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Comedy that did its homework

by
09 October 2015

Leigh Hatts enjoys scripts of the 1960s’ All Gas and Gaiters

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All Gas and Gaiters: The lost episodes I
Pauline Devaney and Edwin Apps
Durpey-Allen £12.90
(978-1-910317-02-0)
Church Times Bookshop £11.61 (Use code CT907)

 

WHERE is St Ogg’s Cathedral? The clues suggest that it must be south of the River Thames; for, in one episode of All Gas and Gaiters, the bishop arrives at Victoria Station after a 70-minute journey. But maybe its small diocese was a mixture of Southwark and Chichester.

Pauline Devaney and Edwin Apps who conceived the television comedy series in the 1960s are pictured outside All Saints’, Blackheath, and John Robinson, as Bishop of Woolwich, was the only real bishop ever to be mentioned. The Archdeacon, played by Robertson Hare, who had starred in the Aldwych farces, was based on a former Archdeacon of Lewes.

Devaney chose John Barron as the Dean after seeing him play a manic headmaster. William Mervyn was cast as the Bishop on account of being married to the daughter of a Windsor canon. His chaplain was played by Derek Nimmo.

The scriptwriters collaborated on this book after Devaney found the scripts in her attic. Knowing that the recordings had been destroyed, they decided to publish a selection, which still reads well. They have added a fascinating prologue and interesting episode introductions.

Unlike The Vicar of Dibley, which confused a parochial church council with a parish council, All Gas and Gaiters did not make mistakes. The Dean was definitely in charge of the cathedral, and the Archdeacon gave the impression of knowing about faculty jurisdiction, even if he was normally seen with a glass in his hand.

The writers were assisted by reading the Church Times, which often featured, including the time when its female reporter was mistaken for an actress. This was a rare appearance by a woman in a usually all-male cast. Devaney says that, as a young female, she was hardly acknowledged as a scriptwriter by the BBC management, and even the studio audience was not happy when she rather than Apps appeared for the warm-up before recording.

Gaiters are no longer worn by bishops and archdeacons, but the disputes about reordering a chancel and unity schemes are still topical.

 

Leigh Hatts is a writer and online journalist.

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