Don't Wait Up tv series

Don't Wait Up

1983 - United Kingdom

‘However badly Tom’s life is going, what fate awaits him when he returns home one day is unexpected and extremely unwanted’

Don’t Wait Up reviewed by Brian Slade

Many parents dread the day their adult children split from their significant other and return to the nest while they get themselves back on their feet. However, Dr Tom Latimer had to suffer the reverse. His own marriage had fallen apart in acrimonious circumstances, and then just as he was starting to think his bad days had bottomed out, his flat was invaded by another potential divorcee – his mother and father had split, and dear old Dad had come to stay in the 1980s BBC sitcom Don’t Wait Up.

Tom Latimer (Nigel Havers) seemed to be making good progress in life. He had a thriving GP practice with his partner Dr Charles Cartwright (Richard Heffer, then Simon Williams), conveniently located as part of the home he shared with his wife Helen (Jane How). When we first meet him, his life is far from idyllic. His wife has ended their marriage and is keen to make sure that she takes him for every penny she can get. He has to pay her rent for his surgery, vast amounts of maintenance and she is even billing him for her account at Harrods and for the building work she is having done at the home he has been booted from – bricking up the door from the practice!

Tom’s divorce has been the talk of the waiting room at the surgery, which is full to bursting while Dr Cartwright is away. Nothing could seemingly get much worse as Tom battles through the days with his secretary Louise (Peggy Sinclair) seemingly his only ally.

Son't Wait Up TV series

However badly Tom’s life is going, what fate awaits him when he returns home one day is unexpected and extremely unwanted. His father, Dr Toby Latimer (Tony Britton), has dropped round to Tom’s flat for a chat. He seems to want to know how Tom is coping after a few months of separation on his way to a divorce. He’s relieved to hear that on the whole he is coping well and a lot happier – not so much out of parental concern, but more for reassurance as he and wife Angela (Dinah Sheridan) are also parting company after 32 years of marriage. To make matters worse, Toby wants to live with Tom in his one-bedroom flat as he readjusts, and his things are already outside in the car.

What follows this announcement is a variation on The Odd Couple as not only are these unlikely housemates as father and son, but Tom and Toby have gone in completely different directions in terms of their politics and their beliefs. Tom is a GP on the NHS and stresses his way through as many patients as he can. It’s a stark contrast to Toby who has gone into private practice on Harley Street. He charges extortionate prices from his wealthy clients whom he schmoozes on the golf course, out shooting or putting on his top hat and tails for days at Ascot.

Don't Wait Up

The announcement that his parents’ marriage is over horrifies Tom. He seeks an audience with his mother urgently but has to wait his turn in her social calendar as she is rather enjoying her newfound freedom, dinner parties taking precedence over most things. When he finally does talk to her, she is more concerned how Tom will cope with his father’s presence. And one thing worries her more than anything: ‘God forbid he should come back.’

Life at the flat is immediately turned upside down for Tom. Forced to sleep on the fold-out sofa bed, he misses most of the hot water as well as his slot in the bathroom. What’s worse than being forced to shave over the kitchen sink is having to deal with his father’s snobbery. While Tom is penny pinching to cope with a NHS wage and a wife dripping him of every financial asset, Toby is still swanning around in his Rolls Royce as he drifts from one rich client to another. They don’t agree on politics, and they don’t agree on their practice or the methods within their differing arms of the same industry, but they do have one thing in common – both their wives are using the services of Harvey Kramer, a blood-sucking lawyer keen to milk everything he can for his clients. In the case of Tom, that in fact includes marrying his ex-wife!

Throughout the six series, time actually moves on quite slowly. In an interview for the Radio Times as the sixth series went to air, Havers suggested that in real terms they had barely covered nine months in the seven years of the show. In that time, Tom had primarily one thing on his mind – reuniting his parents in order that he can get his own life back on track.

Don't Wait Up tv series

Don’t Wait Up was Havers’ first significant recurring role and his first stab at sitcom. He made a likeable charmer, as became his metier, even if his more working-class beliefs in contrast to his father’s did seem a little hard to believe. Meanwhile, Britton was perfect in his own role, viewers having become quite used to his disapproving parent and unwanted guest talents in six series of Robin’s Nest as the sneering James Nicholls. Dinah Sheridan, once the rose of English cinema, at times stole the show as Mrs Latimer. Writer George Layton admitted that the show could have folded after one series if it wasn’t for what he called the ‘deliciously deft and truthful acting’ of Sheridan in a role that he felt in the wrong hands could have been almost unplayable, while Susan Valentine took an increasingly significant role as Toby’s own assistant, Madeline.

Nigel Havers and Tony Briton in Don't Wait Up

Havers once said that Don’t Wait Up, despite being a sitcom, carried a more soap opera feel to it. It’s safe to say that the script is not punchline upon punchline, but Layton kept it light and entertaining, so it was somewhat of a surprise that in the year it won Best Comedy at the Television and Radio Industries Club’s awards, 1990, it came to an end. It may not be remembered for being cutting edge given the time of its creation, but with the stars at its helm and the quality of Layton’s writing, Don’t Wait Up was a pleasant offering that is perhaps judged more harshly than it merits.

Published on August 6th, 2023. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.

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