Dear John

1986 | United Kingdom

Meet John Lacey, a forty-something language teacher at a Comprehensive School. He has everything; a steady job, nice house, beautiful wife, loving son and a car. Until one day he gets home from work and finds a letter from his wife informing him that their relationship is over and she has fallen for his ex-best friend, rugby-playing Welshman Mike. 

Spurned and alone, John winds up in a squalid one-room bedsit with a crazed elderly Polish woman (Mrs Lamenski) as a neighbour, struggling to make ends meet. He seeks solace in a local divorced and separated encounter group based in a community centre, and aptly called the 1-2-1 Club. This then is the premise for the fourth BBC television comedy series from the pen of John Sullivan whose previous credits were Citizen Smith, Only Fools and Horses and Just Good Friends. The series starred Ralph Bates as John, best known for his tireless work in a string of Hammer Horror films in the 1960s.

The 1-2-1 club is run by Louise (Rachel Bell) a frustrated divorcee whose sole intention is to discover whether any of her group suffered from any 'sexual problems' during the break-up of their relationships. Other members of the group include Kirk St Moritz (Peter Blake), Kate (Belinda Lang), Ralph (Peter Denyer - Dennis from Please Sir) and ex-60s pop star Ricky Fortune (Kevin Lloyd - series 2 only). The array of dysfunctional misfits in the 1-2-1 club makes this brief series a gem of comedy writing. Ralph with his motor cycle combination, who married the Russian Blomlika just so she could get a British passport and promptly disappears never to be seen again; Kate, who foolishly divulges the problem behind the break-up of her three marriages, and promptly gets labelled the 'ice queen' and 'frigid Bridget' by Kirk; and Kirk himself who is seen only by John in his true guise as Derek Morris who lives with his bullying mother and is everything that flashy, extrovert, cringe-making Kirk isn't.

The two series featured various exploits for John, but ultimately always returned to the group sessions at the 1-2-1. John suffers from cash-flow problems, anxiety attacks, constant worries with regards to his relationship with his son Toby (played by Bates' real-life son William) and various dilemmas, which force him to paint a very exaggerated picture of his newfound bachelor lifestyle to his work colleagues. Sadly the series came to an abrupt end with the untimely death of Ralph Bates, who died of cancer in March 1991. The series did finish on a high though, with a 50-minute Christmas special broadcast on 21st December 1987. Whilst not as well known as some of John Sullivan's other work, Dear John is a treasure of light comedy and would still stand up if broadcast today. Guest stars in the series included Freddie and the Dreamers as themselves, and Frank Windsor as John's soon to be retiring headmaster.

Published on December 7th, 2018. Review: Paul Webb.

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