Love Thy Neighbour Review
Not being old enough to remember the moon landing being on television nor the shooting of John F Kennedy, my early memories of television are somewhat less impressive. That said, I do remember Live Aid, Arsenal winning the League at the end of the 88/89 season and those kids on Jim'll Fix It attempting to eat their packed lunches on a rollercoaster at Alton Towers. Perhaps the problem with being born in 1971 is that television documented almost everything and that even those events that I was rather impartial to, such as the wedding of Charles and Diana, I can recall with a clarity that, as a republican, I ought not to have.
However, I can clearly remember my first sight of Love Thy Neighbour. It was whilst the show was being broadcast on Granada Plus and it was during an afternoon broadcast in March 1999 that I stumbled upon whilst flicking upwards through the channels. As I chanced upon it, Eddie had just walked into a pub where he'd been joined by Bill and over the next few minutes, the air was thick with shouts of honky, whitey, blackie, nig-nog, sambo, poof, jungle bunny, darkie and, making reference to one of Bill's friends, paki, Ali Baba and Gunga Din. I've never been called a honky, nor a cracker. I have been called a paddy, a fuckin' mick and, given my upbringing in Northern Ireland, a taig and a fenian but it doesn't take any noticeable amount of empathy to understand how calling a black man a jungle bunny is considered offensive. It's not simply political correctness but straightforward human decency and I approached this film as one might the body of a dead dog, with a certain amount of distaste.
Love Thy Neighbour places the white, Labour-supporting Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) and his wife Joan (Kate Williams) next door to black, Conservative Bill Reynolds (Rudolph Walker) and his glamourous wife Barbie (Nina Baden-Semper) and stands back whilst race fireworks go off around them. The joke would appear to be that neither is any better than the other, bickering constantly whilst their wives get by happily even to enjoying a mid-morning cup of tea together. I would assume that we would tend to sympathise with Bill, largely because nig-nog and jungle bunny are more offensive than whitey but also because he's clearly aiming to better himself and, in the absence of Eddie, he does appear to get along fine with the rest of the white cast. Eddie, then, is portrayed as one bad, racist egg
The actual plot, as unlikely a thing as you'll ever see on the screen, has the local paper come up with a Love Thy Neighbour contest, in which a black family living next door to a white family must prove themselves good neighbours with the prize being a Mediterranean cruise for both families. Whilst Eddie and Bill bicker on the way to work, Annie and Barbie fill in the form and await the arrival of the hack from the local rag, Carter (Arthur English) to vet them. Meanwhile, Bill, fed up with the constraints of membership of Eddie's union, forms the ABU (All Black Union), which sees the white workforce on strike whilst the black employees cross the picket line by various means to keep the orders on track. Finally, Bill's dad, Joe (Charles Hyatt) arrives from Trinidad at the same time as Eddie's mother, Annie (Patricia Hayes) comes down from Manchester and, with nothing else to do all day, form an unlikely friendship much to the horror of their respective sons.
To be fair to Love Thy Neighbour, it does try. Eddie is, as the writers Harry Driver and Vince Powell have tried to explain over the years, clearly an ignorant, bigoted fool and is portrayed as such. Buried deep within Love Thy Neighbour is the message that we should simply get on with one another and Driver and Powell use the examples set by Barbie and Joan and Joe and Annie being those we should follow, not those of Eddie and Bill. However, it's the casual use of terms like blackie that continues to separate the races, suggesting that no matter how well Joan and Barbie get on, one calling the other a blackie will be something that will continue to draw a line between them. And that's the most likely reason for the horror with which many of us will now look upon Love Thy Neighbour. Regardless of whether we might pass the neighbour test - which is, briefly, a measure of how happy we would be to have a neighbour of a different race from ourselves - we are uncomfortable with words like nig-nog, sambo, paki, nigger, jock, taffy, mick, paddy, blackie, honky and kike being used. What comedy there is in Love Thy Neighbour rests on the use of these words alone. There really isn't anything else and if the thought of a man being described as a jungle bunny leaves you feeling uncomfortable, perhaps it's best to pass on Love Thy Neighbour and leave it for those whose sense of humour has not shifted from the time of this, Mind Your Language or Rule Britannia!.
Presented in 1.33:1, Love Thy Neighbour doesn't look at all good but that's not necessarily the fault of Optimum. Comparing this to, for example, Steptoe And Son Ride Again from the same studio, it does look as though Optimum have large done what they can with the material but they prints they've sourced in whatever job lot they've picked up are not in great shape. It isn't only that it's in 1.33:1 - in spite of the small-screen origins of the material, I would assume that the film was presented in a wider format - but it has a copious amount of print damage throughout. Pausing the film at any point reveals a lot of white spots, scratches and contrast and colour that remains inconsistent throughout. It's not great and indeed one would say that it isn't really very good but with the perhaps thankfully limited market for Love Thy Neighbour, Optimum may not have been at all bothered.
That's much the same with the audio, which does what's required of it but is really not a great deal better. By explanation, that means that one can hear the dialogue and the occasional sound effect - a passing bus, the thwack of leather of cricket and the rattle of plant machinery - but every use of the words whitey, blackie, nig-nog, poof and sambo is audible, which is surely what any buyer will care for. Finally, what with this being an Optimum release, there are no subtitles.
There are no extras on this release of Love Thy Neighbour.