Oh Happy Band tv series

Oh Happy Band!

1980 - United Kingdom

Oh Happy Band! is a pleasant enough romp

review by Brian Slade

David Croft seemed to be the man with the Midas touch when it came to British sitcoms. Whether working with Jimmy Perry (Dad’s Army, Hi-de-hi!) or Jeremy Lloyd (Allo,’Allo!, Are You Being Served?) for several decades the idea that he might have a flop on his hands seemed absurd. However, the comedy genius did have the odd miss, one of which seemed to have the right ingredients for success – the Harry Worth vehicle, Oh Happy Band!

Oh Happy Band! arrived in the BBC schedules in the autumn of 1980. Croft and Lloyd were still going strong with Are You Being Served? but despite its success, it was starting to run out of places to go. It’s final three series were spaced out at every other year, giving time for Croft and Lloyd to come up with something new. Oh Happy Band! told the story of the village of Nettlebridge as its residents are aghast at the news that a new airport is proposed that would run right through their village.

Oh Happy Band tv series

The series was actually written for Gorden Kaye. Kaye had taken minor roles in other shows in the Croft stable, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Are You Being Served? and Croft had liked him enough to pen a whole series tailored for his talents. What Croft hadn’t bargained for was a strike at ITV. Kaye’s schedule was now such that he could only commit to a pilot episode, meaning Croft and Lloyd were left with a choice of ditching the project or recasting…they opted for the latter.

Harry Worth had been a fixture of British comedy on television during the 1960s, although his success had faded somewhat in the 1970s. Croft had worked with him on Titipu, a television version of The Mikado in which Worth played Ko-Ko and so he knew what he was capable of. Worth was free and so he took over the Kaye role and after the pilot was deemed worthy of a full series, production went ahead.

Oh Happy Band tv series

Worth’s character, Harry Beddington, is a piano tuner and leader of the local brass band. During regular band practice, local landowner Mr Braithwaite (John Horsley) arrives with the horrifying news that an airport is to be built through the village. The band decides to take action immediately, but there is an element of mistrust with Braithwaite, who despite his protestations to the contrary, could stand to make a hefty profit if he sold out to the developers. As such, Mr Herbert (Jonathan Cecil) ensures that Harry is elected as a more trustworthy leader of the newly formed campaign group. They start with trying to persuade the Ministry of Agriculture that an endangered species of bird is located in the village, the only place in Britain it can be found. Other attempts include unearthing Roman remains and trying to use an allegedly holy well as reasons to keep the development at bay. The villagers come together to record a song to highlight their plight and the series culminates in the band attempting to get into the Guinness Book of Records by playing their instruments 500 ft in the air in an array of hot air balloons.

The show had all the hallmarks of a Croft success. Aside from Worth, who despite his falling star value remained a hugely respected comedy figure, the cast contained a number of ‘you have been watching’ regulars, including Harold Bennett, most famous for portraying Young Mr Grace in Are You Being Served? – there was even a cameo for Kaye ahead of his casting as Rene in ‘Allo, ‘Allo! There was also a regular role for Billy Burden, who Croft would call upon again for Grace and Favour.

Croft himself felt that the change in casting was to the detriment of the show. He had planned on Kaye being a man full of devious schemes, but in changing the lead to Harry Worth, the audience were only ever going to accept Harry for what they knew him for – a somewhat bewildered, well-meaning character the public could root for. Kaye would have brought no such pre-conceived persona and that was why Croft felt the show hadn’t worked. The remainder of the characters were conceived, in his words, as ‘well-meaning, bumbling idiots.’ With Worth portraying Mr Beddington in exactly that style, the more scheming elements were placed in the hands of Mr Braithwaite, but it didn’t work in the same way.

Oh Happy Band tv series

The BBC did like what they saw and had decided to commission a second series, but Croft wasn’t convinced and opted to pull the plug. Whether he was right to do so is a judgement call and the show has never reappeared for commercial release, but internet pieces show that while it wasn’t Croft’s finest work, with the addition of the upbeat feel of the Aldershot Brass Ensemble and the ‘I spy’ game of other Croft/Perry/Lloyd actors, Oh Happy Band! is a pleasant enough romp and the last starring vehicle for the under-appreciated Worth.

Published on November 25th, 2022. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.

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