Liam Rudden: Old actors never die...

Happy Ever After 
starring Terry Scott and June Whitfield
Happy Ever After starring Terry Scott and June Whitfield
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OLD actors never die, they live on, in their prime, on DVD. Thought that as I watched my second favourite comedy double-act (no one beats Laurel and Hardy) in full flow the other night.

On TV, Terry Scott and June Whitfield reigned supreme, their innate chemistry bringing truth to larger than life characters that really shouldn’t work, but do.

From 1974 to 1987 the pair played husband and wife in no fewer than 106 episode of, first, Happy Ever After, and then, Terry and June.

An amazing achievement, and one that was brought home when a boxset of all 41 episodes of Happy Ever After landed on my desk this week.

Working my way through it (I’m only up to episode 15), I’ve realised it was a very different series to the one that would follow and cement their popularity.

Actually, it’s a lot better. The writing is crisper, the characters well drawn and believable and, like Steptoe and Son and all the great sitcoms, there is a sadness at its heart - in this case loss, as the couple come to terms with the emptiness in their lives after their children leave home.

Pathos is a powerful thing.

In Happy Ever After, Terry and June Fletcher (the name would change to Medford for Terry and June) have a family; two grown-up daughters, Susan and Debbie, son Frank in Hong Kong, and a batty aging Aunt Lucy, their lodger.

Yet while the foundations of the later series are in place, Whitfield and Scott have playing middle-aged, middle-class couples down to a tee, it’s a very different beast to Terry and June, which relied on farcical situations to get the laughs.

All of which allows Whitfield to use her considerable acting chops to remind us what a brilliant actress she is.

You never see her cry in Terry and June, by which time she has become the straight woman to Scott’s brilliantly buffoonish clown, but in Happy Ever After the tears flow and the upset is real, causing Scott to raise his game and avoid playing for laughs.

That’s the reason Happy Ever After saw the exploits of TV’s happiest hapless couple top BBC ratings from 1974 to 1979.

Terry and June did likewise from 1979 to 1987, but the pair had played husband and wife on screen before.

In 1972 they appeared as Ronald and Vera Baines in the movie version of the ITV sitcom Bless This House.

I can’t help wondering if that was when the germ of an idea that would keep them in employment for the next 13 years was sparked.

The legacy of many old stars can now be enjoyed through boxset releases, allowing the comic genius of the likes of Terry Scott to live on - he died in 1994.

Whitfield of course continues to entertain at the grand old age of 90, but then as I said at the top of the column: Old actors never die, they just swap prime time TV for prime DVD.

Happy Ever After: The Complete Collection is released by Simply Media on 26 September, £44.99