Worst to Best
Kelly Monteith

Prev 2 Next

30 Episode 2.5

Kelly Monteith was scheduled on BBC2 at 9pm each week. (Okay, if you really want to be pedantic, then Episode 1.3 was scheduled ten minutes later due to a Party Political Broadcast by the Labour Party.) However, the day of the week varied each year.
     Originally placed in a Thursday slot, this second run was moved to Tuesdays. This does have the unfortunate offset that an opening sketch with a woman pretending she recognises Kelly and is his biggest fan - she never misses it on Tuesdays, until he corrects her that it airs on Thursdays - suddenly doesn't make sense. Because of the day change, it instead looks like the shop assistant is perfectly right, and that Kelly can't remember what day his own show is on.
     For series three it was placed into the Monday schedule, before the final three years went back through the same Thursday-Tuesday-Monday cycle. Coincidentally, one of the other sketches in this episode features a lengthy argument about which day certain dates fall on. Also making up the instalment are Kelly's reflections on the nature of tax, credit, and health food.

29 Episode 3.3

Two things about Kelly's show may surprise when seeing it again. One is that he uses a lot more facial expression humour than you may have recalled, something which would have delighted as a child. (This site's demographic would mean most readers would have probably been pre-teens when it aired, if they were born at all.)
     The other is just how frequently Kelly writes episodes featuring him getting his kit off. One episode (4.2) even has him completely naked, save for a fire extinguisher. Kelly getting his shirt off (and, often, his trousers) actually occurs in no less than a third of all the episodes in the series. It gets so prevalent as the show goes on that it even becomes a running gag throughout the final series, and by the time you've watched them all, you may feel that you know Kelly's nipples better than you know your own.
     Series three featured Kelly going through a divorce, as Gabrielle Drake had other commitments and had to leave the show. Feeling insecure, Kelly opts to join a gym, though the nudity pictured actually occurs when he tells a tailor his cheque will bounce, and said tailor decides to take back the suit. As with a lot of these rankings, the position here is largely arbitrary; although there might be stronger episodes in the third series, this one could comfortably be slotted higher or lower, the quality is generally quite consistent.

28 Episode 3.4

If you watch archive television, then naturally there'll be changes in societal cues and expectations which will lead to different content. A world where episodes of The Sweeney can see Carter eyeing up schoolgirls, Tiswas can use Chinese slurs, or The Adventure Game can have Derek Griffiths putting on an "Arabic" voice and talking about "the love of Allah". Such matters are often given a bad name in retrospective shows that enjoy sneering at the past, devoid of context. Nevertheless, if you only want to watch television that reflects today's values, it's best to leave the past where it is.
     All of which is a way of saying that, while quite a progressive series for the time, Kelly Monteith does contain a number of elements that would get its star "cancelled" on Twitter if it aired today. You might get him remarking that Japanese tourists look the same, doing a monologue about getting women drunk so he can sleep with them, or a dentist leering at a woman and wishing he was a gynaecologist. Other weeks you might get his imaginary self touching a woman's backside in a supermarket, or talking about how he'll deliberately expose himself to hotel chambermaids, or doing a "slave" voice to illustrate a point.
     So yes, there's no escaping it... that's Kelly, above. In a fantasy sketch as a Japanese man. The nature of latter-day "political correctness" is an interesting one, and, at its heart, well-meaning. Unfortunately today it has been somewhat commandeered by a vocal minority, where social media gives us a black-and-white world where everyone is either "good" or a "Nazi", and where people who claim to be "liberal" in attitude often display values that are as bigoted and reactionary as "the other side". (For the record, should anyone care, the Anorak Zone considers itself a liberal site, but often cringes at the knee-jerk nature of many who claim the same.)
     Appreciating things for what they were within the context of their time is not the same as wishing they were the same now. In 2019 John Wayne was posthumously "cancelled" on social media after an old interview from 1971 resurfaced, containing values that wouldn't necessarily pass today. But really, if you're reading a print interview that's 50 years old, conducted with an actor who was born over 110 years ago, you'd have to be incredibly short-sighted and incognisant of the changing nature of society to expect said interview to be "woke". After all, back in the 60s, even Nina Simone and Malcolm X had "coloured" and "negro" as part of their lexicon.
     So, here we have it, Kelly being a Japanese man. It was 1981. As Calvin Harris once sang, it was acceptable in the '80's.

27 Episode 1.6

The topic of changing attitudes since the show aired is referenced by Kelly himself in an episode of BBC Memories covering this instalment. There's a scene where a stereotyped homosexual is delighted by Kelly's accidental attention, and Kelly discusses how hard it was to get someone to play the role in that age, and how different society was in regards such matters back then.
     The same edition of Memories also looks back at several other clips from this episode, a travel-based instalment that's full of crowdpleasing, relatable situations and some nice slapstick moments.
     Incidentally, if you are fortunate enough to get to see Kelly's show, please remember to satisfy statistical nerds like myself by rating the episodes on its IMDb Page. Five votes per episode are needed to show an overall score, and, well, it's nice to see a rating to please geeks... this place is, after all, called The Anorak Zone for a reason.

26 Episode 5.1

There was a curious trend in the mid-'80s for sitcoms to end with a video "freeze frame" for the credits. Some shows, such as Desmond's, just had a few shots of frozen action before cutting to the main end credit screen, or others, such as The Kit Curran Radio Show, had the entire cast and crew play out over a shaky still frame.
      It's a curious artefact of the era, and, while the "action continues through the end credits" alternative isn't exactly something that would be done in 2021 either, it has more charm and retro appeal than the freeze frame. Possibly it's that the technology of the time was so limited, that looking back, it's as if the shows are being watched on VHS and you've accidentally sat on the pause button on the remote.
      After four years of Kelly joking around with Gabrielle Drake in the end credits, or raising a glass to the viewers, the final two years go out with this curious "freeze-frame", making them appear more dated than the earlier shows. While a lot of the material still stands up well, there's naturally going to be things that tie it to the era in which it was made, be it Kelly wearing a "Relax" t-shirt in the final episode, or just small topical references to unemployment, oil in the sea, or the price of petrol.
      As for this particular episode, video freeze frame and all, then it's the one where Kelly gives a disastrous performance at a charity gig, and meets Lisa Vanderpump's "Sarah" for the first time. Lisa's involvement with the series is a curious one, culturally, as it lends the series a retroactive cachet in Kelly's home country, where London-born Vanderpump became a reality star in America. A business owner, while it's not polite to talk about money, Vanderpump is estimated to be worth $75 million, and has a fairly high status... but in her native UK, she's still largely unknown. So it is that series five of Kelly Monteith plays out with a guest star who has a high profile... but not in the country in which the show was made.

25 Episode 6.5

The theme tune to the programme was given a slightly "funkier", updated sound for the final series... which, as this was the mid-80s, does, ironically, make the "newer" theme sound the most dated.
      Like seemingly every light entertainment show on the BBC in the '70s and '80s, the theme tune was composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst. Ronnie's work does always tend to sound very "Ronnie", but varies in quality. At the "possible genius" end of the scale, you've got him using till registers for percussion in Are You Being Served? and the title of the show in morse code for Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. At the other end of the scale you've got stuff like the (admittedly unforgettable) theme to Blankety Blank.
      Kelly's theme maybe sits somewhere in the middle of Ronnie's output... not quite up to the standards of his theme to Last of the Summer Wine, but better than the "laugh here" incidental music in every episode of the same show. One thing that might not be known, however, is that the theme is a musical allusion to a British Music Hall song from the 1900s, called "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?", which perhaps straddles the line between genius and robbery. The song got probably its highest-profile showcase in the 2002 Tom Hanks-Leonardo DiCaprio movie Catch Me If You Can.
      It would be nice to state that I'd worked this out for myself, but, sadly, this bit of trivia completely escaped me, and was pointed out to me by a friend. Whether this would have been well-known by the public at large, then or now, is open to question, but Kelly himself was certainly aware of the connection, kindly letting me know that his mother used to sing it to him.
     As for this particular episode, then the "meta" element of series six works quite well here, where the making of the sitcom "Kelly Monteith" is recorded by a documentary team. Perhaps the only sad part of all this is that it means that the quite sweet "Kelly" we used to see in the show is now just a character within the piece, and the "real" Kelly is a guy who's trying to sleep with half the cast. Yet a nice moment is seeing Wilfrid Brambell with Kelly, his last TV appearance before his sad death the following year.
     Another series the Anglophile Channel runs on YouTube featuring Kelly is Brit Flix!, where Kelly and Paul Boland take a look at vintage (and some modern) British movies. Occasionally he'll reference the series, such as talking about Brambell during a discussion on A Hard Day's Night, but it's a worthwhile series just to hear Kelly's thoughts on old movies.

24 Episode 5.4

Quite a technically complex episode from an acting point of view, with one scene featuring Kelly and six other actors all delivering close-knit lines... fine for a pre-filmed insert, but it was recorded live before the studio audience. There's also an amusing scene with Kelly in a flashback, meeting a potential wife's southern American father. For some reason the fact that both the father and the daughter are very obviously played by English actors putting on over-the-top "southern" accents only adds to the humour.
     By this stage BBC2's minority programming had a rival in Channel 4, which had launched just five days after the end of Kelly's fourth series. Channel 4 in its earliest days operated on a similar level to BBC2, featuring more experimental and specialist programming than the two mainstream giants of BBC1 and ITV. While Channel 4's rival broadcast during this particular episode - a screening of the 1962 Alan Bates movie A Kind of Loving - may not have troubled the two major stations, the 2.75 million that watched it were all potentially lost viewers of Kelly's show.
     A search through newspaper archives containing TV ratings has dug up the weeks for all but one of the series five episodes. Of those five weeks, then this was the only episode not to chart in the BBC2 top ten, with the other four available episodes having an average of 3.58 million viewers, and an average position of 7th place.

23 Episode 5.2

There's a rare occurrence in this episode where two narratives take equal status. Normally there'll be the odd subplot and so on, but here there are dual philosophical concepts vying for attention. The first is set up from the beginning, with Kelly ruminating over the fine line between pleasure and pain, and ending with a gym instructor teaching him "sexual aerobics". The second is Kelly looking at the idea of gender politics, and the changing nature of relationships.
     Both storylines are fine, but together it's an odd mix, depending on your point of view. Placed into one episode, it means that Kelly takes out Sarah to dinner and buys her perfume, with the intentions of a relationship.... then goes home and has some rough, sex-based exercise with the instructor. This kind of behaviour really does depend on your own personal sense of morality - after all, lots of men have one night stands and play the field.
     But Kelly, after splitting with Suzanne, becomes increasingly sleazier as the years go on... he began the show as someone you could take home to meet your mother, and ended it as someone who would try to seduce your mother and five of her friends on the same night. The studio audience on the day seem to have no issue with these baser elements, yelling approval when it looks like Kelly will get lucky, but the laughter falls to just one person when he mentions something more esoteric, like Marquis de Sade.

22 Episode 6.3

Even after Kelly's show was winding down on the BBC, he was still very popular and in demand in the UK. The week after this particular episode aired, he got to sit next to an old cast mate, Lorraine Chase, in an edition of Blankety Blank. It's a decent outing, although not the best Kelly appearance, as he seems a little shy, and unsure what to make of fellow panellist Les Dennis breaking into impressions of Mavis Riley from Coronation Street - and who can blame him?
      Even the year after his show ended Kelly was still getting regular gigs: 1985 saw guest appearances on The Bob Monkhouse Show, Saturday Superstore, and a radio adaptation of Woody Allen's play Death. Not only that, but his stand up show was screened in May, and the entire sixth series of Kelly Monteith was repeated on BBC1 in a post-11pm slot.
      Though perhaps the biggest compliment Kelly had was with one of his few appearances on ITV, where A Royal Night of One Hundred Stars aired in March, and saw him billed sixth, including the host, Jimmy Tarbuck. Now, granted, these Royal performances with song, dance and a succession of variety acts that dragged on for over two hours firmly fitted in that category of programme known as "stuff that your parents made you watch". But to be so highly regarded as to be announced sixth on the bill is quite an accolade for someone whose show was on a minority channel.
      Sitting through the special charity night is an uncomfortable occasion, as, while the big "showstoppers" are Gary Wilmott pretending to be Japanese, or Les Dennis doing an impression of... you guessed it... the audience is incredibly muted and unresponsive throughout the whole show. Many of the performers, such as Les's partner, Dustin Gee, look slightly ill-at-ease, and Gary Wilmot even ad-libs a few gags at how incredibly unresponsive the audience are. (Coming on and asking the audience "how are you?" to dead silence, he then says "no...?" and looks uncertain). Roy Walker, who goes down better than most, starts his act with "it's quiet, isn't it?", while Bobby Davro taps his microphone and asks if it's switched on. It's not exactly the crowd from Hell, but at least hecklers give comedians something to react to.
      Kelly does look a little nervous revisiting some of his routines from the show as, by his own admission, he doesn't do "jokes", but instead makes observations about life. This does mean that he has to wait longer to get to the laugh points, and the biggest laugh he gets is when he talks about a dog getting a thermometer up its bum - it's that kind of crowd. But while none of the acts actually die, it's an incredibly unsettling viewing experience, as a succession of experienced comics come on to polite titters from the National Theatre in London.
     Kelly still came back to guest spots on British TV, though even a couple of years offscreen could seem like an age back in the days without the internet, when TV only really existed in the "now", and much harder for a non-native. This was never clearer than when Kelly did regular guest spots on The Joe Longthorne Show in 1991, which was met with a bitchy preview note in The Independent by John Lyttle that simply read: "Remember Kelly Monteith? No, thought not."

21 Episode 1.5

This is a significant episode in the direction of the show, in that it introduces an element of cartoonish surrealism. While Kelly had done old movie spoofs and imaginary sequences right from the first episode, things that happened to him could only physically happen in real life. Here, after getting a cricked back, his legs are bent over his head for the closing credits, while in the following episode a porter gets elongated arms after carrying cases that are too heavy. This idea was touched upon in the previous episode, 1.4, where Kelly as a doctor accidentally kept a blood pressure test going, resulting in the patient being "inflated", yet it was just achieved with a larger man holding his breath, not something more out of a Looney Tunes universe.
     This element of the programme would continue to evolve, so that by series five he's being tortured by Nazis with his tongue stretched around 20 feet in length, and his feet are swollen and glow with electricity. Whether this is a good thing or not is open to question; one plus of the series is that the range of humour spans from these more "crowd-pleasing" gags, through to more thoughtful and philosophical content. As a kid, it was probably the goofier, sillier stuff that was more appealing, with the observations on life as a middle-aged man not really having as much currency to a young nipper. Effectively it's a show with something to engage all generations, as the older we all get, the more Kelly's "middle age" monologues are suddenly only too relatable...