In Loving Memory Series 5 Review
Having already reviewed Network's release of Series 2 of In Loving Memory I was interested to see how the show had developed by its fifth and final series, now on release. As mentioned in the earlier review the show was a popular vehicle for the considerable comedic talents of Thora Hird. In the fifth series, aired in 1986, her Auntie Ivy still rules the roost at Henshaws Undertakers in rural Yorkshire of the 1930s. Her gormless nephew Billy (Christopher Beeny) still carries out the heavy work but a new character threatens to disrupt Ivy's daily routine in the shape of Billy's new wife Mary (Sherrie Hewson).
I imagine the writer, Dick Sharples was trying to freshen the show by introducing a significant new character that completely changes the domestic dynamic. Where most family-based sitcoms are happy to carry on recycling the same domestic setup year-in and year-out (My Family for example), the introduction of Mary creates a whole new situation to explore. Although Billy is Ivy's nephew he is, to all intents and purposes, her surrogate son and what we now have is the classic hapless-man-torn-between-mother-and-wife setup. What also helps this is the quality of performance. Although all three leads are skilled comic actors they were also well-known for dramatic work and therefore have the technical skills to bring rather more to the characters than just reciting the words on the page.
As far as plot goes, the first episode opens with Billy and Mary's wedding at which Ivy announces she will be accompanying them on their honeymoon. Billy tries to outwit her by sneaking away from the wedding reception to a different destination but Ivy is far too wily for that and ends up in the room next door to theirs in the seaside hotel in Robin Hood's Bay. With paper-thin walls. The remaining episodes deal mainly with Mary's growing exasperation at trying to fit into domestic and professional life at the undertakers caught between her gormless husband's bachelor lifestyle and Auntie Ivy's relentless interfering. Sherrie Hewson, now better known for her appearances on Loose Women and various celebrity lifestyle shows was, at the time, a well-known and respected actress and does her skilful best with the material on hand. However it's clear that the show, after five years, is beginning to run out of steam despite the introduction of fresh blood. No more so in the case of Auntie Ivy who, in Thora's more than capable hands is still polished and entertaining but she is doing pretty much what she did in the first season with precious little change to her character over the intervening five years. But the principal who suffers most is Christopher Beeny as Billy. At the time of the first series he was already too old to be completely convincing as a young put-upon fool but by the time of the fifth series he is looking seriously middle-aged and just that bit too long in the tooth to remain convincing. He still delivers a respectable performance but the whole setup is now looking faintly ridiculous.
In fact things are winding down so much they even have a clips show in the middle of the run. Clips shows were popular with sitcom producers because they are cheap to make. All you need to do is plonk your cast down in one set, find an excuse for them to reminisce - in this case Mary is leafing through the old family photo album and Ivy is giving her background to the photos illustrated by appropriate clips from past episodes. These are all location scenes of a farcical nature and illustrate how much production standards had changed. Early series had location scenes shot on 16mm film but by the fifth series they were knocking them out cheaply and cheerfully on video and the difference in quality is noticeable. I also suspect the clips episode was a budget-saving measure because two of the last episodes involve extensive and expensive location work including an anachronistic hot air balloon.
But even with these drops in quality the show is still a cut above most of the studio-bound ITV sitcoms of the time. The fifth series was still able to attract guest artists of the calibre of Patsy Rowlands, Joan Sims and Geoffrey Bayldon and I imagine was still proving popular with audiences. I don't know why production ceased but I suspect a significant factor may have been age taking its toll on the cast. As mentioned Chris Beeny was now in his mid-40s and too old to carry on convincingly as Billy as written. Thora also had health issues at that time – she was 75 after all. Glancing over her credits in imdb it looks like this was the last series of any kind that she headed. From then on she only did occasional one-off dramas and comedies or small guest appearances. Although you would never guess it from her performance in this she had significant problems with arthritis which worsened and would cause her constant pain for the rest of her life.
The series is made up of seven 25-minute episodes on a single double-layered disc. All episodes consist of in-studio sequences and location shooting shot mostly on video. As always with Network releases, the picture quality for both is excellent. The source materials are in pristine condition and the transfers are excellent all round. The only exception to this is the opening scenes of episode one which have a slightly softer quality to the image than expected.
Mono only and very clear.
None at all.