Valentine Park

Valentine Park

1987 - United Kingdom

Liz Smith is of course a scene stealer

Valentine Park review by Brian Slade

Despite several attempts at sitcom stardom of his own, by the mid-1980s, Ken Jones was still most recognised for being one of the inmates of Slade prison, snitch Bernard ‘Horrible’ Ives – all the more surprising given that he only appeared in a handful of episodes and the 1979 movie adaptation of Porridge.

Porridge

Jones had tried, and failed, to juggle appearing in Porridge with his role as Rex, one of the core characters in the office-based sitcom The Squirrels, hence his departure from the former. Despite appearing as a more prominent character for every one of the 28 episodes of The Squirrels, there was no escaping that Jones involvement in a classic like Porridge would gain him more notoriety than a less renowned show like The Squirrels. The Nesbitt's are Coming, Seconds Out, Dead Ernest and Behind the Bike Sheds would offer further attempts at success, but perhaps Jones’s best effort at leading a sitcom came in 1987 in the under-appreciated Valentine Park.

Valentine Park

Valentine Park told the story of Tom Morris, played by Jones, an employee of the council whose job it was to maintain the standards in the park of the title. Despite the park’s name, life was not a bed of roses for Tom. For starters, his work life is made more difficult by the incompetents around him. He already has an overzealous pair of park security officers in the form of Bodie and, in the first series, Doyle – but not those two. This pair, played by Daniel Peacock and Bernard Padden, are militant in the extreme as they hide in bushes and bins waiting to pounce on any potential misdemeanour by visitors to the park. Letting tyres down on children’s bikes and hounding pensioners out for walking too slowly are typical behaviour, particularly for Bodie, whose thirst for power runs to a uniform and a walkie talkie to help set traps for the unsuspecting parkgoers.

In his office, or more accurately, shed, Tom has grown frustrated at the line of poor-quality gardeners sent his way to assist. But whatever he’s had to deal with before pales into insignificance when he reads the file of the latest person heading for the park…his Godson, Max, who left his job digging graves after felling a tree into the cemetery greenhouse.

Valentine Park

Max (David Thewlis) is well meaning, but somewhere between accident prone and a walking disaster zone. As a child, his parents left for Australia, leaving him in the hands of an aunt who died a week after he went to stay with her. Tom subsequently rescued him from a children’s home (he was 20 years old by then!), but now Max was back, in need of a job and a guiding hand in life. Guilt tripping Tom into not ending his job before he started, Max gets to work on jobs that Tom doesn’t want to do, like clearing a poorly placed pile of manure and taking a quick lesson in taxidermy to stuff his landlady’s tortoise.

Tom’s landlady is another source of stress in his life. Not that she isn’t pleasant enough, but she is eccentric in the extreme. Mrs Giles (Liz Smith) has been his doting landlady for some years, even allowing Tom to build a conservatory on the back of her house to home his plants, the one place he can find solace from the stressful world he inhabits.

Valentine Park

Within a few episodes of the series starting, Tom’s life gets more stressful. With nowhere to live, Max has convinced him to ask if Mrs Giles will allow him to spend the night while he tries to find something more permanent. The move turns out to be a disaster, as Mrs Giles believes that Max is her long-lost grandson, Billy, whom she hasn’t seen since he left to join the foreign legion. Immediately she goes into smothering grandmother mode, evicting Tom to the rackety shed (which loses its roof in a storm) in order that Max can take his room, the spare being saved for her cat, Mr Tebbit.

For the remainder of the first series, Tom tries his best to get Max to confess the truth to Mrs Giles so that he can get his room back, but even when that happens, Mrs Giles just laughs hysterically at the idea, believing it to be a prank. While Tom is trying his best to get Max booted, Max himself is trying to woo a hairdresser new to the neighbourhood, Claire (Katy Newell), although her mother believes he is a pervert from the park and so resists Max’s every attempt to develop a relationship with her daughter. By the end of the first series, a sequence of misunderstandings leads to Max following Claire to France, even though she hasn’t gone there, and confessing all to Mrs Giles in a letter after he had left.

Valentine Park

The second series opens with Mrs Giles accepting that Max is indeed who he says he is, but after a brief spell of anguish, she accepts him all the same. Max goes back to trying to make Claire his girlfriend, while Tom has new challenges to deal with at work. One is Mrs Giles, who has now started running the park’s tea shop. The other is the new boss, a former colleague of Tom’s called Gordon Smackley (Ellis Dale) who has no tolerance for old friendships and is even more militant than Bodie.

Valentine Park may have only lasted 12 episodes, but it was actually a very enjoyable show. Liz Smith is of course a scene stealer with her uproarious eccentricities, while Thewlis is completely believable as the unfortunate buffoon, loveable in a Frank Spencer kind of way. Although Max’s efforts with Claire sometimes dominate the storylines more than Tom’s misadventures, Ken Jones is on fine form. With scenes of physical exasperation and some very funny lines, Jones turns in a performance somewhere between a befuddled Bob Todd and a hyperactive Leonard Rossiter. While Porridge may be Jones’s most noteworthy success, Valentine Park was a hugely likable entry on his CV that could easily have offered more had Central chosen to recommission.

Published on March 5th, 2024. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.

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