“Robin’s Nest” (1977-1981)
Created by: Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer
Featuring: Richard O’Sullivan, Tony Britton, Tessa Wyatt and David Kelly
Robin: “Can you fill up the salt please Albert.”
Albert: “It’ll take me a while to get the salt through the hole.”
Released in the next two weeks is a comedy series that lasted six series in the form of situation comedy “Robin’s Nest” (1977-1981) that cemented star Richard O’Sullivan as one of the pre-eminent leading comedy actors of his time, something he could be said to be from 1973 when he starred in “Man about the House” (1973-1976) (Robin’s Nest was a spin off from this) to 1988 when the last series of his show “Me and my girl” (1984-1988). The show concerned an unmarried couple who open a Bistro which at the time may have seemed quite revolutionary since they lived together but like O’Sullivan’s other successful shows it was based in broad humour as well as memorable characters played by excellent actors.
Co-created by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer who had a string of successes from the 1970s through to the 1980s here in “Robin’s Nest” have what is a pretty typical story for a sit-com especially of the day. Like many series it is exceptionally white and shows people of the middle class making a success of a business that whilst it is hard work seems to flourish in what would be pre-Thatcher Britain. In fact the times would become darker for the UK and this show ended on an idea that would proliferate in the 1980s, that is a move from an owned business to working for a large corporation for quite a large sum of money, it is possible Robin was to become a yuppie, with all that entails.
As mentioned the centre of the show is Richard O’Sullivan who makes his job look effortless but his real strength in this show as well as all the other shows he appeared in was to give his costars their own time in the sun. Not only that he always was able to have at least one character who would steal scenes, sometimes even the entire series. In “Robin’s Nest” there were a few of these actors in particular of course is the great David Kelly who as the one arm kitchen hand Albert Riddle was always given the best one liners to always give the series a reliable laugh. On top of that O’Sullivan always had a strong female character in his sit-coms and in Tessa Wyatt as his girlfriend this is no different. Wyatt as Vicky is from the outset not just a token character but has real feelings, has some agency and makes a meaningful contribution to the series.
The series starts off with a fairly simple premise, in the first episode Robin and Vicky, who share a flat over a Chinese take-away, discover that the tenants have disappeared owing rent to the landlord, Vicky’s father James Nichols. It is the practical Vicky who comes up with the perfect solution: Robin should take over the take-away and convert it into a bistro (The “Robin’s Nest” of the title). Robin cannot afford to go it alone so he has to go cap-in-hand to Vicky’s father (Tony Britton), to ask him to be his business partner. Although James disapproves of Robin (believing him to be beneath his daughter), he knows a sensible business deal when it is offered to him – despite his failings, Robin is a brilliant chef – and he agrees. Tension and misunderstandings arise due to their mismatched relationship.
There is no getting away from the fact that this series is over forty years old, so there are definitely elements that date it, the most obvious are the racial stereotypes as well as the gender issues that do crop up. The storylines are typical of the time, but the real secret to the series are the actors, the characters and the heart that was instilled into the writing from the outset.
I actually recommend this series completely, it is a breath of fresh air and is a precursor to all the English comedies we see now, remember most sit-coms, the successful ones start with a premise, a kernel and grow, much like this one did.
Sleeping Partners: Robin Tripp, now a fully-qualified, unemployed chef, harbours ambitions of opening his own bistro…for people who appreciate high prices. He is helped by his girlfriend Vicky – but hindered by her father.
The Bistro Kids: It’s coming up to opening day at the bistro and Robin has problems with a stuffed bear, half a pig and a Public Health Inspector. When their first customer wants a dry sherry, Vicky has to get wet, while her father can’t wait to try his hand as a waiter.
A Little Competition: While Robin knew he was going to have competition from the restaurant next door, it turns out to be more than he bargained for. Vicky renews an old acquaintance and her father tries his hand at a little match-making.
The Maternal Triangle: Robin is not keen to meet Vicky’s mother, since he’s heard she has a nasty habit of hitting people on the nose. The new dishwasher thinks he can cope single-handed, but Vicky is not so sure.
Piggy in the Middle: Vicky’s father decides that the restaurant needs some splashes of colour on the walls. Fortunately, he’s romantically involved with a young female artist who he believes can provide exactly what is needed. Robin and Vicky are not so sure.
A Matter of Note: When a counterfeit ten pound note finds its way into the restaurant till, Robin must attend a police I.D. parade. Unfortunately he picks the wrong man and worries about sparking off an underworld vendetta.
Oh, Happy Day: Vicky wonders whether it’s time that she and Robin got married. A quiet wedding for two is planned…no cluttering up the Registry Office with relatives. Nicholls disagrees, however. This is a father’s big day and he intends to make the most of it!
As Long As He Needs Me: James Nicholls is unwell and Vicky feels she should look after him. She leaves Robin to cope with the restaurant and moves back to her old bedroom in Nicholls’ flat. For Nicholls it’s just like old times, but Robin fears it’s a plan to force them apart. Albert is delighted because it means he is promoted to waiter.
The Seven Pound Fiddle: Money is missing from the till. Nicholls blames Albert and sacks him. It becomes apparent that Albert is not guilty, but since he is of no fixed abode they have a problem trying to find him to apologise – especially when the police get involved.
Ups & Downs: The discovery of a cellar underneath the restaurant causes some disagreement between Nicholls and Robin. Robin wants to turn it into a wine cellar – whereas Nicholls thinks they should place more tables down there.
Three Times Table: Robin decides to ‘go continental’ and put tables outside the restaurant. This annoys the owner of the steakhouse next door and he makes a take-over bid for ‘Robin’s Nest’. Nicholls is keen to sell up and tries to persuade Robin to move to smaller premises. But Robin wants to stay where he is.
Great Expectations: Victoria thinks she is pregnant – something that delights Robin and upsets Nicholls. He soon has plans for his grandchild though: university, Sandhurst and politics. Robin, naturally, resents this new intrusion. Albert, meanwhile, is preoccupied with the restaurant’s new acquisition: a fruit machine.
Love & Marriage: The big day has arrived and Robin and Victoria are actually getting married. They want to make it as quiet and intimate as possible, but Nicholls has other plans. This is his only daughter and he wants to enjoy her wedding. His gift to them is a two-week honeymoon in Paris, but the newlyweds have rather more practical plans for the money.
You Need Hands: Nicholls decides he needs a cabaret and who better to provide it than Sidney Bacharach, one of the finest pianists of 1927? However, it looks like the restaurant may close anyway: Robin has damaged his cooking arm, and Albert refuses to lend a hand.
The Candidate: Nicholls decides to run as a candidate in the local elections, using the restaurant as his campaign headquarters. But canvassing and coq au vin is a recipe for disaster.
Just Deserts: Nicholls gets his fingers burned when an old flame of Robin’s turns up at the restaurant. Robin deserts the nest and moves in with his father-in-law.
Away From All What?: It has been ages since Vicky and Robin had a holiday. But Nicholls refuses to pay for a stand-in chef – until Robin gets the mumps.
England Expects: Nicholls’ regimental reunion is due, and where better for him to hold it than Robin’s Nest? Unfortunately, along with the Regiment and the Regimental silver goes the Regimental menu: Trenchmouth soup, boiled mutton and Lady Daphne’s Delight – spotted dick!
Once Two Is Three: Robin has the chance to open a new restaurant in Brighton, 60 miles from his father-in-law. But Nicholls uses his mind-reading ability on Albert to forestall the deal.
Dinner Date: An old girlfriend returns to England and recaptures Nicholls’ fancy. Marriage is a possibility and Robin is keen on the idea.
Everything You Wish Yourself: A mix-up in dates brings Albert an unexpected Bonus.
Be It Ever Be So Humble: There’s a crisis in the bistro when Albert resigns as a washer-upper. Vicky and Robin discover they’ve been breaking the law.
Day Trippers: Robin and Vicky decide there’s nothing like a nice peaceful picnic on their day off. And that’s exactly what they get…nothing like a nice peaceful picnic.
The Long Distance Runner: Robin decides to take up jogging, so it seems, but does he have another reason for going out early in the morning? Nicholls is shocked when he finds out the truth.
At Harm’s Length: Vicky thinks her Uncle Sam is playing around with another woman. Despite Robin’s protests she decides to do something about it.
The Happy Hen: Nicholls’ ambition to own all the eating outlets in Fuham takes a step forward. He buys the building next door to Robin’s Nest to pursue his plans of opening up an omelette house. However, he ends up with egg on his face.
Should Auld Acquaintance: The bistro, newly decorated and open for business, is threatened with sudden closure after Robin encounters an old friend in dire need. Nicholls pulls a few strings in Fleet Street. Albert is confronted by a lady in her underwear, and Vicky contemplates leaving home.
Person Friday Required: A chance meeting with an old colleague starts Vicky wondering if it’s wise for husbands and wives to work together. A return to her airline job could put the mystery back into her marriage.
Lost Weekend: Lucky Albnert wins a weekend away from it all. But a little conniving turns it into a busman’s holiday for Robin and Vicky – and a not-so-lucky reunion for Nicholls.
Too Many Waiters Spoil The Bistro: Nicholls has an idea: he can increase the profits in the restaurant by increasing the number of tables. This leads to an increase in staff, which causes an increase in problems.
September Song: Robin’s relationship with Nicholls is bad at the best of times but, when Vicky comes home to find them brawling in the street, she suspects that her father is not well. When Nicholls apologises to Robin, she’s certain of it.
Sorry Partner: Robin and Vicky are kept busy when Nicholls tries to recapture lost glory on the badminton court.
Albert’s Ball: Albert’s anniversary party looks like being his farewell party when a customer gets more than he ordered – and Robin’s Nest acquires a pest.
Christmas at Robin’s Nest: Christmas in the Robin’s Nest household is just like everywhere else – bad tempers and frayed nerves, with a touch of seasonal goodwill thrown in. Of course, Christmas is also a time for surprises, and the biggest surprise for Robin is one that he can well do without!
Pastures New: Robin is fed up with slaving over a hot stove and decides to fly the nest in favour of warmer climes. He’s unaware, however, that other plans have already been hatched.
A Man of Property: With the forthcoming arrival of Robin and Vicky’s baby, they realise that they will need more room in the Nest – the question is: where will they find it?
If You Pass ‘Go’ Collect £200: With the new responsibility of fatherhood, Robin wants to buy out his father-in-law’s share of the bistro. The bid looks doomed until Nicholls gets an alternative proposition – from Albert.
Never Look A Gift Horse…: Prospective grandparents can often get more excited over forthcoming offspring than the parents-to-be, and Robin’s mother-in-law, Marion, is no exception. It must be nothing but the best for her grandchild.
Just An Old-fashioned Girl: Robin and Vicky find that they are becoming “go-betweens”, what with James Nicholls finding himself a new romantic interest and Gertrude getting herself in a tizzy’s over Albert.
Great Expectations: The signs are all there that the baby is imminent: Nicholls is tense, Robin is having nightmares and Vicky is bored.
No Room at the Inn: Christmas dinner at the bistro isn’t the same without Vicky and the twins. With three men and a turkey, the family get-together lacks a woman’s touch. But when Marion turns up to provide it, peace on earth flies out of the window.
Move Over Darling: Running a bistro and trying to visit Vicky and the newborn babies is not easy until, to Nicholls’ and Vicky’s surprise, Robin decides to delegate. But their surprise turns to horror when they hear whom he has chosen.
The Homecoming: It’s time for Vicky and the twins to come home, and the rivalry between Robin and Nicholls over whose car she should travel in from the hospital causes more than a little friction.
No Smoke Without Fire: There’s consternation in the Tripp household when Albert suspects that “something” is going on between Gertrude and…another man!
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling: A change is as good as a rest, and it’s a rest that Vicky and Robin need. So they go to stay with Grandad and things don’t work out too well – just for a change.
Anniversary Waltz: When all the food is pre-cooked and ready for a private party it seems the ideal night for Vicky and Robin to go out. After all – what can go wrong?
Wish You Weren’t Here: When Nicholls feels that his daughter needs a bit of a break, his generosity knows no bounds. He even suggests bringing in a temporary chef…so that they can go away without any worries!
The Head-hunters of SW6: When Robin is offered a lucrative and exciting post with an international company, Nicholls has no option but to put the restaurant up for sale.