Review for Not On Your Nellie - The Complete Series
Imagine walking into a Producer’s office and punting this idea for the start of a TV show. “So a middle-aged lady arrives in London from the North by bus, carrying a suitcase. She taps a gentleman on the shoulder to ask directions, but when he turns around, he is oriental looking. She clasps her hands together and shouts ‘Ah So!’. She then sees a policeman and taps him on the shoulder. He turns around and reveals he’s black. She says something like: ‘Oh I’m sorry – I was going to ask you directions but I can see now that you’re foreign’. Then as an afterthought: ‘Are you any relation to Al Jolsen?’ She then speaks to a camp motorcyclist with a young chap in a sidecar who both bend their wrists as they reply. That’s just the start.”
What? Don’t you think it would get commissioned? Well, in 1974 it did, as unbelievable as it seems now.
‘Not On Your Nellie’ is a British sitcom that ran from 1974 until 1975 lasting two full seasons and a truncated third, amounting to 17 episodes in total – all present and correct in this set. It was pretty much a vehicle for veteran music-hall actress Hylda Baker as Nellie Pickersgill, a Bolton woman who moves to London to help run her ailing father's Chelsea pub.
The series can be seen very much as follow up to ‘Nearest and Dearest’ which featured Hilda Baker as the Northern housewife and had Jimmy Jewell as her long-suffering, live-in brother. Indeed, the final episode of the series can be found as a special feature on disc one and, from a comedic perspective, it’s hard to see the joins between this and ‘Nellie’. In a 1973 television interview with Baker (an extra feature on the Series 7 DVD of ‘Nearest and Dearest’), she confessed that ‘Not On Your Nellie’ was planned as a spin-off from Nearest and Dearest and would focus on the character Nellie Pledge after her brother Eli (Jimmy Jewel) deserts her following the end of their family business, Pledge's Purer Pickles. In the event, though it’s unclear why, some of these details changed, including her name, but it can still be seen as every bit a spin-off.
When Jed Pickersgill (played by veteran actor John Barrett) becomes too ill, or too lazy, to run ‘The Brown Cow’, a pub in London’s Chelsea, he on his daughter Nellie for help.
Nellie, in pure Hylda Baker style, is a bombastic teetotaller and a complete control freak, scaring the bejesus out of her Father, the pub’s staff and most the regulars to boot.
In common with other bar based comedies, like ‘Cheers’, the pub is a fantastic device to bring together a diverse group of people into a single place. Regular’s include Charlie (Leo Dolan), a window cleaner whose only interests are beer and birds; Ali (Azad Ali), an Asian London Underground worker and something of a racial stereotype; George (David Raynor), an effeminate ‘limp-wristed’ gay man who runs a nearby fashion boutique and is also stereotypical; and Gilbert (Roger Howlett), his campily dressed but always silent boyfriend – a foyle used by Baker throughout her career, like Cynthia (‘She knows, you know’). There was also a new busty barmaid in each series, to Nellie’s chagrin, including Beryl (Alexandra Dane), Doris (Wendy Richard) and "Big Brenda" (Sue Nicholls). In other words, the scene is set for an outrageously un-PC sitcom.
The series was created by Roy Bottomley and Tom Brennand and was based on a stage play that they had written for Baker. They had been regular writers for ‘Nearest and Dearest’ though were not its creators – which is why they, and LWT, had no rights to the character names, and (probably) hence the change.
As the series was set in a pub, it did allow the writers an opportunity to tap into Baker’s broad music hall talents and she can be seen singing, dancing, and playing the piano on occasion. She even wrote and sang on the end theme tune.
The series was only moderately successful and there were plenty of changes in its cast - particularly in the doomed final series where most simply disappeared to work on other shows, leaving Baker and new boy Jack Douglas to do what they could. In the event, Baker fell during filming and broke her ankle. One or two episodes were filmed with her in a wheelchair (and one without her at all) but it was soon agreed by all, including Baker who was busy suing LWT over the accident, that it was perhaps best to simply stop – which is what happened.
Most the episode plots are highly predictable and more than a little hackneyed and Hylda Baker plays to the back of the room throughout, employing nothing of the subtleties of television acting, though her bombastic energy is rather infectious. Her trademark ‘Malapropisms’ get a bit tiresome as the writers are hell-bent in getting as many in as possible, but a few will still have you laughing. (‘I can say that without fear of contraception’ for example).
For the record, I thought this new set might be an update to a the two previously issued sets (Series one and Series two and three) but I can report that they are identical, right down to the menus. SO if you have those, this isn’t any kind of upgrade, just a chance to buy them as one set rather than two.
All in all, for fans of retro archive comedy, this is fascinating stuff. If you know what you’re in for, you’ll probably be glad to have it. If you’re new to all this, then you might want to sneak a look on YouTube before buying so that you go in with your eyes wide open. I, for one, am delighted this stuff is available and very happy to have it in the collection, but despite that, it’s only a very average series at best.
Here’s a list of the episodes and their original air dates.
Nellie Comes To Town (15 March 74)
Something In The Night (22 March 74)
The Anniversary Present (29 March 74)
The Restless Spirit (5 April 74)
The Apartment (12 April 74)
Bring On The Dancing Girls (19 April 74)
The Wind Of Change (26 April 74)
Brief Encounter (24 January 75)
High Society (31 January 75)
Requiem For A Heavyweight (7 February 75)
Do Unto Others (14 February 75)
The Lady With The Lamp (21 February 75)
Feeling The Draught (28 February 75)
Be Prepared (8 August 75)
A-Haunting We Will Go (15 August 75)
The French Correction (22 August 75)
Called To The Bar (29 August 75)