Mention Jimmy Perry and people’s thoughts immediately turn to his partnership with David Croft that spawned such sitcom gold as Dad’s Army, Hi-de-hi! and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. However, in 1971 Perry had his one and only crack at individual sitcom success in the almost entirely lost Lollipop Loves Mr Mole.
Lollipop and Mr Mole are Maggie and Reg Robinson. Maggie, played with traditional gusto by comedy legend Peggy Mount, has waited until comparatively late in life to find Mr Right, and he eventually surfaced in the form of Reg (Hugh Lloyd), an equally late entry in the marriage stakes. Their marriage has a pattern to it – Maggie is in charge and Reg is mostly in fear.
Attempts at domestic bliss are soon blown by the arrival of Reg’s brother and his wife Violet from overseas. Bruce, played by Rex Garner, has money troubles, namely in that he doesn’t have any and wants to do as little as possible about it for as long as he can get away with. He is full of manly advice for his hen-pecked brother, and tries to appear the dominant male for his timid wife, but in reality he is largely a failure, with neither cash nor a job, and seemingly no inclination to get either while able to stay with his brother. Violet is well aware of the imposition their presence brings on Reg and Maggie, and Pat Coombs excels as the scatty sister-in-law.
Across two series in the early seventies, the two couples are largely at war. Bruce’s loafing ways do not sit well with Maggie whose frustrations with him are mostly conveyed to Reg as she tries to coax some more forceful actions from her husband. Reg, however, is as timid with his brother as he is with his wife, worrying about upsetting anybody and trying hard to play peace-keeper. Inevitably, when unable to carry out Maggie’s orders in taking control of Bruce, Reg has to stand aside as Maggie herself takes control, with regular angry confrontations as she either tries to evict Bruce and Violet or at the very least, get them to pay their way.
The comedy cannot escape comparison with George and the Dragon, relying as it does on the whirlwind power of Mount. It fails in comparison, but its success is in its performances rather than its scripts. Lloyd, one of comedy’s more underrated performers, is suitably neurotic and under the thumb, while Garner gives a fine performance as he flits between dominant husband and brother and crumbling, fearful brother-in-law. But undoubtedly the principal success is the chemistry between Mount and Coombs. Mount may not be quite as fearful as in some of her roles, but as her character’s blood boils at both the imposition of Bruce and Violet’s freeloading and the subservient manner in which Reg deals with them, so Coombs delivers on every over the top, jumpy, submissive moment when Mount is in full flow.
The show registered in the top ten programmes on transmission, but it did fall some way below the high standards Perry achieved with his other work. Perry and Croft sitcoms rarely dipped into the marital farce territory, and Perry’s lifetime experiences in particular were normally a good source of comedy material, rather than domestic arrangements.
Despite its lack of notable success, however, Lollipop Loves Mr Mole (shortened to Lollipop for series two) did prove fruitful for a few reasons. It was during this show that a certain Michael Bates, guesting in one episode, was heard talking in Urdu and Perry, by now on the lookout for actors for It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, called him in for the controversially successful role of Rangi Ram. Meanwhile, in Mount and Coombs, the performances gave a glorious taster of what was ahead when the pair shared a similarly imbalanced friendship in You’re Only Young Twice.
Jimmy Perry, as he was with most of his solo work, was somewhat scathing of his efforts when reflecting in later life, but even if it’s just for the glory of seeing Mount and Coombs developing their excellent on-screen partnership, Lollipop Loves Mr Mole deserves a respectful nod for its contribution to the world of screen comedy.
About the writer of this article:
Born and raised in Dorset, Brian Slade turned his back on a twenty-five-year career in IT in order to satisfy his writing passions. After success with magazine articles and smaller biographical pieces, he published his first full-length work, `Simon Cadell: The Authorised Biography'.
Brian is a devoted fan of the comedy stars of yesteryear, citing Eric Morecambe, Ken Dodd, Harpo Marx and Dudley Moore amongst his personal favourites. He was drawn to the story of Simon Cadell through not only `Hi-de-hi!' but also `Life Without George', a programme he identified with having grown up in the Thatcher era.
Published on April 26th, 2021. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.