Bowles’ charms make him perfect for the smooth-talking debonair bounder
The Bounder review by Brian Slade
By 1982, Peter Bowles had become one of the most recognisable faces, and indeed voices, of British television. He had somehow managed to hold down lead roles in two sitcoms at the same time, one for the BBC in To The Manor Born, the other at Yorkshire TV in Only When I Laugh. Both were huge successes, so when they came to an end it was inevitable that writer Eric Chappell, who had penned Rising Damp as well as Bowles’s seemingly endless hospital stay as Archie Glover, would have something else up his sleeve. Time to capitalise on the Terry-Thomas like upper class charms that Bowles performed so well, which he did opposite the ever-likeable George Cole in two series of The Bounder.
Howard Booth is the most gentlemanly of prisoners. After his two years living at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he is decked in a pin-stripe suit, pocket chain watch, golden gloves and handkerchief and a bowler hat. He even has the good manners to tip the prison guard as he steps out to freedom and into his awaiting taxi.
Booth’s demeanour is what got him his stay in prison in the first place. He is, for want of a better term, a cad. Except, of course, Chappell found a better term – a bounder. He was inside for a dodgy investment firm that embezzled plenty of people’s money from them. Of course, if you asked him, it wasn’t his fault. He bravely fell on the sword to protect his accountant, a family man who of course couldn’t possibly face the prospect of prison.
On the day of Howard’s release, Trevor Mountjoy (Cole) is returning home to his loving wife and the life he has battled hard to achieve. He’s had a particularly good day as in his job as an estate agent, he has managed to shift a property that is built next to a cemetery, a fact that they didn’t notice, and he was in no rush to mention. Alas for Trevor, his wife Mary (Rosalind Ayres) has a large, strong drink waiting for him. He’ll need it – Howard has been released and is coming to stay.
Howard is Mary’s brother and was best man at her and Trevor’s wedding. He has always brought stress with him through his dishonesty, so Trevor knows what’s coming when Howard arrives. Carrying a fake limp, Howard immediately talks down to Trevor, stealing his desk, his chair and contravening all privacies and boundaries.
While Howard has been in jail, Trevor has tried his best to keep quiet about Howard’s existence. However, when forced to approach the subject he has told people that he has been in Zimbabwe to avoid the shame. There’s a certain admiration from Howard and so he embellishes that story when unattached neighbour Laura (Isla Blair) comes round. The fake limp, which he blamed on prison conditions when quizzed by Trevor, has now been attributed to a goring from a rhinoceros in Africa.
By the end of the first episode, Howard has already impinged on Trevor and Mary’s life, making their marriage unstable and costing Trevor business. Trevor starts to avoid people meeting Howard, who has now decided to tell people he is a writer. The limp mysteriously disappears as Howard tries to woo Laura, crediting acupuncture for the recovery.
Throughout the first series, a familiar pattern develops of Howard telling lie upon lie to get his way. It’s not always for a dishonourable cause, such as when he tries to get a slap-up hotel stay for Mary and Trevor’s wedding anniversary, but as with any web of deceit, his schemes invariably come unstuck, often with Trevor being implicated. By the end of the first series, Howard’s shameful past catches up with him when Laura eventually learns of the crimes that sent Howard to prison – particularly relevant as she was one of the victims of his fraudulent activities.
By the second series, Trevor’s marriage has collapsed, and Mary has gone. Howard is immediately suspicious of Trevor’s behaviour as he continually tries to keep face, refusing to admit she has left him. After the marriage break-up is revealed, a whole new line of misbehaviour opens up for Howard as he starts his own dating agency and interferes when Trevor and Laura become closer.
The Bounder isn’t Eric Chappell’s finest work but given the range of shows he had success with, that’s not an immediate sign of a poor show. George Cole is always an affable presence on screen, while Bowles’s charms make him perfect for the smooth-talking debonair bounder that the script calls for. It won’t be remembered as either Cole’s or Bowles’s finest role, but for understated and safe 1980s comedy, The Bounder had enough about it to be remembered with fondness.
Published on August 29th, 2023. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.