Bust Series 1 Review
Somebody somewhere clearly thought it would be A Good Idea, in our recession-locked times to release on DVD a light drama series from the mid-80s about a bankrupt businessman starring one of the biggest TV stars of the day. Perhaps as a guide to how to overcome your financial woes? But what we actually get is a fluffy confection in which Paul Nicholas battles for screenspace with the worst excesses of mid-80s ladies' fashion and grooming products. And just to emphasise how irrelevant it is to our contemporary situation characters can buy and sell properties effortlessly and obtain business startup loans without the slightest hindrance, even expanding into a franchise mere microseconds after opening. And not a collateralised debt obligation anywhere to be seen.
The story opens in March 1987 as businessman Neil Walsh (Nicholas), a charming but dodgy wheeler-dealer cuts one bad deal too many and finds himself in the bankruptcy court much to the disgust of his loyal and long-suffering wife Sheila (Phyllis Logan), a teacher and nominal feminist who then attempts to start a new separate life. The remainder of the series details his attempts to make money without his assiduous power-dressed trustee Janet (Geraldine Alexander) finding out, while attempting to woo back his estranged wife.
In the Bust Again extra, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and star Paul Nicholas explain that the series was created in order to poach Nicholas from the BBC after a highly popular run in the series Just Good Friends. Prior to this Nicholas had a very successful career as a pop singer in the late 70s and went on to appear in the original cast of Cats in 1981. Bust is obviously tailored to his charming screen persona (he even sings the romantic theme over the end credits) and the bankruptcy plot device is merely there to allow his character to duck and dive and exercise his considerable charms on a variety of pantomime villains and his hapless friends and family. No matter how much he abuses everyone's trust and goodwill, in the end they all rally round and just tut tut while shaking their heads disapprovingly. The series relies heavily on Nicholas' charm which he deploys effectively and Phyllis Logan manages to work wonders with what she's given as her character oscillates between loving wife and exasperated harridan as the plot requires. But there's just no real emotional depth to any of it and the painful difficulties faced by real-life bankrupts are lightly skipped-over in favour of a good yarn.
Unfortunately, to modern eyes (well, mine anyway) the paper-thin plots and two-dimensional characters are insufficient to distract attention from what everyone is wearing. In an effort to look upmarket and appeal to Paul Nicholas' contemporary female audience, money was lavished on the wardrobe and the actresses in particular are dressed in the height of High Street fashion. Geraldine Alexander's slender frame is encased in a series of power suits and Phyllis Logan runs the whole gamut from massively shoulder-padded checked shirts to full hobble-skirted evening wear. While plastered in as much make-up as they could wear without it sliding off their faces. It's curious to see nowadays how much a modern 80s-set drama tones it all down in comparison to the real thing. However I have to say that when compared to more down-to-earth dramas of the same time such as the series of Juliet Bravo I reviewed earlier this year, the look is still exaggerated. But having said that Paul Nicholas says he went out of his way to dress Neil in classically cut conservative suits to give him an air of success and even today his character wouldn't look too out of place in a modern setting.
The series is split into six 50-minute episodes (although the first episode clocks in at 60 minutes) spread over two discs. Although the episodes are split into 8 chapters there are no chapter menus. Strangely though, the episodes are unevenly split across the discs. The first disc has the first four episodes and the second disc has the remaining two episodes plus a few short extras. Hinchcliffe explains in his interview that he wanted to shoot on film but the powers-that-be at ITV decreed he would use new lightweight video cameras. So we have a mixture of extensive location work and studio all shot on video. However, in the first episode the image appears to have been treated to a diffuse overlay that I imagine aims to give it a more filmic quality but this disappears by the second episode so we're left with a standard mid-80s studio look. There is very little if any tape damage and the image is as pristine as you could wish for.
Just a mono soundtrack which is as clear as is necessary. Unfortunately this does allow the grating plinky-plonky music track (with obligatory mid-80s Kenny G-style sax) to be heard in its full glory.
Paul Nicholas provides a commentary on episode one. However he doesn't have much of a clue about how these things should be done and spends most of the time describing what's on screen. It would have been much better if he'd had someone else to prompt him.
Bust Again. 18m 5s. A retrospective made in 2009 comprising interviews with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, star Paul Nicholas (looking bloody good for a 64-year-old) and lead actors Geraldine Alexander and Ron Emslie interspersed with clips from the show. Curiously, Phyllis Logan is nowhere to be seen - perhaps she declined to participate. Paul Nicholas does mention they didn't have a very relaxed working relationship and her character was re-cast in the second series. Anyway, Nicholas is effortlessly charming and self-effacing. Ron Emslie recalls with horror how he declined to wear the Paul Smith suit he was originally fitted for (by Paul Smith himself) because 'it cost three times as much as I did' and Geraldine Alexander tells how star-struck she was by Paul Nicholas. Amongst other things.
Stills Gallery – 3m 54s. A series of good-quality production stills and publicity shots.
Cast Biographies – back-of-the-programme stuff which manages to mis-spell Phyllis Logan's name – twice.
At first, I found the whole thing rather annoying with its cardboard cutout characters, throwaway plotting and now-grotesque costuming but gradually it began to charm me and I ended up quite liking it in its own fluffy way. It is very much of its time but for anyone interested in studying the full horror that was mid-80s ladies' clothing, it’s is a must.
Last updated: 11/07/2018 12:49:39