Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Double Acts

Weird and Wonderful - Mr Wilks and Amos in 1986.

Emmerdale Farm in the 1980s was home to some delightful double acts. For almost five years of the decade, Sam Pearson and Annie Sugden continued with their father and daughter routine up at the farmhouse. Annie cared deeply for her father, though sometimes this manifested itself as nagging - like the time she discovered his underwear was so old it was falling to pieces.

Sometimes Sam could be a grouch to Annie - usually if he had something on his mind - dark deeds at the allotments perhaps (what was Seth up to?!) or if somebody was behaving in a way Sam considered as being "against the Bible".

Grouching, nagging and all, the two were always wonderful to watch.

Over at the Woolpack Inn, the 1980s were a golden era for Amos Brearly and Mr Wilks. The characters had matured into a beautifully oddly-matched twosome and the '80s saw Amos becoming pottier than ever. He took up golf. He started a local magazine called The Beckindale Bugle. He fancied himself as Member of Parliament for Halifax. He took up bee-keeping. He became interested in antiques. He became interested in the local badger population. He... well, he did all sorts of things!

Whilst Mr Wilks was Amos' friend and business partner and shared many of his scenes within the serial, to a lesser degree Seth Armstrong also formed a double act with Amos. Seth settled down to become a regular character in the 1980s, and it wasn't long before he had learned how to wind up the Woolpack's bewhiskered landlord whenever he wanted.

Seth also formed a bit of a double act with Alan Turner, NY Estates' Beckindale manager, who arrived in 1982. The wily gamekeeper was more than a match for Mr Turner who, underneath all his clever talk, was very insecure and not terribly bright. "Get out, Seth!" Alan would thunder, quite regularly, after Seth had wound him up to the maximum. But as with all the best double acts, the antagonism masked a grudging fondness between the two characters.

Seth became a great pal of Jackie Merrick, who worked with him briefly in the early '80s. The partnership of the canny older man and the troubled young lad worked well and provided some great scenes for the show.

Amos and Walter were another double act. When Al Dixon stepped into the role in September 1980, he quickly became a familiar sight at the Woolpack - and remained absolutely silent throughout all Amos' chunterings, fads and occasional chidings. But when Walter joined a mass boycott of the pub in 1983, Amos was devastated!

Silence was golden - Amos and Walter in 1983.

Next on the list comes the aforementioned Alan Turner and the very excellent Mrs Bates of NY Estates. When Mrs Bates arrived as Alan's secretary in 1984, nobody could guess that something quite magical was going to happen. But it did. I relished the scenes with these two characters - Mrs Bates saw through Alan's bluster each and every time, and became "clued in" to the silly, selfish, cowardly, but far from malicious little man inside him.

And on occasion she helped to bring out a good side to Alan Turner that many of us knew was there, but which needed some encouraging.

Self preservation, cowardice and bullying were three of Alan Turner's less likable traits. But he was never really a "JR" type. Mrs Bates saw through to the benevolent wally lurking underneath and was amused.

And then of course there was Matt and Dolly. The later years of the decade saw the couple hitting stormy waters and their marriage ending, but for over half the 1980s, the two were good, solid ordinary characters, not particularly colourful, and not particularly exciting. Their presence added believability to the show.

In a district which had its fair share of larger-than-life characters, Matt and Dolly represented Mr and Mrs Average and were, I always thought, tremendously likable. I recently watched some scenes showing the Skilbecks on a caravan holiday in a 1986 storyline. Nothing exciting happened. The dialogue wasn't peppered with wit. But Jean Rogers and Frederick Pyne kept any hint of "nod off" factor out of the scenes. I was sorry to see their partnership end.

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