Having collected his last passengers and dropped them off at the cemetery gates, Reg Varney parked his bus for the last time in 1973. On the Buses had made Varney even more of a household name than his previously successful stint at Fenner's fashions in The Rag Trade.
With two huge hits behind him and a couple of popular sketch shows, it was quite straight forward for Varney to approach ATV with a sitcom idea of his own. Down the 'Gate was set among the bustle of London's Billingsgate fish market, which was also renowned for its colourful characters and cockney banter. Varney played Reg Furnell, a porter for the long-established fishmongers Preston & Davies, and the series followed his misadventures among the barrows, merchants and white-smocked porters with their fish boxes perched precariously on their heads. He was accompanied by his workmates Old Wol (Reg Lye) and Len (Tony Melody), who regularly laugh, disagree or just needle each other about anything and everything. Reg was married to Irene (Dilys Laye).
The writers for the series were Roy Tuvey and Maurice Sellar who, together, had previous sitcom experience having written Harry Worth's series Thirty Minutes Worth, Frankie Howerd's Whoops Baghdad!, and sketches for The Two Ronnies and Reg Varney's self-titled second sketch show series. However, and despite ITV giving the series a primetime midweek slot, the series was met with a lukewarm reception. Nevertheless, ATV decided to stick with it for a second series but with no improvement in sight it was to be the last. It was also Varney's last sitcom.
Although only two series were made, both were dumped by ATV and didn't exist in the archives until Varney himself produced all six episodes of the second series, which he had taped off-air on his own home video recorder. The sitcom is typical mid 70s fare, with predictable corny/sexist jokes, the conflict with authority figures (in this case Reg's boss Mr Preston - played by Percy Herbert) and the obligatory mini-skirted big-boobed lass. It wasn't a million miles away from On the Buses, but it lacked the characters it required to make it a fan favourite. Coming off a successful run, Reg Varney may have thought the world was his oyster, but sadly Down the 'Gate didn't produce any pearls.
Published on July 24th, 2021. Written by Malcolm Alexander for Television Heaven.