There’s a popular school of thought that states successful British Sitcoms should only be around for two or three series. This seems to come from the fact that Fawlty Towers was only broadcast for two series. Well-loved comedies such as The Office or Phoenix Nights only had short runs, the belief being that further episodes would only dilute their appeal. On the other side of the coin there are programs such as ‘Allo ‘Allo!’ which took something that people loved and gave them as much of it as possible.
‘Allo ‘Allo! ran from 1982 to 1992 and somehow managed to squeeze eighty-five episodes into that time (There were no episodes in 1990).
Set during World War II, and featuring more catchphrases than any other sitcom in history, ‘Allo ‘Allo! tells the story of René Artois, a French café owner in the town of Nouvion. The town is occupied by German and later Italian soldiers who have stolen all of its valuable artefacts. These include a painting of The Fallen Madonna by Van Klomp, known to those who have seen it as The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies. The painting is duplicated by a forger, gets mixed up, lost, found and put in a large sausage, which is hidden in the cellar of Café René.
At the same time, the café is being used as a safe house for clueless British airmen, and a meeting point for the French Resistance. The Résistance is also helped by Officer Crabtree, a British spy posing as a policeman sent to France because he can speak French. However, he does not speak it very well, resulting in frequent malapropisms. For example, whenever he says “Good morning”, it comes out as “Good moaning”.
René is also trying to keep his affairs with his two waitresses secret from his wife, Edith, who regularly “sings” in the café, despite being an appallingly bad singer. These situations are made even more humorous by the fact that René is not exactly the best-looking man in France, is definitely not a hero, and is often forced (against his will) by his wife to undertake missions and secret operations.
These few plot devices provide the basic storyline throughout the entire series, upon which are hung classic farce set-ups, physical comedy and visual gags, amusingly ridiculous fake accents, a large amount of sexual innuendo, and a fast-paced running string of broad cultural clichés. Each episode builds on previous ones, requiring viewers to follow the series to fully understand the plot.
The show’s double-entendre-laden comedy may not be in vogue with the comedy elite these days, but I absolutely love ‘Allo ‘Allo!. The broad comedy styling, combined with the period setting of the show ensure a timelessness that stops the series from ageing, unlike many of its contemporaries. Don’t expect anything high-brow from ‘Allo ‘Allo! – Just expect to laugh.
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A for Andromeda (1961)