Today we’re going to look at a controversial TV show from Britain that you’re probably never heard of before. To be honest, I had only heard the name of the show, but didn’t know the story behind it, and I’m a pretty huge Anglophile.
Longtime PopCult buddy, Spike Nesmith of Sky 1065 in Clarksburg fame, turned me on to the story of this show via Facebook, and it’s a heck of a tale of corporate broadcast skittishness.
Hardwicke House was supposed to be a regular sitcom when it debuted on Britain’s ad-supported, over the air network ITV in 1987. Set in a fictional London school, the show’s focus was mainly on the teachers, who were an odd lot of discipinarians, slackers and crackpots. The students had their own issues as well. The series of seven episodes kicked off with a one-hour debut, followed the next day by a standard half-hour program.
Due to public outcry and ITV nervousness, the show was yanked from the schedule, and has never been shown again. Five episodes were never aired, including one with guest stars Rik Mayal and Ade Edmondson (seen left, with Roy Kineear). Rumors at the time claimed that the master tapes had been wiped and that the show was lost forever.
This was not the case, but a planned 2018 DVD release was cancelled a the last minute.
The show is really unusual. While starring many veterans of typical “safe” and relatively harmless British sitcoms, like Roy Kinnear (George & Mildred), Roger Sloman (We’ll Think of Something), Tony Haygarth (Farrington Of The FO) and Duncan Preston (Victoria Wood – As Seen On TV), Hardwicke House was an attempt to create a show in the vein of the “alternative comedy” style which was then the hot thing in the UK with shows like The Young Ones, Comic Strip Presents, Saturday Live and French and Saunders. One notable bit of casting among the students is the school bully, Slasher Bates, played by Kevin Allen, uncle of pop star Lily Allen, and a Comic Strip regular.
The unoffical Hardwicke House website explains more about the unorthodox presentation of the show, “It was a brash, over-the-top, somewhat surreal offering with larger-than-life characters. And unusually for a sitcom, it featured no laughter track and no studio sets; it was filmed entirely on location.” This website is the source for most of my background info on the show, and you should check it out for way more details on the show than I can give you here.
Hardwicke House was filmed during the summer of 1986 for Central TV (a local ITV subsidiary) and was scheduled to be shown between February and April 1987. The show was written by Richard Hall and Simon Wright, and it was their first attempt at a sitcom. Wright had previously worked on The Comic Strip Presents and was part of the alternative comedy movement.
Characters on the show use racist, abusive, insulting language, often around children, and there are even implied pedophilic tendencies among the school staff. There’s also bits of surreal slapstick and a tiny bit of endangering students.
Judging the program by today’s standards, it’s pretty tame stuff. You’ll see darker, meaner comedy on almost any episode of Family Guy. But in 1987, in the UK, on ITV and on a program scheduled to air at 8 PM, this was a bit of a shock to the system.
For years the program was a holy grail for fans of British alternative comedy. Five of the seven episodes have never aired, and have never been officially released. After the DVD release was pulled, many fans gave up hope of ever seeing this show.
Then a few weeks ago master tape copies of all seven episodes were posted to YouTube, where you can watch them all for free…at least for now. The most shocking thing about watching these today is how inoffensive they seem. Our culture has changed quite a bit in the ensuing 32 years.
To prove that point, how about we post all seven episodes right here:
Episode One: “The Visit” The one-hour debut introduces the main characters and shows what happens when the South African Ambassador to the UK visits the school.
You can see the rest of the series after the jump…
Episode Two – “First Day Of Term” Students plan a heist of the new shipment of paper and supplies.
Episode Three – “Interview Day” The teachers vie for a new position.
Episode Four – “Prize-Giving” During an assembly to show parents how their students are doing, some of the kids plot to steal parts from the cars in the parking lot.
Episode Five – “Old Boys” Guest stars Ade Edmonson and Rik Mayall are former students turned loan sharks who return to settle a debt incurred by one of the teachers.
Episode Six – “An Inspector Calls” A newbie teacher has to pass an inspection in order to continue teaching at the school.
Episode Seven – “Passion Play” The students put on a play about the Crucifixion of Jesus.
All in all, Hardwicke House is not that shocking, and ITV’s suppression of the series for so long certainly doesn’t make much sense. Still, it’s fun to watch a well-crafted British sitcom that was trying to be cutting edge and traditional at the same time, and the cast is top-notch.
That is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features.