Think of writer Roy Clarke and you think immediately of the string of long running, highly successful, comedy series he created for the BBC - series like Last of the Summer Wine, Open All Hours and Keeping Up Appearances. It is less commonly known that Clarke's first television series was for Independent Television - The Misfit produced by ATV in 1970-71, in which Ronald Fraser played Basil Allenby-Johnson ("Badger" for short) returned from a colonial life in Malaya to an England he longer recognised. Even less well known is the fact that Fraser's character was born a couple of years earlier in an episode of the BBC drama The Troubleshooters, also written by Clarke. The Misfit ran for 13 episodes and each week gave viewers Allenby-Johnson's bemused take on a different aspect of 70's "Swinging Britain" with episode titles like "... on the Place of Women in the Home" and "... on Europe and Foreigners and Things". There was no shortage of targets - industrial relations (in which both management "cowardly, weak and obsessed with youth to the exclusion of ability" and trades unions "these days you get what you are ready to strike for" took a pasting); feminism; permissive and undisciplined youth; age prejudice by employers; student demos; the press; and the health service. In one episode Badger was appalled to discover that the forces of revolution had even wormed their way into the church.
Comments like "Few sights are more peaceful than the tranquil and undisturbed stillness of the nationalised labour force" earned Badger the nickname "the Alf Garnett of the middle classes". He was certainly right wing, but whereas in Til Death Us Do Part Johnny Speight deliberately made Alf Garnett an unlikeable bigot, Badger's swipes were usually justified in the context of the stories and struck a chord with many viewers, winning the series a big following. Ronald Fraser enjoyed playing the character, saying at the time "He epitomises all that was great about the Edwardian gentleman. Honest as the day is long. Loyal, faithful, loving people whatever their colour or creed, and loved by them. And unable to understand the Permissive Society. I'm absolutely in sympathy with him, except that I'm not quite so square." The series won Roy Clarke the 1970 Writers Guild Award for the best writer of a British TV series. Fittingly the final episode guest starred Michael Bates. Bates had much in common with Badger's colonial past, having been born in the Far East and served as a wartime Ghurka Major. Bates of course, went on to star in Clarke's Last of the Summer Wine a year or two later.
Published on January 6th, 2019. Review: Dave Rice.