Remembering Mary Whitehouse: The Queen Of The Snowflakes

This is an article that I have been thinking about writing for many months now. Mostly inspired by the fact that the world is slowly beginning to be filled with Karens and the rise of the snowflakes. You know, those people who endlessly complain and moan, while pissing on the cornflakes of people who just want to enjoy what they want to (legally) enjoy in terms of entertainment.

Pretty much every day, I hear of a story about a TV show or film being censored and edited, or steaming services removing episodes of a show because 6 people on Twitter complained about nothing. Comedians being ‘forced’ to apologise for telling a joke and more. In my eyes, if you don’t like something, then don’t watch it. Yet, it is the vast minority that is being heard over the majority. Let us adults decide what our delicate little brains can or can not handle. Still, all of these Karens and snowflakes are hardly a new thing, at least not for us Brits of a certain age. We’ve already lived through the dark ages of TV and film censorship. We had a Mary Whitehouse.

MARY WHITEHOUSE 1

Seeing as it is 21 years to the day since Mary Whitehouse shuffled off this mortal coil, I thought I’d write this article of ‘remembrance’. Not to honour or respect Whitehouse in any way. But more of a look back on her reign of terror as one of the most annoying and unpleasant people to ever force her opinions onto anyone.

Early Life

Mary Whitehouse was an art teacher in the 1950s. Her first foray into coming across as a complete bitch was when she wrote a lengthy article for The Sunday Times newspaper where she lambasted homosexuality and damned gay people with plenty of vitriol, real fire and brimstone stuff. Bearing in mind that homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967 and that gay people had no rights or voice then. So, her outburst wasn’t seen as shocking and blatant bigotry-filled hate speech back then as it would be today. In fact, it got a lot of support. Whitehouse continued her teaching career until 1964 when she gave up teaching to concentrate on her ranting full-time.

It Begins

Becoming angry with what was being shown on TV (well, the BBC mainly), Mary Whitehouse teamed up with Norah Buckland (the wife of a vicar) and created her CUTV (Clean Up TV) campaign in January 1964. Hugh Greene, who was the director-general of the BBC at the time, soon became her nemesis. In fact, Whitehouse described him as ‘the devil incarnate’ and blamed Greene and the BBC’s programs for (in her opinion) the decline of the country. Whitehouse said of Greene that:

“If you were to ask me to name the one man who more than anybody else had been responsible for the moral collapse in this country, I would name Greene.”

Any and anything would set Mary Whitehouse off. If the BBC aired a show that even dared to suggest the very possible idea of pre-martial sex (or even marital sex), she would reel off one of her many letters to the BBC and complain. She’d even get pissed off if a program dared to show characters drinking alcohol.

MARY WHITEHOUSE LETTERS

Mary Whitehouse set up a petition, which gained over 500,000 signatures, to be sent to the BBC over their ‘obscene’ TV programs. Her CUTV campaign was gathering some momentum and Whitehouse, as its figurehead, was becoming well-known in her own right. Regularly holding talks at Birmingham Town Hall, which were attended by 1000s, she would speak out against the ‘filth’ being shown on the BBC. At one such meeting, local writer David Turner, stood up and berated Mary Whitehouse for her views. Turner claimed that Whitehouse was a threat to the integrity of legitimate art. If only he knew that this was just the beginning.

Not too long after David Turner gave Mary Whitehouse a piece of his mind at that meeting, the comedy-drama Swizzlewick (which Turner created and wrote for) featured a character called Mrs Smallgood, an obvious parody of Whitehouse. This would be the start of a long line of TV shows calling Mary Whitehouse out and highlighting her forced opinions.

In 1965, Hugh Greene delivered a speech in which he spoke out against certain campaigners. He never mentioned Mary Whitehouse or her CUTV campaign by name. Still, it was pretty obvious who and what his words were aimed at. During that speech, Greene said that such campaigns could lead to:

“a dangerous form of censorship, which works by causing artists and writers not to take risks.”

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Mary Whitehouse’s CUTV thing only lasted until the end of 1965. Oh, don’t worry. She was not done yet, not by a long chalk. See, Whitehouse founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NVALA) which just replaced CUTV. It was the same shit, just with a different name. With the name change came some semblance of legitimacy too. With CUTV, Whitehouse mainly attracted supporters from bored housewives who were as annoyingly pathetic as she was. With NVALA, she got politicians involved. People like the former cabinet minister, Bill Deedes and Quintin Hogg (AKA Lord Hailsham) became supporters.

Mary Whitehouse would still hound the BBC with letters whenever she found a program to be ‘offensive’. Due to her political connections, she began to send similar letters to the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Whitehouse and the NVALA were growing daily. Her letters to the PM were so frequent that it has been said that the staff at 10 Downing Street would often ‘accidentally’ lose her letters just so that they didn’t have to reply to them.

NAZI CAMP

In 1965, the current affairs show Panorama aired an episode where they covered the liberation of the Nazi Belsen concentration camp on its 20th anniversary. The same concentration camp where Anne Frank died. Of course, Mary Whitehouse found something to complain about. She said that the program was ‘bound to shock and offend’ and called it ‘filth’. She really did like to use the word ‘filth’ as a descriptive. How and why a program celebrating the anniversary of British soldiers liberating a Nazi concentration camp and saving 1000s of innocent lives could be described as ‘filth’ by anyone, I have no idea… unless you were a Nazi yourself. Not that I am suggesting in any way that Mary Whitehouse was a Nazi, honest.

Mary Whitehouse’s letters were usually epic rants about the ‘filth’ and ‘smut’ that the BBC would show. She would count unsavoury language in TV shows and list it. Now, this was the mid-1960s, so the language was pretty ‘off-colour’. Words like ‘bloody’, Whitehouse would count each and every use and record it in her letters. The classic sitcom Till Death Us Do Part was one of her main targets. Alf Garnett and his very ‘un-PC’ ways often rubbed Mary Whitehouse up the wrong way. In one of the many, many letters, she said of the show that:

“I doubt if many people would use 121 bloodies in half-an-hour.”

Johnny Speight, who created and wrote Till Death Us Do Part, had to pay Whitehouse and the NVALA ‘substantial damages’ and give a full apology after he suggested, in an interview, that NVALA members were fascists.

In the Alf’s Dilemma episode of Till Death Us Do Part from 1967, Speight had Garnett reading a copy of Whitehouse’s book, Cleaning Up TV. Seemingly on the side of Mary Whitehouse, Alf Garnett began to agree with everything that she said. This, of course, just pissed Whitehouse off even more. It was a clever and deft bit of writing. A lesser writer would’ve had the character ranting and raving at Whitehouse. But instead, a character that she despised of and continually complained about was now praising and defending her. How could she damn a character that thought she was right, as that would make her wrong? Though, the episode does end with her book being burnt.

MARY WHITEHOUSE BOOK

In 1969, Mary Whitehouse’s nemesis, Hugh Greene, left the BBC as its director-general. Whitehouse took great pleasure in taking credit for Greene leaving. Her continual letters must’ve eventually worn him down eh? Well no, Greene leaving the BBC had nothing to do with Whitehouse. In 1967 the chairman of the BBC, Norman Brook died. Brook and Greene were good friends and had a great working relationship. Anyway, Brook was replaced by Charles Hill, somebody that Hugh Greene really didn’t get on with at all. Still, Greene just wanted to retire anyway, so he did. His stepping down as the BBC’s director-general had nothing to do with Mary Whitehouse, even if she liked to claim that it did.

The Liberating 70s

The 1970s bought a whole load of more TV ‘filth’ for Mary Whitehouse to get writing letters about. The bawdy comedy stylings of Benny Hill became a major target for her and her letter-writing pen. Hill was famed for his use of sexy young women that were known as the ‘Hill’s Angels’ (yes, that lass off Frasier was one). These young lasses would often be wearing nowt much more than lingerie and swimsuits as they sang and danced on The Benny Hill Show. Out would come Mary Whitehouse’s pen and the angry letters began. It wasn’t just TV though as Whitehouse began to broaden her disdain for well, pretty much any and everything related to entertainment.

HILLS ANGELS

Music was another one of her targets. My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry became a song that Whitehouse had an issue with. The song had always been a bit of a joke, a novelty song, a bit of fun. The story in the song is said to be about someone receiving a toy of ‘silver bells hanging on a string’. Look, here are the opening lyrics:

“When I was a little bitty boy
My grandmother bought me a cute little toy
Silver bells hanging on a string
She told me it was my ding-a-ling-a-ling, oh”

See, the song is about a boy getting a gift from his grandmother. Obviously, one could misconstrue the lyrics as being something more sexual and I am sure that was the intention of the song too. So obviously, Mary Whitehouse did see the song as being sexual and she tried to get the BBC to ban the song from being played on TV or the radio. As far as I can tell, she didn’t succeed. If going after Chuck Berry wasn’t enough, Whitehouse turned her attention to shock-rocker, Alice Cooper.

Cooper’s School’ s Out was slowly climbing the charts in 1972 and he was asked to perform the song on BBC’s premo music show at the time, Top of the Pops. Of course, Mary Whitehouse was having none of it. She began one of her campaigns to have the song and even Alice Copper himself banned from the BBC. The letters and the public speaking began, ‘filth’, ban this song and its singer! Whitehouse was outraged that such a ‘disgusting’ song and act could get publicity and be promoted by the BBC. However, her campaign backfired and if anything, actually helped School’ s Out in the long run. In fact, it reached number 1 in the charts here in the UK in 1972 and that certainly popularised Cooper himself. So happy with the result Alice Copper was, that he ended up sending a bunch of flowers to Mary Whitehouse to say ‘thank you’ for helping him become such a hit.

ALICE COOPER

Even cinema was not safe from the Whitehouse wrath. Everyone knows the story of Stanley Kubrick pulling A Clockwork Orange from the cinema in the UK, right? Apparently, Kubrick voluntarily had the film pulled because he was worried that copycats would try to be the next Alex DeLarge. That’s only a half-truth. Stanley Kubrick actually pulled the film because he was getting tired of a campaign against the film that had been building in the UK. I’ll give you one guess as to who started the campaign against the film, to begin with.

Now, A Clockwork Orange was supposedly linked to a handful of crimes by the press, including murder and rape. However, there was never any proof that the film was to blame. At least, I can’t find any. Oh, I can find snippets from the press back then blaming the film, but no actual proof that those claims were true.

There was even something called a ‘Clockwork Orange defence’ used in some court cases back then, where the lawyer of the accused would put the blame on the film, even if there was no link. In fact, in one case an old homeless man, David McManus, was beaten and killed by a 16-year-old boy, Richard Palmer. The press said the film was to blame. However, Palmer admitted that he had never even seen A Clockwork Orange to be influenced by it. But that didn’t stop the press at the time as they were the ones making the links, even if there were none.

CLOCKWORK ORANGE

All of the negative press coverage that A Clockwork Orange was receiving at the time (true or not) was what spurred Mary Whitehouse to launch her campaign against it. That campaign grew and grew, to the point where Kubrick and his family began to receive death threats (the irony eh?) and he even had protesters outside of his home. Fearing what these people could do, Stanley Kubrick got pissed off with all the negativity and had the film pulled. Pulled not because he was concerned about copycats, but concerned for the safety of his family, a concern that was created and stirred up by Mary Whitehouse and her NVALA group. When he was asked about the possibility of his film creating copycat crimes, Kubrick said:

“To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life, but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore, to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures”

If there was one thing that really rubbed Mary Whitehouse up the wrong way in the 1970s, that thing was Doctor Who. Whitehouse’s main issue with the program was that it was too violent for children. The fact that Doctor Who wasn’t a kid’s TV show seemed to completely go over her head. Yeah, I guess children could watch the show, but that doesn’t make it a kid’s TV show, does it? Children can watch the news, but it’s not aimed at them and you wouldn’t consider it children’s television.

Whitehouse once described Doctor Who as being ‘teatime brutality for tots’ and that it contained ‘some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children’s television’. It wasn’t children’s television though. I’ve never watched Doctor Who and even I know that. It got to a point where Philip Hinchcliffe, who was the producer of Doctor Who in the late 70s said:

“I always felt that Mary Whitehouse thought of Doctor Who as a children’s programme, for little children, and it wasn’t, so she was really coming at the show from the wrong starting-point.”

DR WHO SEEDS OF DOOM

There was one episode of Doctor Who called The Seeds of Doom where the then Doctor, Tom Baker, was attacked by a plant monster. Mary Whitehouse was so incensed by the violence that she went on to say:

“Strangulation by hand, by claw, by obscene vegetable matter is the latest gimmick, sufficiently close up so they get the point. And just for a little variety, show the children how to make a Molotov cocktail.”

I had to seek out this episode just so I could see for myself just how graphic it was… it’s not. As for the whole teaching children how to make a Molotov cocktail bit. Doctor Who was not a kid’s show, so it taught them nothing. It’s not like Doctor Who was trying to be Blue Peter. The episode doesn’t teach anyone how to make a Molotov cocktail. Even if it did, what kid in 1976 had open and easy access to glass bottles and paraffin liquid?

In another episode called The Deadly Assassin, Whitehouse made a complaint about the ending. To be more accurate, this was a four-part special and at the finale of part three, the Doctor is seemingly drowned and killed in a cliffhanger ending. It was this ending that got Mary Whitehouse’s dander up. She wrote one of her classic letters of complaint to the BBC saying that the drowning of the Doctor was too intense for children (in this, not a children’s TV show). The BBC showed that they had no backbone by giving Whitehouse an apology and they edited the master tape to remove the ending. This meant that whenever the episode was repeated, the Mary Whitehouse safe version had to be shown instead because the original no longer existed. For a while, it was believed that the unedited ending was lost. It was found years later and put back in for the DVD release in 2009.

DR WHO ASASSIN

Throughout most of the 1970s, Mary Whitehouse and her NVALA  protest group boasted more than 150,000 members. Considering the time, and as this was way before the Internet and social media gave any and everyone a voice, that was a hell of  a lot of miserable people moaning about music, TV and films. But, as the end of the 1970s came about, NVALA members dropped to around 30,000 members. Those dwindling numbers have never really been explained. Perhaps people’s perceptions were changed and all of those things that Whitehouse liked to describe as ‘filth’ slowly became the norm? Perhaps people just got tired of her ramblings and chose to ignore her? Either way, Mary Whitehouse still had a lot to bitch about as the 1980s began.

The Hateful 80s

Easily, the biggest impact that Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA had in the 1980s was the whole ‘Video Nasties’ movement. Now, I’m not going to go into great detail here, as this one thing alone could take up its own very lengthy article. But, the basics were that before Whitehouse got involved, VHS releases didn’t need to be passed for clarification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) due to a loophole. This meant that before the 80s, videotapes of films were released fully uncensored and (usually) without age restrictions. Of course, Whitehouse didn’t like this one bit and a campaign was born to introduce a law that the BBFC would now have to classify VHS releases of films the result was the Video Recordings Act 1984.

VIDEO NASTY

This act tied with the Obscene Publications Act 1959 led to a lot of VHS films being heavily censored in the UK or even outright banned and soon became known as the Video Nasty list. 72 films were on the original list and a further 82 films were added to that list later in what became known as the (Director of Public Prosecutions) DPP List.

Now, while I am dead against censorship, I do agree that age restrictions should apply. However, if something is rated for adults, don’t go censoring (or even banning it) when it is for an adult audience. The Video Recordings Act 1984 had far stricter rules for films released on video than if that same film had been released in the cinema. So, even when films were released on VHS after a cinema run, they would still be edited a lot of the time.

Numerous films were given the ‘Video Nasty’ label and were cut or outright banned from release. It took until 1998 when the director of the BBFC, James Ferman, retired before the rules were relaxed. A slew of films from 1999 onwards began to see full and uncut releases here in the UK. Still, it was a dark time for entertainment here, an age of over-the-top censorship that lasted for almost 20 years. One that was headed up by Mary Whitehouse.

MARY WHITEHOUSE VHS

When Whitehouse was not busy getting films banned in the UK, she still had time to show her disdain for TV. In the 1980s, she had more channels to moan about too. Channel 4 launched in the UK in 1982 and Mary Whitehouse found plenty to get writing letters of ‘disgust’ about.

When it originally launched, Channel 4 was always seen as and intended to be a channel that pushed broadcasting boundaries (nowadays, they censor episodes of The Simpsons). They showed films and TV shows that the other channels wouldn’t dare to. Brookside was one of Channel 4’s flagship shows, a soap opera set in Liverpool that had a much harder edge than other soaps of the day. Stories involving, sex, violence and more. Very tame by today’s standards but in 1982, this was a red rag to a bull for Mary Whitehouse. She objected to Brookside using (what is now and even then) very mild swearing. Just as she did in the 1960s with Alf Garnett, Whitehouse would sit there, watch Brookside and list all of the swearing and then write a letter of complaint to Channel 4 and her political friends. It got to the point where Mary Whitehouse called for the resignation of Jeremy Isaacs, who was the founding chief executive of Channel 4 at the time. He stayed at Channel 4 until 1987 when he left to become the General Director of the Royal Opera House. And no, his leaving had nothing to do with Mary Whitehouse or her letters.

BROOKSIDE

Mary Whitehouse even had issues with the ITV show, Robin of Sherwood. A more up-to-date (for the time) version of the Robin Hood tale. It was a popular and very watchable show that was for family viewing, not children’s TV. This is where Whitehouse and the NVALA made the same mistakes that they did with Doctor Who, it wasn’t a kid’s show. Still, that didn’t stop Whitehouse from labelling the show as being ‘unsuitable for children’. Robin of Sherwood had things like sword fights in it, but no blood or any real or detailed violence to speak of. Think of it as a Robin Hood version of The A-Team, with far fewer cabbage cannons. But of course, Whitehouse became incensed by the ‘violence’ and felt that the show was anti-Christian too. The episode called The Swords of Wayland angered Whitehouse because she felt that it had a Satanic plot and villains. Then, The Greatest Enemy episode depicted a ‘resurrection’ of the Robin Hood character (not really) and Mary Whitehouse said that it was disrespectful to Christianity.

ROBIN OF SHERWOOD

During one of her many public rants, Mary Whitehouse was doing her usual of telling everyone that TV was evil and ‘filth’. Little did she know that Richard Carpenter, the writer of Robin of Sherwood, was in the audience. After Whitehouse had finished ranting about TV and the evils of the Robin of Sherwood show, Carpenter stood up and said:

“I’m Richard Carpenter, and I’m a professional writer. And you’re a professional… what?”

Apparently, the gathered crowd and Mary Whitehouse herself fell deathly quiet. He had a point though, she may have had some clout but Whitehouse was a nobody. Just a bitter old woman trying to tell people what they could or couldn’t watch.

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In 1989, Mary Whitehouse got herself into a bit of trouble. She was on the BBC Radio show In the Psychiatrist’s Chair and was talking about celebrated writer Dennis Potter and his controversial drama, The Singing Detective. For those not in the know, Potter suffered from psoriatic arthropathy and The Singing Detective’s main character also suffered from the same disease. The drama infamously featured a scene where a young boy saw his own mother having sex. So, Whitehouse made a connection that the reason why Dennis Potter suffered from psoriatic arthropathy was that he, as a young boy, saw his mother having sex with a stranger. I guess she had issues with differentiating between fiction and real life? Or, to use Mary Whitehouse’s own words, Potter’s mother:

“…committed adultery with a strange man and that the shock of witnessing this had caused her son to be afflicted.”

Now, I’m not a medical expert and I know very little about psoriatic arthritis, other than it being a disease that is very painful on the joints and can cause the skin to go scaly and itchy. I may know little about the disease, but I am 100% sure that you can’t contract it by seeing your mother having sex. Even if you could, Whitehouse just outright saying that was how Denis Potter came down with psoriatic arthritis was complete bullshit and based on absolutely nothing. Mrs Potter went on to sue Mary Whitehouse and the BBC for libel in 1990 and she won too. As an excuse, Whitehouse claimed that she had a ‘blackout’ during the interview and had no idea what she was saying at the time.

The End Of An Era, The Beginning Of Another

In 1988, Mary Whitehouse suffered a fall while gardening and injured her spine. She had to take it easy and began to step away from her anti-everything campaigns over the years. Eventually, she left the NVALA in 1994, after 30 years of moaning because a fictional character in a sitcom said ‘bloody’ on the TV. Mary Whitehouse lived out the rest of he life in a nursing home in Colchester before passing away 21 years ago today, aged 91.

Even though this is a pretty lengthy article, I have only lightly dusted off a few of Mary Whitehouse’s rants and raves. Trust me, she did a lot more than this brief highlight reel here.

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Over the years, a lot of people have made fun of Mary Whitehouse, even when she was alive. The Monty Python team had a pop with this animation. Barry Humphries’ iconic Dame Edna Everage character was partly inspired by Whitehouse. Caroline Aherne’s Mrs Merton character also came from Mary Whitehouse. In fact, Whitehouse was even a guest on The Mrs Merton Show in the first series.

Of course, there was also the BBC 2 topical comedy show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Not only named after the useless busybody, but the show was specifically given that title as it featured near-the-knuckle humour that would purposely rub Whitehouse up the wrong way. The Deep Purple song, Mary Long, is about Mary Whitehouse too. Really, Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA became more of the butt of a joke in the later years and were largely forgotten about.

STRIPE GREMLINS

It may be 21 years since Mary Whitehouse died, but she’s still here. You know that scene in Gremlins when the evil Stripe jumps into a swimming pool to make many more evil offspring gremlins? That is what happened to Whitehouse. She fell into the swimming pool and ‘birthed’ the snowflakes that we have now. Only, where Mary Whitehouse had to rely on letters and the postal service to force her cancel culture opinions onto others. Now, people have the Internet and (let’s be honest, mainly) Twitter. All of these little Whitehouses can now directly @ performer or a company and instantly vent their displeasure.

A comedian tells a joke that someone didn’t like and instead of just letting it wash over, they now send a Tweet. @ the comedian, their agent, the platform they told the joke on and there you go. Next comes the forced (and faux) apology, the grovelling from whoever was involved with the joke. TV shows from the past are now heavily edited with huge chunks of dialogue and even plot removed. Sometimes, the show itself is removed in its entirety. Yeah, some shows from the 60s, 70s and 80s (even some of the 90s) would not work now… but that’s the point. They were not made in the 2020s. They serve as a snapshot of those times. So, editing (or outright removing) these shows now makes zero sense. If you are going to be ‘offended’ by certain words and situations, then don’t watch.

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The thing is that Whitehouse’s NVALA still exists to this day Given a name change to Mediawatch-UK in 2001 after Mary Whitehouse’s death. The group no longer boasts the impressive number of members it did in its heydays of the 1960s and 70s. There are only around 5,000 registered members of Mediawatch-UK these days… but they do still try to piss on people’s cornflakes regardless.

Even so, I may not have agreed with Whitehouse and I do detest censorship and everything that comes with it. However, I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit to some kind of admiration for her and what she was trying to do. There is something to be said for someone who is willing to dedicate 30 years of their life to a cause (right or wrong), it’s commendable and shows a lot of determination.

Here’s to you Mary Whitehouse, the Mother of the Twitter moaners and the Queen of the snowflakes. Just look at what you have wrought.

It’s A Hell Of A Thing, Killin’ A Man: Unforgiven At 30.

The Western genre was huge decades ago. It really all began in the 1950s. Oh, I know that there were Westerns before the 1950s and the genre dates back to the early 1900s with The Great Train Robbery from 1903 being one of the first (there were even some Westerns from around 1895). However, it was in the 1950s and when John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, that the Western genre really began to gain popularity.

JOHN WAYNE

By the 1960s, the genre had plateaued and began to fall out of favour as tastes changed… at least in America. In Europe, the Western was still a major draw and so the subgenre of the Spaghetti Western was born. These were a mix of various production companies over Europe working together to make classic Westerns with a more modern and European edge. I really should write a more detailed look at the Spaghetti Western subgenre one day. Anyway, Italian director Sergio Leone was one of the big Spaghetti Western filmmakers working in Europe in the 60s. Meanwhile, in America, a young bit-part actor by the name of Clint Eastwood, was struggling to find roles. At the time, Eastwood was appearing in the TV show Rawhide but could not break into movies. Long story short and Eastwood was suggested to play the lead in a new Spaghetti Western that Sergio Leone was making in Europe. That film was Per un pugno di dollari or, A Fistful of Dollars.

An even longer story short and Clint Eastwood stayed in Europe, did a few more Spaghetti Westerns and when they were eventually released in America a few years later, Eastwood became a major Hollywood star and the Western was reborn. From then, there was no stopping him as Eastwood ruled the box office for decades. Taking on iconic role after iconic role. I mean, Dirty Harry anyone? It was in the 70s when Eastwood also turned his hand to directing for the first time with the 1971 psychological thriller, Play Misty for Me. It turned out that not only was Eastwood a great actor, he was a damn fine director too. He began directing more and more films and his latest film as a director, Cry Macho, was released in 2021 when Eastwood was 91 years old. That’s a directing career of 50 years and more than thirty films. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t land a lead role in America in the 1960s.

Still, if I were to pick just one film that showcases Clint Eastwood’s talent as an actor and director, that film would have to be Unforgiven. Not only Eastwood’s best film but perhaps one of the greatest Western to ever be made too. Released back in 1992, Unforgiven is now 30 years old and I’m writing this article to celebrate its genius and take a look at just why it is so damn good.

While Unforgiven was released in 1992, it dates back a little further than that. David Webb Peoples was a film editor in the 70s as his main job, but he loved to write. In his spare time between editing jobs, he would sit down and pen screenplays. He got his first big job as a writer when Ridley Scott hired him to write Blade Runner in 1982. Still, back in the 70s when David Webb Peoples was working as an editor and writing in his spare time, he penned a Western film script with a harder edge than was being made at the time and that script had two working titles, The Cut-Whore Killings and The William Munny Killings. The script eventually found its way to Clint Eastwood in the 80s. However, he didn’t read it.

Instead, long-time associate of Eastwood, Sonia Chernus (she worked on Rawhide and The Outlaw Josey Wales with Eastwood) read the script and hated it. The script was overly violent and bloody with not much of a plot. Chernus told Eastwood that:

“We would have been far better off not to have accepted trash like this piece of inferior work. I can’t think of one good thing to say about it. Except maybe, get rid of it fast.”

Clint Eastwood trusted his associate’s judgement and didn’t read the script himself but, he didn’t follow her advice to ‘get rid of it fast’. Instead, he just put it to one side. A while later and when looking for a new project to work on, Eastwood picked up David Webb Peoples’ The Cut-Whore Killings/The William Munny Killings script and liked it. He recognised that it was rough and still need a lot of work, but he liked it. In fact, Clint Eastwood liked it so much that he felt not only should he play the lead but that he should direct it too. It was about 1986 and while Eastwood loved the script, he felt he was a bit too young to take it on. He decided to leave it for a few years and in that time, the script could be reworked and polished. Eventually, it became the shooting script for Unforgiven. From that rough script, Unforgiven went on to win four Oscars. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman) and Best Film Editing. Not bad for a flick that was once deemed so bad that it should be thrown away.

UNFORGIVEN POSTER

Unforgiven really is a wonderful piece of cinema that turned the Western genre on its head. Going back to classic films of the genre, the plots were always pretty basic. You had a good guy and a bad guy storyline and the Sheriff was always the good guy. With Unforgiven, Gene Hackman’s Sheriff ‘Little’ Bill Daggett was the bad guy, a really nasty bad guy too who was responsible for some of the most evil acts in the film. Daggett is even more violent than the cowboys that are responsible for kick-starting the plot of the film. Then, Clint Eastwood’s William Munny wasn’t exactly the hero in the white hat either. He had a history, a pretty bleak history. The film makes it clear that Munny is not or has not been a nice person and can never be redeemed for his past actions. The opening text crawl tells you that he is a known thief and murderer. William Munny will never be Unforgiven and there was this blurring of the line between being a good or bad guy in a Western.

Outside of the main two characters, Unforgiven is crammed with some amazing characters and performances. Richard Harris as English Bob, the legendary and ageing gunslinger is only in a few scenes, but those scenes stick with you. With Bob being followed around by Saul Rubinek’s W.W. Beauchamp, a very nervous writer wanting to capture the story of English Bob on the page. The whores that kick-start the story and their lust for revenge is so well crafted for such a simple plot. The Schofield Kid, played by Jaimz Woolvett is a wonderfully realised character that has all the bluster and front of a hardened killer, only for the exact opposite to be true. Of course, you can’t talk about the cast and characters of Unforgiven without mentioning Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan. One of William Munny’s oldest and best friends and an ex-outlaw with his own questionable past.

UNFORGIVEN NED

One of the great things about Unforgiven is how it handles the violence. There is no doubt that this is a violent flick, but it doesn’t necessarily take glory in that fact. If anything, it questions violence. Just going back to The Schofield Kid character and when he finally admits to having never killed anyone before and the whole ‘It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have’ speech. It’s a very powerful scene and I don’t think a film had ever brought up killing in such a way before, especially in the Western genre. Even before that iconic scene and before the ‘heroes’ are about to kill one of the cowboys who cut up Delilah Fitzgerald at the start of the film. You have the Ned Logan character tell William Munny that he can’t kill anyone. There’s a morality here and several times through the film, violence is questioned as characters try to make sense of what they are doing. The film almost feels anti-violence even when it is at its most violent.

UNFORGIVEN KID

All through that violence, we are rooting for a bad guy. Clint Eastwood’s William Munny was a horrible character with many flaws. As mentioned, the opening text crawl tells you that he was a murderer. Then, at the end of the film, we learn so much more as Munny even admits as much himself.

“I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed everything that walks or crawls at one time or another.” 

He’s a child killer and we, the viewer, are on his side. He’s not a nice person, or at least he wasn’t. A retired outlaw turned pig farmer, trying to look after his two children since his wife died. Yet, he can’t escape his old life. We, the viewer, are caught in a trap with William Munny. We want him to go back to his farm and take care of his children. But, we also want to see him get bloody revenge. We know that he’s been responsible for some despicable acts in the past and yet, we can’t help but support him. It takes some impressive writing to get the viewer on side with a self-confessed child killer. But it works because (as I said before) the supposed good guy, Sheriff Bill Daggett is evil. Really, there are no ‘good guys’ in Unforgiven, just different levels of bad guys and it gives us one of the most honest depictions of the Wild West on film.

UNFORGIVEN MUNNY 2

Then there is the pacing. Unforgiven comes in at over 2 hours and there are scenes that are slow, plodding. Very talky to help build characters. There are even times when the main plot just stops, as we learn more about William Munny. See the scene when he is talking to the cut-up whore, Delilah Fitzgerald and turning down her offer of a ‘free one’. For a good while, the main plot ceases to exist as Munny’s life and history become the focus. There are several scenes like this, where everything is slowed down and yet, the film never feels boring. It is constantly moving forwards, there is always something going on and the 2-hour runtime flies by, even when the film applies the breaks. You can really tell why this film won the Best Film Editing Oscar. Unforgiven has many a slow scene, but the film itself never feels slow and every single scene in the film deserves to be in the film. There’s not one wasted frame here.

UNFORGIVEN OPENING

You can’t talk about Unforgiven and not mention the cinematography. A lot of Westerns look good, purely based on the fact of their setting. With Unforgiven, you get that times a thousand. I mean, just look at the opening shot above. The scenery used and how it is shot is stunning all through the film. We get shots of beautiful scenery, sunsets and vistas that seem to go on forever. Scenes of people riding horses and talking, while awe-inspiring visuals engulf your eyes. But, there’s a wonderful juxtaposition going on as those beautiful shots are intercut with scenes from the film’s town setting of Big Whiskey. You can go from a prepossessing mountain range to the horseshit-filled streets of Big Whiskey. No more does this become apparent than in the film’s finale, shot at night and in the pouring rain. The use of light and shadow to show the good and bad sides of William Munny. The cinematography is astonishing.

And about that finale. Everything has been building to this for the last hour and 50 minutes. It’s been a slow but engrossing journey and we get to see William Munny as he was before he became a pig farmer. Cold, calculated and an unashamed killer. The last 10 minutes or so of Unforgiven are some of the greatest that you will find in any film. It’s dark, it’s moody and yet, there is still room for some light humour… before the slaughter of Sheriff Bill Daggett and his men. Brutal and brilliantly shot. then we get the closing shot, a mirror of the opening shot and Munny is back home on his farm and looking after his children.

UNFORGIVEN MUNNY

This ladies and gentlemen, this is why Unforgiven is the greatest Western film ever made. Even now, 30 years later, it is still a powerful and emotive picture.

Inside No. 9: A Perversely Humorous Retrospective – Series Six And Seven

Series Six

Well, this is it, the final stretch of Inside No. 9 and the last two series (so far). Originally airing between the 10th of May and the 14th of June 2021. I really have no idea what Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have in store next. I did get a bit cocky before the previous series and thought I knew what to expect, but I was (happily) proven wrong. Time for me to get lost in some tales and really have no idea where this show is going to take me.

Wuthering Heist

WUTHERING HEIST

Columbina (Gemma Whelan) is working with a rag-tag group to carry out a good old-fashioned heist. Teaming up with Arlo (Kevin Bishop), Pantalone (Paterson Joseph), Mario (Dino Kelly), Hortensia (Rosa Robson), The Doctor (Steve Pemberton) and Scaramouche (Reece Shearsmith). Meeting in a warehouse so that they can go over their plan to steal some diamonds. The heist then takes place (off-screen) and we get to see the aftermath, in a kind of a Reservoir Dogs homage (see the poster).

Okay, I may have just compared this one to Reservoir Dogs, but it is also absolutely nothing like it. Yeah, it features a warehouse, a heist gone wrong and so on and that is all very Reservoir Dogs. However, the style and tone here are something very different. I had no idea exactly what Pemberton and Shearsmith were doing with this one. I knew they were celebrating a style, I just had no idea what it was. I had to do a little research and this episode is done in the style of Commedia dell’arte, an older Italian comedy where the actors all wear masks that denote the characteristics of the role they are playing, usually stock and social stereotypes. Yup, this one is an out-and-out comedy. A style of comedy that I was not aware of before and I admit, was completely lost on me. I really didn’t like this one on my first viewing, but it grew on me with subsequent views. Characters break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, they are fully aware that they are in an episode of Inside No. 9, they make really bad jokes, puns and more. There are some genuinely funny references and jabs at critics and even us the viewer. The structure and style of this one really did grow on me with multiple viewings. It’s a good slice of utter silliness, crafted perfectly.

Simon Says

Spencer (Steve Pemberton) is the writer of a massively popular fantasy TV show called The Ninth Circle. The finale to the show was somewhat ‘underwhelming’, according to the fans. One such fan, Simon (Reece Shearsmith) feels that the show could and should come back to put right what the finale did wrong. Simon turns up at Spencer’s place after witnessing him push an overbearing fan over, which Simon caught on video. That fan died after hitting the floor and Simon uses that to blackmail Spencer into letting him co-write a new finale and one, that he is sure, that the fans will enjoy.

SIMON SAYS

It is quite clear that this is an episode that uses the whole finale and fan backlash of Game of Thrones as its diving board. An episode that explores the whole idea of writing a TV show and one that is squarely aimed at toxic/annoying fan culture. As well as (I’m sure) more than a few subtle digs at ‘certain’ fans of Inside No. 9 itself, who think that they can tell Pemberton and Shearsmith how to do their job. I just need to go over this whole retrospective before I publish it and make sure I don’t appear in a future episode. Simon Says is (yet again) another brilliantly observed and written episode. It is also one that I really didn’t want to try and second guess, I was enjoying all the sly digs at fan culture too much. I just sat back and let this one wash over me and lead me to an ending that put a big ‘ole smile on my face. ‘Nuff said.

Lip Service

Felix (Steve Pemberton) checks into a low-budget hotel room, where he is often pestered by the nosey hotel manager, Eric (Reece Shearsmith). With Eric seemingly out of the way, Iris (Sian Clifford) arrives at the room. Iris is a professional lip reader that Felix has hired to spy on his ex-wife, who is meeting a mystery man over the road from the hotel. Felix wants his wife back and needs to know who this mystery man is and if they are seeing each other or not. What follows is a story that has more twists in it than Chubby Checker had in 1961.

This is one of those episodes that you really need to watch more than once. It is packed with clever lines, double meanings and hidden clues. There’s a brilliant scene where Felix is talking to his wife on the phone while Iris lipreads, so we can hear both sides of the conversation and still stick with Inside No. 9’s rule of staying in one location. It also leads into some classic gags. Yup, this episode has some good comedy in it but don’t let that fool you, this a dark tale and one that packs a hell of an ending. It also seems to merge about four or five different story genres into just under 30 minutes. What could be seen as a mess of storytelling is handled very well indeed.

Hurry Up and Wait

A new crime drama covering the real-life (within the Inside No. 9 universe, not ours) disappearance and supposed murder of baby Ryan is being filmed on location of where Ryan went missing 20 years ago. James (Reece Shearsmith) is a bit player with a small role in the said crime drama. He is taken to the green room while he waits for his one and only scene to be filmed. The green room just so happens to be a lived-in caravan that is still being used by the family who owns it, while doubling up as a green room for the show’s production team. James sits on the couch and practises his lines, when he is interrupted by the daughter of the family, Bev (Donna Preston). Bev is celebrating a birthday and she is very ‘socially awkward’. After a while, James pieces together numerous clues that led him to the conclusion that Bev is actually baby Ryan and that the mother and father of the family kidnapped Ryan and raised him as their daughter. However, James is having trouble getting people to listen to him and what he has discovered.

HURRY UP AND WAIT

You know, if someone were to ask me what sums up Inside No. 9 as a show, I would tell them to watch this episode. It blends reality and fiction by having Adrian Dunbar (famous for playing Ted Hastings from the criticality acclaimed Line of Duty) playing himself. The in-episode ‘factual’ crime drama about baby Ryan is written by Jeff Pope, who is a real TV screenwriter too. This one has comedy in it and satirises acting and TV show productions, Adrian Dunbar slowly stealing James’ lines is hilarious. Then, it also has a really fucking bleak and disturbing ending. This is exactly what Inside No. 9 is all about, leading you down the garden path and slamming the gate on you. Steve Pemberton plays Stan, the father of the family and he really gives off some disturbing Fred West vibes too. There is definitely something wrong with this family and they are hiding a secret. As James goes from a small bit player as a police officer in a crime drama, to full-on detective and works out the clues, you are really on his side and want him to bring this disturbing family down.

How Do You Plead?

Mr Webster (Derek Jacobi) is a massively successful but ageing, ill and dying ex-barrister. He is bedridden, hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment and his diet mainly consists of pills and more pills. Urban (Reece Shearsmith) is his nurse and tends to the soon-to-expire Webster as and when he is summoned. The two partake in a little roleplaying of a court case before the reason behind Webster’s staggering success as a barrister is revealed.

I believe that this episode makes Derek Jacobi the only actor to be in more than one episode of Inside No. 9 (discounting Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, of course). Jacobi voiced the director in The Devil of Christmas episode from series three, though you only heard his voice and never saw him. Anyway, this episode is a cracker and I had no idea where it was going until it was too late. Paring the hardnosed and cutthroat character of Webster against the much more angelic-like Urban makes for a good chalk-and-cheese dynamic. Just who is playing who here though?

Last Night of the Proms

LAST NIGHT AT THE PROMS

A family gather to watch Last Night of the Proms on the TV. There’s Mick (Steve Pemberton) and his wife Dawn (Sarah Parish). Brian (Reece Shearsmith), his wife Penny (Debra Gillett) and their utterly bored teenage son Oliver (Jack Wolfe). Oh, and let’s not forget Ralph (Julian Glover) as the dementia-suffering  and Tourette’s swearing father of Dawn and Penny. In the midst of all the rousing classical music merriment comes Yusuf (Bamshad Abedi-Amin), a strange man who has seemingly wandered in from a local immigration detention centre, or has he?

I don’t think there has been an outright bad episode of Inside No. 9 so far, but there have been some weaker ones. This is one of those. As far as I can tell, the Last Night of the Proms episode has a bit of a political/Brexit agenda and some not-very-subtle symbolism. I am avoiding spoilers for this retrospective but when a bloody dead body gets wrapped up in the Union Flag, all while Jerusalem plays, I just felt that perhaps Pemberton and Shearsmith were being a tad too conspicuous, maybe that was the point? Aside from some really great performances, with Sarah Parish being a major highlight. This was a bit of a weak end to the series that began in such a crazy but funny fashion and with some very enjoyable episodes along the way. But I tell you something, I’ll never listen to The Sailor’s Hornpipe the same way again.

Series Seven

I’ve made it, I’m now at the end of this retrospective and the last series of Inside No. 9, for the time being anyway. Aired between the 20th of April and the 1st of June 2022. I am hoping for a complete mind-fuck and so much rug pulling that I’ll need corrective surgery on my arse cheeks. I want to see some bleak storytelling, humorous dialogue and yeah, some endings that make me worried about the frame of mind that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are in. Let’s get cracking.

Merrily, Merrily

Three old university friends meet up for a reunion. Organised by Laurence (Reece Shearsmith), he invites Darren (Steve Pemberton) and Callum (Mark Gatiss) to a ‘party on a boat’. The boat turns out to be a pedalo, which the friends take out and across a lake. However and due to a misunderstanding with the invite, Darren turns up with his uninvited girlfriend Donna (Diane Morgan). That is when Laurence’s plans are thrown into disarray and it is revealed that the party never even existed and just what Laurence planned was is revealed.

MERRILY MERRILY (2)

Taking Inside No. 9’s rule of setting the story in one location, this episode is about as claustrophobic as you can get, all while still being out in the open. The four characters are stuck on the pedalo on the lake as tales from the past and present are told. With some great writing and the suggestion that Laurence’s party isn’t quite what it seems. We learn more about what these friends have been up to and how their lives have changed. Pemberton’s Darren character is brilliantly realised and his misunderstanding of the invite (and what a pedalo is) becomes all too clear with a great reveal. I have to admit that this episode led me down the garden path. I had a feeling that it was heading in one direction, only for it to deliver a resolve that is unexpected and bitter-sweet. A great opener for the series.

Mr King

MR KING

Mr Curtis (Reece Shearsmith) is the new teacher at a small rural school in Wales, overseen by the headmaster Mr Edwards (Steve Pemberton). Taking over from the previous teacher, Mr King. Mr Curtis loves teaching and tries all sorts of new teaching methods to get his pupils interested. However, Mr Curtis seems to be a bit too strict and his teaching style is vastly different to Mr King. One of Mr Curtis’ pupils makes an accusation against him and he has to try to clear his name. All while also trying to track down his predecessor, Mr King, to help him get a grasp of the kind of lessons that he was teaching the class.

This was one of those episodes that failed to fool me. If you have ever seen a certain British folk-horror film, then you will see the ending of this coming about 2 minutes into this episode. Still, that does not mean that there wasn’t a lot to enjoy here. This is another episode that is peppered with great humour, sharp dialogue and loads of clues. Mr King is one that really does warrant multiple viewings. Then there is the misdirection and you will go from rooting for Mr Curtis to really detesting him and more. Reece Shearsmith’s character is brilliantly realised and portrayed. Yeah, I may have correctly guessed the ending within a few minutes of the episode starting, but the journey to that ending was so damn enjoyable.

Nine Lives Kat

Katrina (Sophie Okonedo) is a tough detective working on a case involving a missing boy. She is also a bit of a cliché. A divorced single mother, alcohol problem and she struggles with a work/life balance. As the case begins to take over, Katrina struggles to keep a grip on her life, while she pours vodka on her cereal. This is when Ezra (Steve Pemberton) enters the story and he begins to clear things up… or make them so much worse.

I love writing, I love writing about writing and that is what this episode is all about. A very meta tale that explores character and storytelling in a very clever way. There’s some really bad and cheesy dialogue here, awful clichés everywhere, including a shitty jump scare with a cat. Just looking at this on the surface, this is the ‘worst’ written episode of Inside No. 9 yet… but it is supposed to be. It’s not like Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith completely dropped the ball here with the writing, quite the opposite in fact. The writing here is bad for a very good reason. The clichés are there to clue you into what is going on. This one is enjoyably bad and exceptionally wonderful at the same time.

Kid/Nap

KIDNAP

Shane (Daniel Mays) and Clifford (Jason Isaacs) kidnap Lara (Daisy Haggard), the wife of wealthy hedge fund manager Dominic (Reece Shearsmith). The duo plan on holding Lara for a £1.3 million ransom and if her husband refuses to pay, well, it could get very bloody. It soon becomes clear that Clifford is the brains of the plan, while Shane is not. Oh, and Lara is actually in on the plan as she is having an affair with Clifford. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, this plot point is revealed before you get to the halfway point. When Dominic calls the police, headed up by DI Ellis (Steve Pemberton), that is when the careful plan begins to go awry.

This episode can be viewed in one of two ways. You can watch this as a really bad kidnap thriller, or you can see it as a fantastic parody and clever observation of a really bad kidnap thriller. I’m pretty sure that the latter is the aim. An episode that plays up the comedy factor and one that becomes a comedy of errors, crammed with stock characters and stilted dialogue. The ‘twist’ that Lara is in on the plan is not even the twist of the episode either as this has more than just the one surprise. This is another one of the very few episodes that breaks the ‘everything in one location’ rule too, but still keeps everything together. It uses split-screen to show the other characters and locations but all while still keeping things anchored. Basically, if Brian De Palma ever directed an episode of Inside No. 9, it would look like this. Kid/Nap is an episode that you are either going to ‘get’ and be on board with its gritty-silliness, or it’ll go completely over your head and you’ll misunderstand the point.

A Random Act of Kindness

Helen (Jessica Hynes) is a single mother living with her teenage son Zach (Noah Valentine). Their relationship is not at its best as they bicker and argue constantly. When a sparrow flies into Zach’s bedroom window, a strange man called Bob (Steve Pemberton) picks it up and asks for help from Helen to nurse it back to health. Bob and Zach strike up a relationship and the teenager gets some much-needed tuition from the stranger in terms of his education. But, is Bob going to drive a wedge between Zach and his mother or bring them closer together?

RANDOM ACT

There really is a lot to cover with this episode, and the fact that I am actively avoiding spoilers makes this very hard to sum up. What starts out as a simple family drama evolves into something far more complex and intricate. The relationship between Bob and Zach is wonderfully explored and you get a nice physics lesson thrown in too. The plot here becomes multi-layered and much more complex, especially as it reaches its climax. This is an episode that really does display how great Pemberton and Shearsmith can be when armed with a word processor and an idea. Some razor-sharp writing and a story that is as deep as the Mariana Trench. What you get here is 28 minutes of TV that offers a story worthy of a feature film. The ending will leave you scratching your head trying to work out just who got a happy ending, or if anyone did. Still, as complex as the story gets, there’s a simple mother/son dynamic that is the driving force behind it all.

Wise Owl

WISE OWL

Ronnie (Reece Shearsmith) is a man-child with an obviously troubled past. He grew up with the Wise Owl public information films that taught him not to talk to strangers, play with matches and the like. These films have left deep and lasting psychological scars that have carried over from boy to man, Ronnie is borderline suicidal. A phone call from his mother sparks off memories that drive Ronnie to kill off his inner demons before they kill him.

After the damp squib of an episode that was the end of series six, this is how you end a series. Fuck me, this was this dark and amazing at the same time. If you are from England and of a certain age (like me) then the public information films of the 70s and 80s are forever ingrained into your subconscious. Things like Donald Pleasence playing Death and trying to kill children at a pond, or watching a kid get electrocuted at a power station when trying to retrieve a football. These memories are decades old and yet, still as strong as they ever were. Then there is the king of all public information films, Charley Says. It is those Charley Says cartoons that serve as the basis for this episode. The story of Ronnie is intercut with Wise Owl animations that are clearly massively inspired by the Charley Says cartoons. This is an episode that left a deep impression on me, like the Wise Owl did on Ronnie. Twit-you!


Overall

Series six and seven have been great. I have sat here watching these episodes and expecting a drop in quality, but it never happened. Yeah sure, some episodes were better than others but I never found one I outright disliked. For me, this is a testament to Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s scribing. Even if an episode didn’t exactly work for me (Last Night of the Proms), I can still appreciate the work that went into it. From meta and fourth-wall-breaking tales to mind-melting and straight-up WTF ones. Inside No. 9 had still managed to surprise me, seven series in. I’m not bored yet, I want more.

Overall-Overall

For me, Inside No. 9 is an astonishing piece of TV. I’ve recently read that it has been renewed for two more series, which will take the total to 9… perfect. It’ll also leave me with two more series to cover and keep my format of this retrospective too, thanks fellas. I think that is where they should stop too. I don’t like it when a TV show outstays its welcome and I do think that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith should quit while they are ahead, go out on a high and avoid scraping the bottom of the barrel. Still, the end of the show doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Inside No. 9, an anthology film could be amazing if the duo come up with any new ideas for stories after series nine. Just think of an Amicus-stylised portmanteau film version of Inside No. 9. Pemberton and Shearsmith could have a lot of fun with that.

INSIDE NO.9 STEVE REECE 2

Still, now I have sat through all seven series and forty-three episodes (multiple times) and I now realise how angry this show has made me. See, I like to write, I’ve penned a few short stories and even a novel. Putting together a compelling short story is far more difficult than a longer tale. You have far less time to build a story, evolve characters and so on. So, to create so many great short tales here with Inside No. 9 and make it look easy, really infuriates me. I adore this show, I think it is amazing. But it has also taught me that I have a long way to go as a writer myself.

Halloween Picks

Okay, so to finish this Halloween special of my look at the entirety of Inside No. 9, I’m going to pick some of the more horror-based/creepy episodes that I feel are worth a watch over Halloween. Not necessarily blood-soaked gore-fests, but episodes that I think are scary or disturbing (and more) and that would work great as a nice little Inside No. 9 Halloween-fest. There is no real reasoning to this list (other than chronologically via series), no best to worst, etc. Just my suggestion of episodes to watch if you want something with more of a horror vibe in the run-up to Halloween.

INSIDE NO.9 STEVE REECE 3

Let’s get things started with the Tom & Gerri episode. A great yarn and one that explores mental health with a dark twist. The Harrowing next, for the fact that this looks and feels like a classic gothic horror film. There’s a nice bit of black comedy in this one and it has some genuine scares too. I think it would be rather remiss of me if I didn’t put The 12 Days of Christine on this list of Halloween tales. A big fan-favourite and one that really is a showcase for Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s writing. Séance Time is well worth a watch if you want something with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere and a few laughs.

Quite simply, one of the most creative and clever episodes next with The Devil of Christmas. I have a particular adulation for this one because I grew up with and love the kind of TV shows that it is paying homage to. Plus, it’s just a really well told creepy tale. I have spoken about the quality of the writing several times already but with my next pick, I have to praise it more. The Riddle of the Sphinx is fucking genius. Not only do you get a great story, you also get an amazingly designed puzzle of an episode that you really do need to watch more than once. Diddle Diddle Dumpling amazed me for its basic plot of a man and a shoe, but it ended up utterly enthralling and disturbing me at the same time. And sweet baby Jebus, what an ending!

DEARTH BE NOT PROUD

The finale of series three, Private View, was just delicious. There’s plenty of death and blood in this one, topped off with an interesting insight into modern art and a wicked sting in the tail. To Have and to Hold is one of those episodes that may not scream horror at you, but the story is still deeply disturbing. I just have to mention the Halloween live special that is Dead Line. Not one of my favourites, story-wise but it is just such an amazing piece of TV and brilliantly delivered. Death Be Not Proud works as a great twisted tale that is as bizarre as it is funny, as it is macabre. The Stakeout is an episode that starts out blood-soaked and tells you outright that one of the main characters is dead. What happens from then on seems pretty ordinary, but there’s a wonderful undercurrent of dread throughout.

I really do adore episodes that feel like they are going in one direction, only for them to lead you down the garden path and hit you with a dark ending, Hurry Up and Wait is one of those episodes. How Do You Plead? has a gothic, old-timey feel to it from the off. The story feels very grounded and leads to a hellish finale that both seemingly comes from nowhere and still feels very right. Mr King is an episode that (as I said in the retrospective) is dripping in the atmosphere of a certain British folk-horror flick. There were no surprises for me with this one, but I still really bloody enjoyed it. Nine Lives Kat because I do love it when writers explore writing. The cheesy dialogue and awful clichés are brilliantly placed for a good reason. Inside No. 9 has a bit of a reputation for going into some dark places, with the Wise Owl episode… fuck me! This is about as grim as the show has ever got (so far). The story is bleak the writing is jet-black depressing. Even when this show went to some horrific places, there was still some form of humour to be found. Not here, this is just dark and twisted from start to end. Okay, there is some really black humour here, if you enjoy laughing at baldy taxidermied rabbits.

INSIDE NO.9 STEVE REECE 4

Well, that’s all folks. My lengthy Inside No. 9 retrospective has reached its end. Well, until the last two series are made and aired anyway. All being well, I’ll be back to finish this in 2024.

Inside No. 9: A Perversely Humorous Retrospective – A Spoiler-rific Look At Dead Line

Straight off the bat, and if the title of this article hasn’t already clued you in. This is a massive spoilery look at the Halloween special Dead Line episode of Inside No. 9. So, you have been warned. My synopsis of this one (copy & paste from the main retrospective) said:

“Arthur (Steve Pemberton) comes home on Halloween after finding a mobile phone in a graveyard while out shopping. The phone rings, Arthur answers it and he can hear strange and ominous voices but can’t quite understand what is being said. The call soon disconnects. Wanting to find the owner of the phone, Arthur redials the last number called and it is answered by Moira (Stephanie Cole), Arthur explains the situation and Moira agrees to contact the rightful owner of the phone for him. Later, Arthur gets a visit from the local Reverend (Reece Shearsmith) and that is when things begin to take a turn for the worst.”

DEAD LINE 2

So yeah, that is the setup for this one… a phone. That and the fact that this was an episode that was broadcast live… or was it? I’ll get into the whole ‘live’ thing soon enough, as I initially had doubts. So, what happens here is that when the Reverend turns up at Arthur’s house to try and help with getting the phone back to its rightful owner, the sound fails. The visuals are fine and the two characters talk, but we can not hear what they are saying. A BBC continuity announcer interrupts the episode and tells us that there are problems with the live broadcast and that they are working on getting the sound fixed. The episode comes back on and everything is fine, for a while. The sound cuts out again.

Whoops, the whole live thing has failed miserably as technical issues plague the broadcast. The continuity announcer interrupts once more to say that this live show can not go ahead and a repeat of the A Quiet Night In episode from series one will be shown instead. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s efforts to ‘get us’ with a live Halloween special have been let down by technical issues. Live TV eh? What a fucker, all that effort for nothing, at least we get to re-watch one of the great episodes though.

DEAD LINE 3

Of course, Pemberton and Shearsmith haven’t failed. The ‘technical problems’ are part of the episode itself. They are in full control and as you sit there watching the ‘repeat’ of  A Quiet Night In, that is when things get seriously messed up. What this Dead Line Halloween special live episode explores is the ‘real’ story of a ghost haunting the studio from where the episode is being broadcast live from. Archive footage of actual real events, accidents (Bobby Davro falling flat on his face and breaking his nose, due to a prop error), an episode of Most Haunted looking a the rumours that the Coronation Street set is haunted and more are shown. What follows is this mix of real events that actually happened in our universe and snippets of what is happening on the set in the fictional world of Inside No. 9.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith sit in the make-up room really pissed off that their live episode has failed, but still see the funny side of things. Stephanie Cole walks around the set not sure what is going on or even what TV show she is doing (some comedy show, she says). From the point of view of the actors (who are acting as actors), everything has gone wrong and BBC are showing a repeat of the A Quiet Night In episode. Only, we the viewer are not watching the A Quiet Night In episode. We are watching the actors of Inside No. 9 via security cameras (correct time stamps and everything) around the studio and we get to see the whole thing basically turn into The Blair Witch Project, as the ghost haunting the studio kills everyone for ‘real’.

DEAD LINE 4

See, this folks, this is why I said (in the main retrospective) that this episode is both one of the best and most uninteresting episodes of the show so far. It does just become a blatant The Blair Witch Project copy, and I’ve never liked The Blair Witch Project. However, there is one factor of that film that I do adore, the marketing. The way that (for a while) people believed that The Blair Witch Project was a real film, that people really did die. IMDb had the actors listed as ‘missing’ for a while. There were ‘real’ lost persons posters made. There was a website that set up the entire background and a history of the ‘real’ Blair Witch and everything. Despite the fact that I’m no fan of the film itself, I think that the marketing for The Blair Witch Project was amazing. And that is exactly what Pemberton and Shearsmith did expertly for this episode too. They really fucked with the intended audience.

Now, I do need to tell you how I have been watching all of these episodes for this retrospective. I did say at the very start of this whole thing that I only got into Inside No. 9 very recently. I have had to watch all of the episodes on BBC iPlayer (though they have recently been removed. Why BBC?). They had already been broadcast and so, I have been watching them via catch-up. This is exactly why this episode did not work for me. See, if you watch the episodes from start to finish, back-to-back as I have over the last few weeks, you notice things. The fact that every episode just starts on BBC iPlayer, the intro to the show begins and away you go. With this episode, it started with a BBC continuity announcer telling you that it is a live episode… why? I know that it’s not live as I am watching it on catch-up. So, why would a recording of a TV show need an announcer to tell the viewer that it is live when it isn’t? Straight away, my suspicious mind was working overtime. I have been fooled by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith multiple times already. I knew, right from that continuity announcer telling me that this is a live episode, I knew right there and then that it was all a ruse. Then, when the sound cut out, I just was not surprised. In fact, I was kind of expecting it or something like it.

DEAD LINE 5

So, for me watching on catch-up ruined the aim of this episode. This one really was something that you had to watch live to ‘get it’. However, that does not mean that I still didn’t enjoy the episode. Quite the opposite actually. No, I wasn’t fooled, but knowing how a magic trick is done always makes me enjoy the trick so much more. I adore watching Penn and Teller, I think they are the greatest magicians on the planet. When they, not only show you a magic trick, but then show you how that magic trick was done, it just makes me adore Penn and Teller, their craft, their dedication and their hard work even more so. The Dead Line episode of Inside No. 9 is Pemberton and Shearsmith doing a Penn and Teller… and doing it really fucking well too.

Immediately after watching this episode, I was on the internet researching how it was done. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith outdid The Blair Witch Project in terms of how this was marketed. They did interviews before this episode aired and had whole backstories and synopsis ready for what the episode was about, even if none of it existed in the final product. They explained how this episode was about Arthur and the phone, when it really wasn’t. Here’s a great interview with Pemberton and Shearsmith where they talk about the episode and what it was about before it aired. There was even a clip of this interview used in the episode itself.

Within the episode, there is ‘rehearsal footage’ that kind of explains what the episode (without the faux technical problems) would’ve been like. It’s brilliant too as it adds a layer of reality to the whole thing and you can work out the plot, even though you never see that story play out. You see behind the scenes as the actors act like they have no idea what is going on There are some genuinely creepy things going on too, hidden ghosts to find and more. Stephanie Cole getting possessed by the evil and slitting her own throat was truly horrific. The way she looked directly at the camera and at us, the viewer, was very disturbing.

DEAD LINE 7

Then there was the use of Twitter. See, as this was a live episode, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith very rightly predicted that people would be on Twitter commenting when the sound cut out. So, they had a gag where Shearsmith would comment live on Twitter as everything was going wrong. You can even see how the whole thing played out on Twitter right here. There were people falling for the sound cutting out, people saying it was part of the show. Then you had BBC 2 apologising for the technical issues on Twitter, which then added a layer of doubt to those sure it was all part of the episode. When Shearsmith Tweeted to ask if they were live on BBC 2, that was just the icing on the cake and all bets were off at that point. Honestly, clicking through all the Tweets and seeing how people reacted at the time that this episode aired is a wonderful diary of events. After the episode aired, Stephanie Cole, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith were all declared as dying at the TV studio on Wikipedia too. I don’t know if that was officially announced or if a fan had edited it.

DEAD LINE 6

I’d really love to read an in-depth dissection of just how this one was made. I did find this interview where more details are mentioned, but it is still very light compared to the sheer amount of work that would’ve gone into it. There must be rehearsal footage, behind-the-scenes stuff, table reads, the planning and so on. I think they could make a documentary out of just how this episode was made, and I’d watch it too. Just like Penn and Teller telling you how they do the cup & balls trick and being mesmerised by their skill. I want to see just how Pemberton, Shearsmith and everyone else on the crew pulled off this slice of magic.

I did say at the start that I had doubts that this was an actual live episode. Because, when you think about it, the whole thing could’ve been recorded (to avoid any actual technical problems or live mishaps) and nobody would be any the wiser. The only scene that I think that possibly would have had to have been live was the bit in the make-up room when Reece Shearsmith sent the live Tweet. However, he really could’ve been at home, Tweet already written and ready to send and then he just sent it when his on-screen version did. Then there was the flicking between the TV channels (BBC only though) to show the news, and it was the actual live news that was on at the time too. That could’ve possibly been done with some live post-production with a second or two delay. It was possible to fake it as being live, is my point.

DEAD LINE 8

So yeah, for a while I did doubt just how live this ‘live’ broadcast was. I even doubted that the only scene that I think would’ve been live, actually was live. But it turns out that any and everything that could conceivably be live was actually live. Obviously, archive footage was recorded, Bobby Davro’s fall, the Most Haunted episode and so on. But everything else was live, even the stunt work. I think that even the fake, pre-recorded rehearsal footage was live too and that is fucking awesomely meta in itself.

Look, I didn’t like the plot of Dead Line, it was a bit too The Blair Witch Project for me. But I can hardly put into words just how much I loved how the episode turned out. How much I admire the work that must’ve gone into it. How the logistics of doing something like this must’ve taken so many man-hours to plan and execute. In short, I just have to doff my cap to Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and the entire crew. This was genius TV, especially in this day and age when everything is spoiled via social media. The fact that Pemberton and Shearsmith pulled this off, and pulled it off in front of everyone while doing interviews about the episode and how they used Twitter against people who use Twitter. This was fucking amazing TV. Simply genius.

Inside No. 9: A Perversely Humorous Retrospective – Series Four And Five

Series Four

This series was shown from the 2nd of January to the 6th of February 2018.  Well, I have to be honest, I have no idea what to expect with these next two series. I know that there will be twists and turns, I know there will be horror and dark humour and there could even be a bit of lightheartedness and a happy ending or two. I honestly don’t know what to expect, so I guess I had better expect any and everything when it comes to what goes on in Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s minds.

Zanzibar

Prince Rico (Rory Kinnear) arrives at the hotel Zanzibar with his bodyguard Henry (Reece Shearsmith). After checking into his room, Henry reveals to us the audience that he plans on killing Prince Rico. Gus (also Rory Kinnear) checks into the hotel on the same floor (number 9) and is mistaken for Prince Rico and vice versa. Other residents on the same floor, including Robert (Steve Pemberton), end up getting mixed up in the mixing up of Prince Rico and Gus as a much more intertwining story is slowly revealed.

ZANZIBAR

To be honest, this one doesn’t have that much of an interesting plot. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but the ultimate resolve is rather flat and very obvious. But what does lift this yarn is how it is played out and presented. The characters break the fourth wall and directly address us the viewer, and they do it via some very Shakespeare-esque delivery. All of the dialogue is told in the form of Iambic pentameter and it’s very rhythmic. I may not have enjoyed the story much and I’ve never been a fan of Shakespeare, but I do admire just how this one was crafted.

Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room

BERNIE CLIFTON'S DRESSING ROOM

Somewhat popular in the 1980s, comedy double-act Tommy ‘Cheese’ (Reece Shearsmith) and Len ‘Crackers’ (Steve Pemberton) meet up for one final gig to try and reinvigorate the old double-act. They haven’t worked together for decades following a bitter falling out. Tommy has moved on from his comedy roots and become pretty successful in his life. Len’s life headed in a very different direction and he became a washed-up alcoholic. As they practise their old comedy routines, with a few updates for a modern audience, exactly what caused the rift between the two is brought to the surface.

This one was absolutely brilliant. I grew up in the 80s when the classic comedy double-act was regular viewing on TV. The likes of Cannon and Ball, Little and Large or Morecambe and Wise (to name a few) were ruling the airwaves. Light-hearted family comedy that everyone would tune into on a Saturday night and would pull in multiples of millions of viewers every week. The fictional Cheese and Crackers here existed as one of those popular double-acts within our reality. The nods and references to those well-remembered comedians of the day (and some long-forgotten ones) come thick and fast. The tale of what happened to Cheese and Crackers is as (outdatedly) funny as it is heartbreaking. This one plays out like pure perfection in short story form. Just what does Bernie Clifton’s (one of those long-forgotten British comedians) dressing room have to do with any of this? Well, quite a lot. The two characters played by Pemberton and Shearsmith are perfectly portrayed and they are the only two in this episode too (save for one minor role at the end). Yet, even with just the two characters, there’s a lot going on and a lot to take in. It all leads to an ending that certainly took me by surprise and one that had me feeling nostalgic for those Saturday nights growing up watching those comedy double-acts.

Once Removed

May (Monica Dolan) is moving house and she hires Spike (Nick Moran) to do all of the heavy lifting. When Viktor (Reece Shearsmith) makes an appearance, Spike soon learns that this house move is anything but ‘normal’. A dementia-suffering old man (David Calder) who thinks he is Andrew Lloyd Webber and the dead body of an estate agent (Steve Pemberton) in the toilet are just the start… or end of the crazy events and secrets that the house holds.

ONCE REMOVED

What you have here is not so much a whodunit? mystery. This is more like a whydunit? The whole episode plays out via reverse chronology. So, you start at the end and make your way to the beginning. After the opening errr, ending, the episode jumps back 10 minutes to cover the 10 minutes that explains just what happened to lead to the start (end) that you just watched. After which, it then goes back another 10 minutes to cover the events that led up to the previous 10 minutes. Then, to finally jump back to the last 10 minutes to cover the end (beginning) that explains everything that you need to know about the last 20 minutes that you just watched. The reverse chronology of this episode is pulled off very well indeed and this is one that you’ll want to re-watch to try and spot all the subtle clues, clever dialogue and acting that reveals more than you’ll first realise. A cracking episode that is just crying out for multiple viewings.

To Have and to Hold

Married couple Adrian (Steve Pemberton) and Harriet (Nicola Walker) are having some relationship issues. They are childless after 20 years and Harriet once had a ‘thing’ with one of her work colleagues. That is on top of the usual money worries and then there is the lack of sex. It’s a marriage that is sinking fast. Adrian seems to be the most boring person on the planet who spends most of his time in the basement where he has set up his own photography room. Here, he is struggling to run his business as he offers his experience as a photographer to take pictures of much happier couples on their big day.

Split into five acts that are based around the classic wedding vows of ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part’. This tale is seemingly very plain and uninteresting, until the Pot Noodles get involved. Steve Pemberton plays his character perfectly and he really does come across as a meek and cuckolded husband. While Nicola Walker as the overbearing and adulterous wife is quite horrible (in a good way) and she is great at it too. A simple suburban yarn about a borderline bullying wife and a husband who has all but given up and been rendered impotent. Then the twist hits you and suddenly, everything is put into perspective. This is a great episode, even if the ending feels a little rushed, it is still wonderfully satisfying.

And the Winner Is…

A group of TV insiders gather to vote on who should get the Best Actress award. Clive (Reece Shearsmith) is a screenwriter who is desperately looking at getting his latest screenplay turned into a TV show. Gordon (Noel Clarke) is a successful director that Clive keeps sucking up to in an attempt of getting his screenplay made into a TV show. Actors Rupert (Kenneth Cranham) and Paula (Zoë Wanamaker) are a little older, wiser, grumpier and really don’t feel like they want to be there. TV critic June (Fenella Woolgar) offers her not-so-well-observed opinions on who should win. Then there is Jackie (Phoebe Sparrow), the only non-insider of the lot. A random nobody brought in for a more ‘grounded’ view and opinion. The whole thing is chaired by Giles (Steve Pemberton). There are arguments, histories dragged up and much more as the voters just can not agree on who is the best actress or why.

AND THE WINNER IS

I both liked and disliked this episode in equal measure. Honestly, it’s really not that interesting of a story in the grand scheme. But I loved the interactions between the characters and the acting is great. The little arguments and nitpicking really are entertaining. Then there are the (I think) intentional digs at the pointlessness and (perhaps) injustice of awards. The best actress is not really being judged on her acting per se. Points are raised like skin colour for the ‘diversity vote’, age, looks, have the nominees previously won and more. Acting ability seems to be something this is more of a thing that is nice to have over certain other factors. I did see the ending coming by about the halfway point, but I still enjoyed it as it was a nice satirical stab of a yarn.

Tempting Fate

TEMPTING FATE

Keith (Steve Pemberton), Nick (Reece Shearsmith) and Maz (Weruche Opia) are a trio of heavy-duty cleaning contractors, who are brought in to clean out a dingy abode. The flat belonged to mass-hoarder Frank (Nigel Planer) who ended up killing himself. Maz is the newest of the three and is still getting used to the job. Whereas, Keith and Nick are the old guard and take everything in their stride. While cleaning the flat, they learn that Frank was rich, that he had won over £3 million on the lottery and yet, he still lived in disgusting squalor in a small three-roomed hovel. When they discover a seemingly plain bronze hare ornament and a video message from Frank, this house clearance takes a turn for the very macabre.

What you have here is basically another take on the classic Monkey’s Paw tale. You know the one, someone comes across a mysterious monkey’s paw and they get three wishes that have dire consequences. There have to be several dozen different versions of this story by now, via films, TV and literature. Here, that ‘monkey’s paw’ is actually the bronze hare ornament that appears in every episode of Inside No. 9. Only, instead of being in the background of a shot, as usual, it is given a starring role and a history. Do you know what? I love a good take on the classic Monkey’s Paw tale and this is a great one. Obviously, knowing Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s writing here at the end of series four, I was trying to second-guess where this one was going. I admit, they got me. While it does follow the staples of a good Monkey’s Paw adaptation, Pemberton and Shearsmith put their own stamp on it and still manage to surprise. A good horror tale with a fantastic twist and a great end to the series.

Dead Line

Arthur (Steve Pemberton) comes home on Halloween after finding a mobile phone in a graveyard while out shopping. The phone rings, Arthur answers it and he can hear strange and ominous voices, but can’t quite understand what is being said. The call soon disconnects. Wanting to find the owner of the phone, Arthur redials the last number called and it is answered by Moira (Stephanie Cole), Arthur explains the situation and Moira agrees to contact the rightful owner of the phone for him. Later, Arthur gets a visit from the local Reverend (Reece Shearsmith) and that is when things begin to take a turn for the worst.

DEAD LINE

This episode wasn’t actually part of series four. This one was a one-off Halloween special that aired in 2018, several months after series four had concluded. What made it special was the fact that this was broadcast live, the first and only episode of Inside No. 9 to do so. What you get with this episode is both one of the best and most uninteresting episodes of the show so far. Now, I did say in the intro to this retrospective that I wasn’t going to do spoilers. For this episode, I really, really have to, so that I can better explain my view. I also said in the intro that I would be doing a separate spoiler-rific article for one particular episode. Well, this is that bit and the spoiler-rific article can be found right here. Massive spoilers lie within that link, you have been warned and will be warned again.

Series Five

Shown between the 3rd of February to the 9th of March 2020. You know, I honestly believe that I am getting the measure of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith by now. I believe that, after four series, I have their writing style down pat and will not be fooled so easily now. Still, I have just finished a series involving backwards chronology and a live episode that was utter genius on a technical and production level. I really shouldn’t feel so cocky and just accept that they are still going to get me.

The Referee’s a W***er

THE REFEREE'S A WER

Martin (David Morrissey) is the referee for a major football match at the end of the season. Joined by his assistants Phil (Ralf Little), Oggy (Steve Pemberton) and Brendan (Reece Shearsmith), the officials are there to ensure that the match goes off without any issues. An incident during the match throws the game into utter chaos. When it is releveled that one of Martin’s assistants has taken a bribe to help fix the game, things begin to turn south fast. This is Martin’s last game before he retires and he has always been a stickler for the rules. Will he let the infraction slide or will he turn one of his assistants in and keep his clean sheet?

I have to be honest, my first viewing of this and I didn’t think much of it. But watching it a second and third time really opened my eyes as to how brilliantly written and layered this episode is. This one plays up for laughs, no creepy horror or jump scares here. Still, there is a great tale of morality and justice against the backdrop of a football dressing room. A line of dialogue (or several) that seems innocent really plays into the plot and characters when you know the ending. This is why more than one viewing of this one is essential. A simple game of football turns into complete disarray, a comedy of errors and the W***er of the title may not be the word that you think it is.

Death Be Not Proud

Beattie (Jenna Coleman) and Sam (Kadiff Kirwan) are a young couple who have just moved into a flat that they managed to buy at a fantastically reduced price. Like, £100,000 off the asking price, fantastic. Why so cheap? Because the flat used to belong to a killer and stories have been told that at least one person was killed there. When Sam tries to get in contact with the previous owner, to see if there is any truth in the tales of murder, things go surprisingly dark and morbid with a thick vein of very macabre humour when the previous owner turns up.

DEATH BE NOT PROUD

I didn’t know this when I first watched this episode, because I’ve not really been a fan of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s other works. But anyway, this episode is a (sort of) sequel/crossover with one of their previous shows, Psychoville. Pemberton plays David and Shearsmith plays his mother, Maureen, who were the main characters in that show. Not knowing anything about Psychoville didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this episode at all. If anything, it has made me want to watch that show next. So, you don’t really need to know who these characters are and Death Be Not Proud works perfectly well as its own thing. Everything is self-contained and tells a bizarrely crackpot story that is jet-black funny and horrifically disturbing in equal measure. I’m off to watch Psychoville next.

Love’s Great Adventure

Julia (Debbie Rush) and Trevor (Steve Pemberton) are the parents of a family. There is Connor (Olly Hudson-Croker) the youngest child, Mia (Gaby French) the middle child and Patrick (Bobby Schofield) the mysterious and largely absent oldest child. It’s coming up to Christmas and all that Julia and Trevor want is a nice and normal family festive celebration. Several everyday family issues may just prevent that from happening though.

If there is one thing that Inside No. 9 does well, that thing is not really following any kind of a pattern or even genre. You get episodes steeped in horror, drama, comedy and more. There is one thing that connects the episodes though (not just the bronze hare statue thing) and that thing is that every episode has some kind of twist or sting… except for this one. There is no real twist for me to spoil here, no rug pulling. There is a bridge that links two subplots, but no real twist. This is a story about everyday family life that just evolves over the course of the episode. Each scene is split into a day and each day is counted down via the use of a traditional Christmas advent calendar. It feels very much like a soap opera plot that would usually be told over several weeks and months, but told here in 20-odd minutes and done so with much more talent too. This is just a bittersweet family drama and we learn more and more about this family as the days tick by. Apparently, most of it was ad-libbed too.

Misdirection

Struggling magician Neville (Reece Shearsmith) has a visit from Willy (Steve Pemberton). Willy shows off a new floating chair magic trick. It’s an impressive trick too, one that Neville just can not work out how it is done. He asks to buy the trick, but Willy refuses to sell. Desperate to get his hands on the trick so he can make a lot of money, Neville kills Willy and takes the trick as his own. Nine years later and Neville has become one of the most acclaimed magicians around, famed for ‘his’ floating chair trick. Gabriel (Fionn Whitehead), a young and eager magician himself, turns up at Neville’s place to interview the well-respected magician in hope that he can get some advice on how to get better at his craft.

MISDIRECTION

This episode very much put me in mind of The Riddle Of The Sphinx from series three. Its style of writing, its multilayered and clever scripting and the seemingly straightforward plot. Misdirection is a wonderful tale of, well… misdirection. Even though I kind of worked out where the episode was going and who the Gabriel character was, there is still a lot here that did fool me. Still, I think that the idea of who Gabriel is was part of the misdirection that made this episode so damn great. A magical episode that, even when you do work out where it is going, it still manages to surprise and entertain.

Thinking Out Loud

THINKING OUT LOUD

Meet Bill (Phil Davis), an older man looking for love via video dating. Meet Nadia (Maxine Peake), a middle-aged woman using video to record her thoughts as a form of therapy. Meet Galen (Steve Pemberton) a death-row prisoner confessing his crimes on camera. Meet Angel (Ioanna Kimbook), a vacuous and insipid ‘influencer’ talking bollocks to all her ‘fans’ over the internet. Meet Aidan (Reece Shearsmith), a terminally ill cancer sufferer who is recording a video for his unborn daughter to watch after he has died. Meet Diana (Sandra Gayer), a church singer with the voice of an angel taking part in a singing audition on camera. Aside from all of these characters talking (or singing) to camera, what else do they share in common?

I know that I have continually praised the writing of Inside No. 9 at every opportunity. Even with episodes that I have felt are ‘lesser’, I have still found the writing to be exceptional. Here with Thinking Out Loud, this is easily one of the most creative and densely written episodes yet. This really is one that you will have to watch multiple times to get everything. There are so many clues and outright giveaways of what is really going on here that they pass you by, just hiding in plain sight. Foreshadowing, double meanings and mirrored dialogue everywhere, and for good reason too. This one also breaks one of the rules of the show, as it takes place in more than one location… kind of. It is also directed by Steve Pemberton. Though Pemberton and Shearsmith co-directed both the Cold Comfort and Nana’s Party episodes from series two, this is the first time that either of them has directed an episode solo. It’s a really great one too.

The Stakeout

Special Police Constable Varney (Reece Shearsmith) is dead. That’s not a spoiler, the episode starts out with him covered in blood and his voiceover telling you that he is dead. We then cut back in time to the events that led to an explanation of just how and why Varney ended up being covered in blood and dead. Varney is partnered up with PC Thompson (Steve Pemberton) and the pair are on a police stakeout. As they spend all their time together stuck in a police car for hours on end, the two have plenty of time to talk and learn more about each other. Such as Varney’s overly sensitive nose for odours. It turns out that Thompson’s previous partner ended up dead too and forensic evidence that could lead to who killed him has gone missing. With the episode starting out showing you that Varney is dead too, it is only a matter of joining the dots to learn who did kill Thompson’s previous partner.

THE STAKEOUT

Okay, right from the off, this one got me. The rug was well and truly pulled from under my feet. The thing is that, all of the evidence of what the reveal at the end of the episode is here. Just as with the previous episode, everything is hiding in plain sight. When I did get to the end of this one, I did have a WFT moment and was ready to call this out for being utter bullshit and ‘out of nowhere’ ending. But a second viewing soon shut me up because Pemberton and Shearsmith have (once more) put together a very well-written and tight story that does not cheat the viewer. A great end to a great series.


Overall

Normally with TV shows, the fatigue sets in around the third or fourth series and I often begin to lose interest. With Inside No. 9, the exact opposite seems to be happening. If Forrest Gump were to describe this show, it most definitely would be like a box of chocolates, which is a phrase I’ve never understood because all boxes of chocolates that I have bought tell you exactly what you are going to get. Anyway, these two series cover everything from comedy and horror to kitchen-sink drama and even a bit of Shakespearean prose. Even when I thought that I got the measure of an episode, it still managed to surprise me. The live Dead Line Halloween special really is a wonderful slice of modern TV. I may not have thought much of the actual plot and it didn’t ultimately catch me out, but the production and process of the episode was amazing and something that I deeply admire.

Inside No. 9 is a show that has me smiling from ear to ear at one episode, to feeling heartbroken with another… sometimes in the same episode. The fatigue that I mentioned has not happened yet and as I am now five series in and heading to the finish line of this retrospective with the last two series, I’m like a 6-year-old kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to turn up. I really want to take a cheeky peek at my presents and get an idea of what I will be getting… but I won’t.