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck, Cilla Black and The Barron Knights. Or that, in 1965, 13 Lucky Shades Of Val Doonican outsold The Beatles' Help. I'm a guilty of it as anyone. Thinking back to the early eighties, one is inclined to mention only those comedies that pushed at the boundaries of what was daring, acceptable or, indeed, funny. The Young Ones, A Kick Up the Eighties and The Comic Strip Presents.., shows that fell under the label of Alternative Comedy. Only that, in 1984 and aged twelve, my Sunday night homework was accompanied by the sound of Last Of The Summer Wine and Compo, in a driving suit, freewheeling down the Yorkshire dales in a bath fitted with wheels, an outboard motor and a selection of brass instruments. Meanwhile, midweek on BBC2, there was Dear Ladies and Hinge and Bracket. It takes no more than seconds of the George Logan- and Patrick Fyffe-written theme to take me back to the days when I had more spots than sexual experiences. Not that really much has changed in that regard, mind.
George Logan and Patrick Fyffe were the men behind Dr Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket. They celebrated a world that has long since passed. Instead of the social revolution of the eighties that was going on far from their home in Stackton Tressel, Hinge and Bracket celebrated the quiet English village life. This was a place were a plate of assorted fancies were an essential accompaniment to a cup of tea. Little echoed up and down the country lanes but for the braying of donkeys, the sound of cricket on the village green and the rumble of Dame Hilda Bracket's vintage Rolls-Royce. Social engagements were conducted in the church hall, ladies sang in the choir on a Sunday and only men of ill-repute drank in a public house. And in this, Hinge And Bracket decorated their world with such double entendres as to cause a vicar to blush.
This is good comedy. Granted, you would have to have some memory of the show to best appreciate it, or a liking for gentle, good-old-days-inspired comedy, but the comic timing is simply superb. In particular, the conversation between the two ladies is often as barbed as a rosebush. Combine one with the other and Dear Ladies can be hugely funny. "You seem to have lost a couple of ounces" says Dame Hilda Bracket as Doctor Evadne Bracket shows off her new figure. "Oh no! There they are!" she adds as Evadne twirls. On the other hand, it is sometimes only amusing, but warmly so, much as one would expect from scripts written by Gyles Brandreth and set in a world in which Noel Coward and Ivor Novello are still played on the piano of an afternoon.
The six episodes included in this set begins with The Time of Our Lives in which, reading Ladies Own magazine, Hinge and Bracket recognise something of the midlife crisis in themselves. The cure for it seems to be to try something new in life. The doctor believes that it is high time she learned to drive while the dame takes up the sport of golf. Neither proves to be a natural at their chosen pastimes but by sheer determination, Hinge and Bracket come through. In Song and Dance, it is time, once again, for the annual performing arts show and Hinge and Bracket are in disagreement with the others on the board. Much to the dame's disgust, a contemporary dance troupe is chosen to entertain the crowds of Stackton Tressel. As the doctor accompanies the dancers on piano, Dame Bracket must take to the housekeeping, something that she is not terribly good at.
Doctor Evadne Hinge is not well. In Sickness And In Health finds Dame Bracket telling her friend, "I don't know, Doctor, I think we'll have to cut it off!" The doctor is suffering from gout but the dame tells her not to worry. She is in fine company. Gilbert had it too. Apparently, he had a very nasty attack around the time of The Gondoliers. But Hinge is still not enjoying her stay in the NHS. "I mean, there's a limit to what you can do with a sardine!" It could hardly get worse but then the nurse tells Dame Bracket that visiting is over and that she must say goodbye to her mother. "Goodbye mummy!" It's yet another moment for the dame to savour. In Gala Girls, an invitation arrives in the home of Hinge and Bracket welcoming the ladies to a society luncheon. Or so Dame Bracket thinks. Instead, the invitation is for one and only the Doctor is invited. Not upset at all, Hilda gets on with enjoying the washing machine that she has, just that very morning, won in a competition. As the day of the luncheon approaches, Hilda prepares for a choral recital, which, she believes will be attended by the cream of county society. "I think you may find, my dear, that 'the cream of county society' will be luncheoning with me. You may well just have to make do with the top of the milk!", says Evadne Hinge. How wrong they both are.
It is time for the Stackton Tressel Annual Fete in A Fete Worse Than... Evadne will be predicting people's futures through her crystal ball while Hilda will be host of the Open Air Tea Tent. But on an afternoon out in town, Hinge and Bracket overhear the vicar discussing an affair. "What a goer!", he says. "I took one look at those legs...well, who could resist?" This is just awful. They get to writing an anonymous note and even telephone the bishop to warn him of the adultery in his dioceses. But they could be mistaken, couldn't they? Finally, in Mystery Weekend, Hinge and Bracket are departing from Stackton Tressel for a mystery trip but things get off to a bad start before they even arrive at their destination. For two ladies used to travelling in Rolls-Royces, British Rail First Class is something of a disappointment but, come Blackpool, they meet with an old friend and enjoy their magical mystery tour. And it includes a murder!
If you have fond memories of Hinge and Bracket, be it in this, their variety performances or with their radio shows, you won't be disappointed by Dear Ladies. It's difficult to say that it's dated as it was already out of time when first broadcast in 1984. This is an England not dissimilar to that of Born And Bred, of Miss Marple or of To The Manor Born. It was an England that probably never existed beyond the occasional house or two where elderly spinsters recite songs by Gilbert and Sullivan, collect for the restoration of their church and tittle-tattle about the friendship between vicar and librarian. But Hinge and Bracket, or Logan and Fyffe, recognise that and mine it for as much comedy as they can. With well-written scripts by Gyles Brandreth that are as naughty as a seaside postcard and as jolly as a ride on a merry-go-round, there is a lot to enjoy. If you found time for Dear Ladies on the BBC2 of 1984, then all the better.
Dear Ladies looks very much as you would expect a BBC series of the early-to-mid eighties to look. It's a mix of videotaped on-the-set footage and filmed location shoots with there being a clear difference between the two. There is some damage to the prints used to source this DVD with there being some marks onscreen in the later episodes but Dear Ladies doesn't look so very much different than I remember it on television. The quality of the presentation is fine with the colour of the DVD being particularly good. The only audio option is a DD2.0 Mono and it does a good job of carrying the dialogue and songs. I would say action but there is very little of that other than a chaotic drive in the back of a mobile library. But there is little that stands out about it. Finally, there are English subtitles.
There is a bonus special on this disc, Dear Ladies Masterclass (40m33s), which sees Dame Hilda giving a performance at the Royal Northern College of Music accompanied by Doctor Evadne. She gives advice to two budding musicians, Gerald Quinn (who may still be performing) and Janet Mellor (who may not be but it's hard to tell given that Mellor was probably her maiden name). This doesn't have quite the same appeal as the rest of the episodes simply on account of it not being as funny as the main series but it has its moments. This is followed by a text-only brief chronicle of the life and times of Dr Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket.