David Croft and Jimmy Perry had the midas touch when it came to comedy writing, and by the end of the 1970s, with Dad's Army having finished and It Ain't Half Hot Mum coming to a close, the pair were looking for a new project. The duo had both worked at Butlins holiday camp - Perry as a redcoat and Croft as a show producer. It was these shared experiences that gave life to one of the BBC's top comedies of the 1980s, Hi-de-hi!
Once again having the foresight to set their programme at a particular time in the past, Croft and Perry's latest offering brought together a ragtag collection of failed individuals to a fictitious holiday camp in 1959 - Maplins. The crooked camp host Ted Bovis, played expertly by northern comic Paul Shane, was constantly fiddling bingo numbers, faking birthdays for tips and drinks from the campers and dishing out advice to innocent comic sidekick Spike Dixon (Jeffrey Holland) - 'First rule of comedy, Spike' was the weekly sermon from Ted.
It is to Ted's disgust that he is overlooked for the role of Entertainments Manager for a Cambridge Professor in the form of Jeffrey Fairbrother. Played in an exquisitely dead-pan manner by theatre school graduate Simon Cadell, the 'archae-bloomin-ologist' is lost with the campers and has no affinity for comedy or the low brow events of the holiday camp scene, and so the focus of the show becomes the fish-out-of-water professor constantly struggling to acclimatise to his new surroundings, while also keeping Bovis under control.
To make Fairbrother's life more complicated, two ladies are constantly on his case. Pouting chief-yellowcoat, Gladys Pugh (Ruth Madoc), swoons after the sophistication of Jeffrey but is spurned at every turn. Meanwhile, potty chalet maid Peggy Olrinshaw, superbly played by Su Pollard, dreams of stardom as a yellowcoat.
The show didn't need bedding in to find an audience, garnering rave reviews and high viewing figures from its pilot show in January 1980. For five series, everything worked like clockwork. Although our politically correct world would now frown on such things as a drunken Punch & Judy man or a 'Show Us Your Bum' competition, there is a refreshing charm that still connects today, owing much to the writing skills of Croft and Perry and the high-quality cast they had assembled.
After five years, Cadell left the show for fear of type-casting, and so the dynamic changed with the arrival of David Griffin as Squadron Leader Clive Dempster. He and Gladys became far more than friends, but some of the programme's charm disappeared with the departure of Fairbrother. That said, viewers didn't drift away and the show completed nine seasons before a poignant final episode in which Maplins is sold and the camp is closed. The emotion of Bovis as he waits by the pool before leaving is real and the entire episode is reflective of a wonderful period of time that was perfectly encapsulated by this comedy gem.
'Ted can't hear you - Hi-de-hi!'
Published on December 21st, 2018. Written by Brian Slade (May 2018) for Television Heaven.