Rediscovered scripts of landmark comedy series published
‘All Gas and Gaiters’, the influential hit BBC comedy series about the Church of England, was aired between 1966 – 1971 and paved the way for many of the UK’s most popular TV sitcoms, including Yes Minister and Dad’s Army. Fifty years after writing the first episode the writers have compiled a selection of the recently rediscovered scripts so that a new generation can enjoy ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ in book form. Four books will be published at intervals, each containing eight episodes with introductions in the form of conversations between the authors, whose memories of writing and producing television comedy in the 60s are both revealing and amusing.
Written by actors Pauline Devaney and Edwin Apps ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ was an instant success with both viewers and critics alike. It ran for five series and at its peak it was the third most watched programme on BBC television, with weekly audiences of 10.5 million viewers. According to the BBC’s Audience Research data it had been watched by 19.3% of the UK population and it was equally successful in Australia, New Zealand and throughout the Commonwealth. Among its most devoted fans were Nancy Mitford and the Queen Mother, who insisted on arranging her diary to avoid missing it.
Only 11 episodes of All Gas and Gaiters remain following an economy drive in 1972 when the BBC erased the tapes so that they could be used again. However, the series remains popular, is still referred to in the press as the “classic comedy series about the Church of England ” and the radio adaptations, which the authors wrote in the early seventies, are frequently repeated — most recently on BBC Radio 4 Extra in March 2015.
Commissioned by Frank Muir, the then BBC Head of Comedy, ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ started as ‘The Bishop Rides Again’ in the try-out series, Comedy Playhouse. Its instant success with the audience at the recording led to a series being commissioned even before it was broadcast. Within the rebellious context of the 1960s the show played on the farcical intrigues and rivalries of the eccentric senior clergy of the fictional St Ogg’s Cathedral with great comic effect. Famous for its quartet of characters who blended holiness with egotism it starred the popular actors William Mervyn as the easy-going Bishop, Robertson Hare as the elderly Archdeacon who enjoys a tipple and has an eye for the ladies, Derek Nimmo as the naive and accident prone Bishop’s Chaplain and John Barron as the overbearing Dean.
Asked why they had chosen to write about the Church, Edwin Apps commented: “ Our experience of adapting stage farces for television had shown us that they were becoming almost impossible to write, as they depend on transgressing rules – and rules, in the early sixties, with its Permissive Society, were going out of fashion. But the Church, we realised, was the one remaining institution where rules were still in place and therefore a rich environment for comedy.”
Initially cautious, the clergy soon became the show’s greatest fans and while at first French cathedrals were used for filming to avoid upsetting susceptibilities, by the third series the deans of Chichester, the cathedral Winchester and several others were competing to have their cathedrals become the cathedral of St.Oggs.
Pauline Devaney was the first woman to write ‘situation comedy’ for television and her recollections give an insight into the sexist attitudes she encountered, from the studio audience who were uncomfortable with a woman doing the warm-up, to the all-male team of the BBC Light Entertainment Department, who she says: “could not come to terms with the fact that a young woman they knew as an actress was the co-author of a successful situation comedy. So whenever I put in an appearance, there was a great deal of shuffling of feet, clearing of throats and talking loudly among themselves.”
In the 1960s ‘situation comedy’ was a new form of writing that had emerged with the need for a comic half-hour format on television. The earliest versions came from the music hall and were based on comedians in sketches extended to fill the half hour slot. With their experience as actors Pauline Devaney and Edwin Apps took the three-act play as their model, a decision which was to influence the future development of situation comedy.
Stuart Allen, the veteran TV comedy producer, who produced All Gas and Gaiters and then went on to produce some of most successful TV comedy series of the seventies and eighties, including On the Buses, Mind Your Language and Love thy Neighbour, remarked: “All Gas and Gaiters was an influential landmark for television situation comedies. It broke away from the convention of shows that were solely starring vehicles for a single performer like Arthur Haynes, Harry Worth and Tony Hancock, by featuring a team of actors who were all equally important. It’s format inspired many of the UK’s best-loved series of the seventies and eighties, including Yes Minister, Dad’s Army and On the Buses.”
‘All Gas and Gaiters: The Lost Episodes’ is published by Durpey-Allen (http://www.durpey-allen.co.uk/ ) and will be available from 16th June 2015 (ISBN: 978-1-910317-02-0).
For more information or to arrange an interview with Pauline Devaney and/or Edwin Apps please contact:
Shelley Bennett on 07890101841 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
Pauline Devaney trained at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and has worked as a professional actress and writer all her life, playing major roles in both the theatre and Television. She was the first woman to write ‘situation comedy’ for television and co-wrote the highly successful BBC TV comedy series ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ from 1966 to 1971, with her then husband Edwin Apps.
Her one-woman stage play ‘To Marie with Love’, which she wrote for herself and was based on the life of Marie Stopes, won a Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Festival in 1985 and she toured extensively with the play across the UK and abroad for a number of years.
Pauline taught creative writing and drama at The Actors Centre and The Actors Institute in London, and began painting in1999, which she now concentrates on exclusively. She regularly exhibits her work and lives in Lewes, East Sussex.
For more information visit : http://www.paulinedevaney.com/index.html
Following a successful career performing in repertory and West End theatre in the 1950s and early 1960s Edwin Apps first came to prominence on British television as Mr Halliforth in ‘Whacko’ with Jimmy Edwards, written by Frank Muir and Dennis Norden in 1957, subsequently appearing in almost all the well-known comedy shows of that time:
‘The World of Wooster’, ‘Harry Worth’, ‘Steptoe & Son’, ‘Benny Hill’, as well as successful series such as ‘Danger Man’ and ‘The Avengers’.
Turning to writing with his then wife Pauline Devaney in the ’60s, they began adapting farces for television, including ‘Charlie’s Aunt’ starring Richard Briers, and went on to write the classic comedy series about the Church of England, ‘All Gas and Gaiters’.
In 1976 Edwin left England and moved to the Marais Poitevin in the west of France and began to paint. Today he is known and critically acclaimed in France for his narrative driven paintings of bishops in unconventional situations, which he continues to paint and exhibit.
Information about Edwin Apps’s paintings can be found at: http://apps.cyberscope.fr/
Durpey-Allen Publishing Ltd. http://www.durpey-allen.co.uk
Headquartered in Tonbridge, Kent, Durpey-Allen is an independent publishing company specializing in history, novels and other fiction genres. Publishing in English and French its parent company Durand-Peyroles is based in France and owned by Patrick Durand-Peyroles, whose British, American and French roots inspire and shape the company’s eclectic catalogue.