CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Hallelujah for a short and sweet return of The Vicar Of Dibley…
The Vicar Of Dibley In Lockdown
Red Penguins: Murder, Money And Ice Hockey
Old jokes might not always be the best but they’re the ones we love most.
That’s what makes it such a pleasure to see Dawn French back as the Rev Geraldine Granger in The Vicar Of Dibley In Lockdown (BBC1).
That crack she made about how precious our children are (‘so sell them and buy a Porsche!’) has been doing the rounds since the days of King Herod Antipas . . . though the punchline back then was ‘buy a chariot’.
But it’s still worth a chuckle, and so was the episode from the sitcom’s first series in 1994 which was repeated before the ten minutes of new material.
CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Old jokes might not always be the best but they’re the ones we love most
The tale of how the vicar tried to boost attendance at the village fete, by announcing that Elton John would be there to judge the Most Suggestively Shaped Vegetable contest, had everything that made the show so popular — silly puns, catchphrases, a proper storyline, a smattering of irreverent humour about Christianity and a couple of rude gags that just scraped in under the watershed.
It also had Kylie Minogue, who turned up instead of Elton for reasons that weren’t divulged, and didn’t need to be. She’s Kylie! What more do you want?
When I remember old episodes of The Vicar Of Dibley, it’s always through a gentle haze. Watching this one in high-definition revealed why: the outdoor shots of the church and the village green really were filmed in soft focus, as if to emphasis that the vicar’s patch of England was a little piece of paradise.
The show’s creators, Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, have written three ten-minute reprises that see Dawn chatting to parishioners via her laptop during the past nine months. ‘It’s Geraldine, your buxom vicar,’ she announced happily.
Favourite characters were saluted. Old Jim Trott was hiding in the woods, because he misunderstood the two-metre rule and was trying to keep two miles away from human habitation.
Owen Newitt was more interested in his goats, and parish council chairman David Horton was boring his son Hugo with the same old anecdotes.
We also glimpsed Hugo (James Fleet), but not Trevor Peacock or Gary Waldhorn who played Jim and David. Sadly, Roger Lloyd Pack (who played Owen) has died.
CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: It is such a pleasure to see Dawn French back as the Rev Geraldine Granger in The Vicar Of Dibley In Lockdown (BBC1)
So, too, has Emma Chambers, who portrayed the gloriously daffy Alice Tinker. There was no mention this time of Alice, but surely there will be in a future short.
In the meantime, we can join Geraldine in her lockdown workout, exercising for exactly as long as it takes to hum the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.
Short and sweet, just like this return to Dibley. But the account of how American sports investors tried to spin a quick profit after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in Red Penguins: Murder, Money And Ice Hockey (BBC4), was decidedly overlong.
The film-makers seemed to imagine they had uncovered an extraordinary story of naïve entrepreneurs and devious communists.
In fact, this was just a tacky tale about some chancers from the U.S. hoping to exploit an undeveloped market. They ran into problems with corruption and Moscow gangsters that were entirely predictable.
The Yanks were aggrieved when their new business partners pocketed all the money. The Ruskies were disgusted by the cheerleaders and corporate logos.
Everybody got greedy at the delusional idea of Disney investing a hundred million dollars or so.
Then the ‘tax police’ arrived . . . hoodlums with submachine guns. It was all very seedy.
This is what happened when the Cold War ended. It all turned to mucky slush.
Retail-speak of the night: ‘We’ve definitely got some opportunity to reinvent this store a little bit,’ huffed a manager on Inside Poundland: Secrets From The Shop Floor (C4). Narrator Sunetra Sarker supplied a translation: ‘Sort this mess out.’