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'Shut That Door! Larry Grayson at ITV' - DVD Review

Title: Shut That Door! Larry Grayson at ITV
Release Date: 22nd June 2009
Format: DVD (3 disc set)
Classification: 12
Run time: 538 mins
Catalogue Number: 7953064
Released by: network

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the annals of light entertainment history, there can be few more unlikely superstars than Larry Grayson. A performer hailing from the tradition of music hall via working men's clubs, he is now best known for his three year stewardship of the post-'Brucie' Generation Game, along with many of his catchphrases such as "What a gay day!", "Seems like a nice boy", "Look at the muck in here!" and of course ' Shut that door!" that are still familiar now, some 15 years since his death and over twenty five years since his star had started to wane as he drifted in semi-retirement. But this three DVD set unearths the pre 'Generation Game' days when Larry Grayson was already becoming a household name with three separate series of his very own shows on ITV.

The first disc of the set contains a miscellany (actually more a treasure chest) of Larry's appearances on ITV. Chronologically, first up ("oooh you are a common"), is a compilation of his appearances from 1972 on 'Saturday Variety' - his first appearances on TV. Despite being his TV debut, his performances are both assured and relaxed and hugely funny, a beautiful cameo of his style including catchphrases, filthy looks and constant double entendres. Little wonder that his appearance in the show made him an overnight sensation (after 30 years in variety!).

Next on the first disc is an episode of 'Shut That Door', Larry Grayson's debut series at ITV from 1973. The fact that this episode (the final one from that series) is the sole surviving episode testifies to ITV's regard of its own archive - obviously not much an improvement on the BBC's disgraceful regard to their own archiving of their part of our national heritage. 'Shut that Door' sits itself somewhere between a chat show (including a Diana Dors interview), stand-up (which, as ever, seemed to be less a stand-up routine, and more of a very open one-way conversation with Larry) and variety, with Larry Grayson ending on a song accompanied by his long suffering pianist Dennis Plowright.

Then from 1974, comes 'The Larry Grayson Hour of Stars' which follows a similar format as 'Shut That Door' including some more of Larry's conversational stand-up, interviews with Michael Crawford and Dame Anna Neagle, and some song and dance routines (which he gamefully manages to struggle through in his own inimitable way). Also included in the show, for the first time, is Larry performing in some comedy sketches. It wouldn't be unfair to say the quality of the sketches are rather patchy and and also that Larry was not, at this stage anyway, overly equipped in the mastery comic acting. However, much of the humour comes through in the actual manner which he struggles through the sketches.

Shut That Door! Larry Grayson At ITV - DVD cover.From 1983, comes a documentary style portrait of Larry Grayson on the eve of his 60th birthday. Part of the "At Home With..." series presented by Janet Street Porter, this portrait joins Larry in a trip round his comic roots (routes?), starting at his primary school, his early appearances in variety, through to his burgeoning TV career, and most interestingly, his sedate home life and forthcoming semi-retirement. This is a fascinating portrait which, as may be expected, shows that Larry Grayson the 'performer' is only a slightly exaggerated, perhaps slightly more outrageous version of Larry Grayson the 'person'. Special guests appearances from Arthur Marshall and (the ubiquitous) Noele Gordon, both of whom (genuinely it seems) attest to the immensely likeable person behind the comic persona.

Next on the bulging disc 1, from 2000 comes 'The Unforgettable Larry Grayson'. A tribute and clip show packed with celebs and friends queing up to pay homage. The show, perhaps too briefly, gives a flavor of the impact and esteem that Larry Grayson was held in, in both show business circles and equally with the viewing public.

As a further bonus (yes you are being spoiled) there is a five minute interview from 1973, recorded in the dressing room of one of his stage shows.

Disc 2 Contains the entire 7 episode first series of 'The Larry Grayson Show' from 1975. Each episode follows a familiar format. Firstly, an introductory conversational stand-up in which, along with some of his more familiar catchphrases, we get to experience some of Larry's less well known ones such as "I've got 'The Worms'" and "I put it down to the wholemeal bread" and more often than not, some talk of early morning Complan or a lost broach!). The conversation then segues into a filmed sketch insert that casts Larry in some unlikely roles (Rugby Player, Bricklayers mate, Dustbin man etc). This is then followed back in the studio by a variety (often a circus) artiste, who involves Larry in some dangerous exploit i.e. having knives thrown at him, having a candle bull-whipped of his head etc, and most dangerously of all, having Rod Hull and Emu 'assisting' him to put on a one-man one-bird version of Treasure Island - with Emu as the parrot. His hysterical reactions in participating in the often 'dangerous' situations, were no doubt a huge factor in the BBC deciding a few years later that he was ideal casting for The Generation Game. This is then be followed by Larry taking place in a studio sketch, which involves an indignant Larry coming up against some member of authority (i.e. Customs Officer, Dole Officer, Lawyer etc). Again his lack of acting ability doesn't help mask the often patchy scripts, but the absolute joy of these sketches are Larry's (often ad-libbed) verbal and facial reactions to the double-entendres he hears spoken by the staid and angry authority figures. As ever, he ends on 'a song and prance' routine accompanied by pianist Dennis Plowright. The series is a significant improvement in content over Larry's previous shows - wisely cutting out the interviews (another area that was not really his forte) and thus allowing more screen time for the star himself. The whole series suffers slightly from some writing that seems ill-paced with Larry's style, with the double-entendre's often being both rushed and 'crammed in' leaving too little time for his all important lingering reaction shots (which themselves are then cut away too soon). These are minor niggles in a series of shows that are truly hilarious.

The bonus feature on this disc is a 20 minute segment extracted from a 1973 episode of Sunday Night At The Palladium. This is a particular treat as it shows Larry's conversational patois in an significantly extended form - before ending up with some more high jinks with Rod Hull and Emu.

Disc 3 Contains the entire seven episode 2nd series (one hour long episode and six half hours) of 'The Larry Grayson Show' from 1977. The improvements from the niggles of the first series are significant. The writing is much more attuned to his style, the reaction shots are allowed to linger for a suitably protracted length of time, and even his acting proficiency in the set-piece sketches show a huge improvement, with seemingly vastly increased confidence. The show follows much the same format of the previous series, but is now less circussy in favor of more focus on variety turns such as David Nixon, Our Kid, Brotherhood of Man, Generation Game favourites The Brother Lees and, bizarrely, Hollywood superstar Dennis Weaver (on his horse).

The highlight of each episode is a studio based set-piece sketch set in Larry's kitchen. Each week sees one of Larry's familiar characters (including characters played by Liz Dawn - Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street - and also 70's sitcom stalwart Anna Dawson) joining Larry for some idle or scurrilous gossip, whilst he busies himself around the kitchen. This seems the environment and set up most suited to Larry Grayson's style and on screen persona, and these domestic sketches are probably the most entertaining item in this whole superb collection.

To round off the disc, the bonus feature is a gallery of Larry Grayson images.

What is remarkable is the way that Network has gone those extra miles in order to release a true compendium of Larry Grayson's pre-BBC work. So with this set you get over nine and a half hours of the king of camp at his very best. Obviously an accompanying DVD set of his BBC output (Generation Game highlights, interviews etc) would be hugely welcome (but rather unlikely due to the way the BBC decides to issue their archives). This superb collection is an absolute joy from start to finish and stands as a fitting tribute to one of this countries best loved and funniest entertainers.

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