Friday, March 10, 2006

Sitcom psychosis

A weird thing happened this morning. As I woke I realised I was singing the signature tune to "Dogfood Dan and the Carmarthen Cowboy". In fact I'm still doing it. I can't stop. Of course, singing any TV signature tune is reason enough for a check-up from the neck-up, but for those of you of years too tender to recall this most cringingly awful of sitcoms, I can assure you it probably holds some title or other for being the worst moment in the otherwise fine history of BBC Light Entertainment. But then again, this was the era of "On the Buses".
Screened in 1988, the idea having been taken from a play of the same name several years earlier, DD&CC featured two archetypal long-distance lorry drivers, one from Hull and one from Carmarthen  - all check shirts, Yorkie bars and CB radios - each hauling a lorry-load of dog food to each others' home towns once a week. They always stopped in a transport caff half way and got to know each other. Having reached their destinations, each used to go out on the town, and each ended up 'befriending' the other's wife. Being 80s BBC, it was all very innocent (in those days you still had to use your imagination which, call me a weirdo, was far better than having silicone shoved in your face).
Although they talked to each other about their exploits, and to their wives about their truck-driving friends, the use of false names ensured the dimwitted characters never made the connections. Combined with the use of no-name stage actors, this inflexible plot was clearly never going to go anywhere, and the BBC - in its wisdom - pulled the plug after 7 episodes, each one more numbing than the one before. Stripped to its bare essentials, DD&CC was a typical sitcom mix of the audience knowing things the actors didn't, the problem was terrible characters, stiff acting and a framework that was never originally intended to be anything more than a kiss-me-quick-style stage comedy. It was a bit like trying to turn Charlie's Aunt into something to rival Fawlty Towers - it was never going to happen.
One thing, though, has stayed with me all down the years. The Yorkshire driver, played by Martin Storrey (yes, exactly), proffered this enigmatic phrase "By the cringe!" at least once per episode which, I gather, is some sort of East Riding version of the Mancunian "By heck" or, as we say in Norn Iron, "Goodness, how eminently surprising". Anyway, this stupid saying somehow entered my active vocabulary and has refused to leave ever since. At some point, nearly all new friends I make become very puzzled by this turn of phrase, and I end up having to tell them all about this really shite sitcom from 20 years back while they shift nervously in their seats and wonder whether my pockets contain any pills I should have been taking.
It's all very life-inhibiting really.


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