Before I get started I should point out that what you see here is severely truncated compared to my original plans (hence the rubbish title ‘A First Look’). For this article I have relied on one man to share with me his memories of this obscure radio show and that man was Rob Grant. I’ve been sitting on his comments since his interview, waiting to see if I could gather any more information for this article and accompanying episode guide but I’ve not managed a sausage so I thought I’d run with what I have.
Wrinkles has never received a repeat run or any form of commercial release, but this show was Rob and Doug’s gateway into radio work and would eventually lead to the seminal (in terms of Red Dwarf) shows, Cliche and Son and Cliche. Wrinkles was set in an old people’s home and followed the lives of the caretaker, the housekeeper and the slightly batty residents. To start us off, Rob Grant recalls how the series came about:
“Our friend and mentor, a North Country radio producer called Mike Craig had done a few shows with a wonderful old comedian, Tom Mennard. Tom was our kind of comic, in that he didn’t tell jokes as such, but had these fabulous, surreal little stories he used to spin, which had the oddest characters in them, and were very funny indeed. Mike asked us to write a pilot for him, and we thought we could do something that wouldn’t be traditional, middle of the road radio fodder: something a bit different. We came up with the idea of making Tom the caretaker of an Old People’s Home, which was populated by, well, loonies. The voices of authority figures were played by musical instruments. I have no idea how it got a commission.”
So, Wrinkles was originally written as a vehicle for the Leeds born, stand-up comedian, Tom Mennard. He had previously played Mess Orderly in a 1970s episode of Dad’s Army and in the same year of the first series of Wrinkles (1980) he was appearing on TV as Mr. Scargill on All Creatures Great and Small.
And, so, onto the supporting cast, and there’s a couple of very familiar names in there.
“David Ross played ‘Mr. P’, who was an annoyingly enthusiastic septuagenarian. David is a very funny comedy actor (He played the original Kryten), Gordon Salkilld played ‘Arnold’, a pessimistic depressive. Gordon was a deadpan actor, much in the Norman Lovett mould (He played Holly’s chess-playing computer buddy in Red Dwarf). Mike cast Ballard Berkeley in the series, and we couldn’t think of anything to do with him other than make him a military type (He’d played the Major in Fawlty Towers). Anthea Askey played the housekeeper.”
Nick Maloney (later to work with Grant and Naylor on Cliche and Son of Cliche) also played a character who’d previously worked on a lighthouse, and so, had to shout all the time due to fog horn related deafness.
As Rob pointed out. we’ve already had a sample of the talents of David Ross and Gordon Salkilld from their appearances in Red Dwarf. The thought of hearing Gordon Salkilld performing a sustained role in a Grant Naylor sit-com sounds irresistible to me, as I thought his small appearance in Better than Life was great.
Rob talks more about the experience of working with the comedian, Tom Mennard:
“It was an invaluable experience working with Tom Mennard, who was just as funny off stage as on. You never knew where you were with him. One minute, you’d be walking along a corridor with him, talking about the script, then you’d turn round and he’d be talking to the floor of the lift, saying ‘Well how the bloody hell did you get down there?’ as a crowd gathered around him.”
This guy sounds fantastic – I must dig up some of his stand-up sometime.
Of course, all this research into the actors involved in this sit-com just makes me even more anxious about the fact that I’ve not heard it. The BBC seems to have lost (or binned) all copies of this show from the archive as my requests for repeats, made to BBC7, have drawn a blank. I’m dying to hear at least one episode to get a taste of what this sit-com played out like. Remember, the pilot to Red Dwarf was only written two years after the second series of Wrinkles aired, so there’s no doubting that Grant and Naylor were capable of writing top quality stuff this early in their careers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wrinkles wasn’t exactly a hit when it aired.
“I’ll recall to my dying day how the show was critically received. It was not received well. It got the lowest audience evaluation score in the history of radio, except for a Radio One quiz show that had the wrong answers to the questions. It got a fairly decent review from Gillian Reynolds in the Telegraph, and it was one of the shows reviewed on Critic’s Forum on Radio Three, where it didn’t actually get minced. Astonishingly, the show was recommissioned for a second series. We had tremendous fun working on it, and it got a terrific response from the audiences on the night.”
So, where as the reviewers seemed to warm to it ok, the Radio 4 listeners were not impressed one iota. Still, I think it’s safe for me to stick my neck out and say I’m pretty damn sure this show was brilliant, as nothing Grant and Naylor have done together has disappointed me yet. If it’s lost forever then I’ll be heartbroken.
Digging out these shows and old newspaper reviews will be high on my ‘to-do’ list in the coming months. This, my friends, will not be last you will hear of Wrinkles.