The Rag Trade

1961 | United Kingdom

Classic, and in many ways groundbreaking comedy series that had its roots in the Boulting Brothers hilarious 1959 cinema released satire of British trade unionism, I'm All Right Jack. The series was groundbreaking in as much as the best lines all went to the female members who made up a majority of the cast. 

Set within the working class environs of Fenner Fashions, an East End sweat-shop owned by Harold Fenner (Peter Jones) that turned out coats, dresses or just about anything else 'the client' wanted in the way of women's apparel, but run by feisty shop steward Paddy (Miriam Karlin) who could bring production to a stand-still with a cry of "Everybody Out!" a call that became so popular that it was adopted as a national catchphrase. 

Trying to mediate between the shop floor and the management but with little success was Reg (Reg Varney) whilst Sheila Hancock and Esma Cannon added equally wonderful comic support. The series was a runaway success but that success was somewhat short lived. Cast changes meant that by season three Barbara Windsor, Wanda Ventham and Irene Handl were brought in to replace outgoing cast members, but by that time the edge had gone and the true-to-life ability of the unions to bring industry to a stand-still was no longer cannon fodder for situation comedy. The scriptwriters (Ronald's Wolfe and Chesney) went on to create a new series for Varney (On The Buses), before returning with a revival in 1977. However, after making a pilot (which was never shown) the BBC decided to reject a new series and so the writers defected with it to LWT. Only Karlin and Jones returned in their original roles aided and abetted this time by former On The Buses star Anna Karen (reprising her role of Olive - bus driver Stan's frumpy sister), Gillian Taylforth (who, like Karen went on to star in EastEnders), Diane Langton and Christopher Beeny (after Upstairs Downstairs). 

That's not quite the end of the story as far as The Rag Trade goes, because the series has been remade around the world under various other titles, the most successful being Scandinavia's Fredericksson's Fabriks (1989-94) and the most recent Portugal's Trapos and Company in 1995. A 1978 version for US television failed to go beyond the pilot.

Published on January 24th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.