“Never the Twain” (1981-1991)
Developed by: Johnnie Mortimer
Featuring: Windsor Davies, Donald Sinden, Robin Kermode , Julia Watson, Honor Blackman, Teddy Turner, Derek Deadman, Maria Charles and Zara Nutley
Simon Peel: [entering a cobwebbed room] “Nobody’s been in here for years.”
Oliver Smallbridge: “It’s like the inside of your wallet.”
Released on DVD this month is the English comedy television series “Never the Twain” (1981-1991) which was one of the longest running comedies in their history, which is saying something about the appeal of this show to a mass audience as well the two actors at the centre of every episode, the now departed Windsor Davies and Donald Sinden who acted like an odd couple that retained their popularity for a decade.
The series is based around Oliver Smallbridge, played by Windsor Davies, and Simon Peel, played by Donald Sinden, are antiques dealers who are also bitter enemies (after a falling-out having been business partners) and next-door neighbours, both in their homes and shops. They are engaged in a continuous game of one-upmanship, so both of them are shocked when they find out that their respective children (Smallbridge’s daughter Lyn – played by Watson and later Kneale – and Peel’s son David – played by Kermode and later Morris) are in love and want to marry as soon as possible. The fathers are forced to reluctantly accept the relationship and marriage, which takes place at the end of the first series.
There are very solid reasons why UK comedies do so well every year, as well as lasting for long periods or cease production at their height leaving audiences wanting more. Firstly they are funny whether high brow, low brow, alternate or whatever sub genre they are they meet a need for laughs which mean lots of people watch. Secondly, the English have never met a situation they could not Mae fun of, a student flat, an office, a hotel or in this case two warring antique shops which also can be used to frame any number of week to week issues which of course is exactly what occurred. Thirdly and this holds today, there are a number of talented veteran as well as new actors that are able to fill roles that require very different traits. In “Never the Twain” the producers were able to enlist two extremely talented veterans in the form of the great Windsor Davies and Donald Sinden who seemed to be made for their parts in this long running comedy. Davies himself was well known from his signature role in what has to be one of the greatest English comedies “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” (1974-1981), it is incredible that for nearly twenty years he was able to ride two very good series. Sinden on the other hand was know as a dramatic actor so he played more of a straight man to Davies which seems logical, working well for ten years.
Like many, and there were many, English comedies of the day “Never the Twain” has dated which shows from the first episode and the central theme to the series is a little tiring at times, but the skill in which it is executed like todays comedies is flawless with great sets, incredibly talented acting and a large amount of humour. In saying that this is still a great watch it gives insights into another time while quite recent it is without key elements that we live with each day and so it is incredible to think that a revolution was just around the corner, in terms of technology, storytelling and how a relatively niche like antiques could be made into a mainstream large culture hit.
Families at War: Antique dealers Simon Peel and Oliver Smallbridge were once partners until Oliver had an affair with Simon’s wife. Now they are bitter rivals – and next-door neighbours, constantly trying to sabotage each other. Oliver’s daughter, riding instructress Lyn, and Simon’s son David, a trainee accountant, are in love and want to marry. The two fathers hold a temporary truce to oppose the plan – until Lyn falsely claims that she is pregnant.
Of Meissen Men: Reading that a widow called Veronica Barton is selling her late husband’s Meissen collection both Simon and Oliver, pretending to be private collectors, visit, hoping for a knock-down bargain. Discovering that she is an attractive middle-aged woman they compete for her affections as well as the porcelain but when she discovers their true intentions she gets her revenge at a smart restaurant. Lyn and David finally admit that she is not pregnant but try to help their fathers by claiming that the Meissen is to be a wedding present. Veronica consents to selling to both …
A Night at the Opera: Veronica tells Simon and Oliver that she has a spare ticket for ‘Cosi Fan Tutti’ in Edinburgh but neither Simon nor Oliver is initially interested – until Oliver poaches Simon’s daily help, Mrs Grieves and Simon decides he will escort her out of revenge. Oliver sabotages the plan by telling Simon that Veronica wants to marry him but Simon exposes the plan to Veronica so that Oliver ends up taking Mrs Grieves. Simon finds his replacement for Mrs Grieves in elderly ex-seaman Banks who is happy to pose as the butler.
A Matched Pair: Not only is Oliver’s golf club membership refused but his shop is burgled. However the duelling pistols that he reports as stolen were only borrowed by his dim assistant Rocky so, to prevent complications, Rocky dumps them in Simon’s shop. Initially amused by Oliver’s misfortune Simon is appalled when he gets charged with receiving stolen goods. Oliver comes forward to let him off the hook – provided he will endorse Oliver’s golf club membership application.
Nothing But the Truth: Lyn and David vow that they will never lie to each other. Their fathers are sceptical – and gleeful when Lyn breaks off the engagement after David has admitted to a drunken kiss with another girl at a party. Now neither of them will need to pretend to be friends for their children’s sake. However the young couple are so miserable that eventually Simon and Oliver combine to reunite them.
Father of the Groom: Simon throws a dinner party for the Smallbridges where inevitably Lyn and David try to keep the peace. After the meal the fathers play cards but Oliver is offended when Simon accuses him of cheating and storms out. Lyn and David get married and, overcome by emotion, Oliver and Simon make up – and decide to play cards again.
Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?: Whilst Lyn and David are on their honeymoon Oliver has a double bed delivered to the rooms they occupy in Simon’s house. Simon however has the same idea and two beds now take up a lot of space. When neither of the fathers are prepared to back down the children take their own parent’s side and row so to keep the peace Oliver sends back his bed. Unfortunately Simon does too.
As Young as You Feel: When he complains that she is spending too much time looking after her father who is exploiting her goodwill Lyn agrees to accompany David to a rock concert, rather than help Oliver celebrate his birthday. Under the guise of friendship Simon fixes him up with a birthday blind date but it is with the man-eating Isadora Beecham, from whose clutches Simon is trying to escape. Oliver however turns the tables on him.
A Woman’s Place…: When Lyn gets a promotion and pay rise at work student David feels inferior and forbids her to take it. They argue and she moves back in with Oliver, who finds her attentions stifling, so he and Simon collude to get the pair back together again. Banks also finds Oliver a housekeeper – his girlfriend, the accident-prone Mrs Sadler.
Blood Brothers: Whilst visiting Oliver Simon has a fall and badly cuts himself, being rushed to hospital. Having the same blood group a very reluctant Oliver agrees to donate blood for a necessary transfusion. Made to feel grateful by David Simon agrees to stop seeing Veronica and lend Oliver his car so that he can date her. However when Simon learns what really happened at the hospital he plans his revenge.
If You Knew Susan: Simon’s unpretentious younger sister Susan comes to stay and Simon is perturbed that she likes Oliver and starts going out with him. He offers Oliver a bribe to stop the relationship, unaware that Oliver has learned that Susan only wants to be friends as she has contacted her former boyfriend and has accepted the fact. Oliver uses Simon’s ignorance to obtain a coveted figurine at a knock-down price though neither intended that they would end up in a restaurant being romantically serenaded.
The More We Are Together: When David does Oliver’s accounts he discovers that Oliver has not been entirely honest about his profits. The tax inspector calls whilst Oliver is out so Oliver reckons that if he and Simon go back into partnership Simon will have to pay half the tax. The deal is signed – after which it is discovered that the tax man accidentally took Simon’s books, making Oliver liable for half the payments.
Taking Stock: Now that they are partners again Oliver and Simon spend a day stock-taking and disparaging each other’s items. Oliver is delighted when Bethan, an old school friend, comes into the shop to sell an antique watch. For old times sake Oliver pays her over the odds, later to learn from Simon that she is a con artist – after Oliver has parted with cash half of which now belongs to Simon.
Partners: Simon is approached by Mr Wilde, a health food company rep, who wants to buy the shop for its premises and the offer is tempting. Oliver meanwhile wrongly believes that Ringo has won the pools and considers asking him to buy into the partnership to replace Simon. Both men approach the other to tear up the partnership agreement. In the event Ringo has not won the pools and Wilde turns out to be a deluded psychiatric patient so the partnership is back on again – with a pleasant surprise at Ringo’s party.
A Nose for Quality: Imperious Lady Devereaux calls in on Simon whilst in the next door shop elderly Mrs Piggit offers Oliver pieces for sale but seeing the Rolls parked outside Oliver wrongly assumes that she is the aristocrat. He is surprised to find that she lives in a council flat but he does pick up some valuable Netsuke whereas Simon’s visit to the real Lady Devereaux to outwit his rival proves to be a wasted journey. At least Simon can take comfort from the fact that the Netsukes are fakes.
The End of the Line: Simon and Oliver are concerned when Lyn and David claim that they do not want children, David pretending to have had a vasectomy to put them off the scent. Simon and Oliver both sign up to a dating agency and are told to meet their blind dates in a bar but since they have submitted very old photographs of themselves the women fail to recognize them and they get drunk together, rolling home to find that David has not had the snip after all.
The Welsh Connection: When Lyn and David opine that their over-weight fathers should go on a diet the two men join forces to resist and eat the most unhealthy foods in order to relax and enjoy life. A wake-up call occurs when Oliver learns that a good friend back in Wales has died of a heart attack and he and Simon suddenly espouse healthy living. They even become friends – until Simon learns that Oliver is heading for an auction in Wales to buy the deceased’s valuable antiques and gives chase.
Not on the Same Wavelength: Both dealers are invited onto local radio to talk about antiques but, since the producer is a member of his golf club, only Simon is asked. With Lyn knitting baby clothes for a friend the fathers assume she is pregnant, and are overjoyed, calling a truce with Simon making sure Oliver gets on the radio show with him. Only on air is it discovered that Lyn is not pregnant, which leads to a fight.
A Home of Your Own: With Lyn and David now in Vancouver where he is working their flat in Simon’s house is empty. His formidable aunt Eleanor rings but, fearing that she wants to move in, he offers it to old school friend Alex – though he throws him out when he realizes Alex wants it for an illicit love nest with his secretary. Aunt Eleanor arrives so to forestall her Simon offers Ringo the flat – only to learn his aunt wanted it for her pretty god-daughter, whom Oliver is more than happy to accommodate.
The Royal Connection: Learning that Prince Charles collects Victoriana Oliver sends him a gift, hoping to secure his patronage. When Simon finds out he fakes a letter of thanks though Oliver knows it is a fraud. Sadly the parcel he sent the prince is returned as the contents are broken. To get revenge on Simon Oliver takes advantage of the fact that Simon is tracing his family tree and leads him to believe that he is of royal descent. This gives Simon delusions of grandeur though the genealogist shows him that his ancestors were indeed notorious – but for all the wrong reasons.
Words and Music: Oliver’s vet Caroline wants him to sing at her upcoming charity event. Not to be outdone Simon plans to give a dramatic recitation, but when each threatens to withdraw if the other goes on last, she decides to drop them both and go with Ringo, who does impressions. This is enough for them both to come back on side, but on the night Simon loses his voice and Oliver’s singing sets the dogs off barking in chorus.
No Flame Like an Old Flame: Simon gets a visit from his first love, Janis Hunter, now a very wealthy widow. The promise of money leads him to propose to her and she accepts but there is a price to pay as she bans him from smoking and drinking and puts him on a vegetarian diet. Simon begins to regret the proposal and calls on Oliver to help get him off the hook.
Loves’ Neighbours’ Lost: Simon and Oliver both believe they stand a chance with Caroline and, after sabotaging each others’ cars in order to take her on her rounds when her own motor is off the road, they decide on a duel. Caroline is horrified but so are her would-be suitors when she introduces them to her fiancé Leslie. Fortunately Mrs Sadler recognizes him as a serial womanizer so the engagement is off but Oliver has the last laugh when Simon’s painting of Caroline is revealed.
Come Fly with Me: Despite Mrs Sadler’s premonition of disaster Oliver and Simon decide to fly to Canada to see their children, with suspiciously cheap plane tickets purchased from junk dealer Biffin’s son. Following a recent spate of shop burglaries Simon installs a state of the art alarm system but when he forgets his passport and breaks into the shop it triggers it off, leading to his and Oliver’s arrest. They do get a police escort to the airport but on arrival find their destination rather different to the one they expected.
In Whom We Tryst: Simon and Oliver are both smitten by Simon’s glamorous new assistant Belinda and both are pleasantly surprised when she reveals to both separately that she will spend a weekend away with them. Both of them turn up at the tryst at an hotel, unaware that it is a ploy to get them away whilst she and her boyfriend are robbing their shops. Fortunately Ringo saves the day – albeit by accident when he locks himself in the shop and calls the police.
Going Going Gone: The two dealers plan – separately – to spend a night at a country pub and are surprised to meet each other there, especially as they have to share a bed in the one guest room. Each is hoping to beat the other in a bid for a grandfather clock at a nearby action but, after Oliver has been locked out for the night in his pyjamas, their bickering means that neither ends up with the clock.
Thicker Than Water: Whilst drinking in the pub with Oliver Simon reveals that he is adopted, having been abandoned at an orphanage as a baby. Circumstances lead him to believe that his natural parents may be Charlie Crapper, a drunken petty thief, and his wife Lil, who sells papers on the street. He meets with them to break the bad news but fortunately they know something he does not.
Kung Who: Simon takes up judo to defend himself against likely muggers and invites Oliver to accompany him to his class at the gym. When Oliver accidentally puts on a tunic with a black belt Simon says nothing but enjoys seeing the so-called expert being pummelled by novices. Next day however Oliver gets revenge when a policeman who is a genuine black belt comes to the shop.
Reading Between the Lines: Simon is aghast to learn that oily solicitor Brimley, with whom he was at school, is handling the property next to the antique shops and plans to sell it to a fast food chain in return for an expensive car. Brimley will only reconsider if Simon and Oliver pay him a hefty bribe. Fortunately Ringo’s tale of unrequited love comes to the rescue when it is discovered that the married Brimley is having an affair with Ringo’s dream girl.
Definitely Not Cricket: Lady Devereaux offers Simon some sporting memorabilia at knock-down prices provided he captains her staff cricket team against the rival side led by parvenu bookie Bernie Miller. Simon is appalled to find his team comprises Lady Devereaux’s elderly staff but when rain prevents the game going ahead Simon takes advantage of one staff member’s prowess as a darts player and arranges a darts match instead. Miller’s side gets thrashed and he has to pay her the money from the bet that his boys would win. Unfortunately for Simon this means that she no longer needs to sell him…
Feed a Cold: Simon has a cold and Oliver offers to look after him.
Going to Pot: Ringo decides to get some culture. After meeting one of his teachers, Simon and Oliver are pleased to accept his invitation to dinner and Simon makes a discovery in the kitchen cupboard.
Love Is a Many-Splendoured Thing: Oliver has fallen in love, however trouble arises after he meets his future mother-in-law.
A Night to Remember: Burglars are in the neighbourhood, leading to an eventful night for the two households.
The Battle of Deveraux Dale: Lady Deveraux asks Simon and Oliver to take part in a historical re-enactment of a Civil War battle, the battle of Deveraux Dale, at the village fete. On the opposing side is the bookie, Bernie Miller, who has a score to settle.
Affairs of the Heart: Simon’s ex-wife Stephanie arrives unexpectedly.
Settled Out of Court: A legal dispute arises between the two antique dealers following an incident in Oliver’s shop.
The Wagers of Sin: Oliver and Simon decide to have a wager on who can make the most profit on an item chosen by the other.
Betrothed, Bothered and Bewildered: After a boozy night out, Banks remembers that he has proposed to Mrs Sadler. However, neither wants to go through with it, although they don’t know that.
The Second Time Around: Mrs Sadler is missing Banks. Fortunately, there is a happy ending for both of them.
Born to Blush Unseen: Gardening Time. Oliver has something to show from his gardening efforts.
Fasten Your Seat Belts: Simon & Oliver get severely drunk on Simon’s birthday, and decide to visit their children in Canada.
Grandfathers-in-Law: Lyn and David, with their baby Martin, return from Canada, causing great excitement to Simon and Oliver. However, the grandfathers have to learn to cope with the baby more than they had anticipated.
Nursery Times: Lyn and David are looking for a flat while staying at Simon’s house. But Oliver would like them to stay with him too.
Whose Baby?: The christening is scheduled and Stephanie, Simon’s ex, is invited, causing anxiety for both Simon and Oliver.
Never Say Die: Simon has to go into hospital but confusion arises.
Moving On: The house-hunting by Lyn and David reaches a conclusion. It causes Simon and Oliver to think about their own situation.
It’s a Long Way to Friern Barnet: Lyn and David move to their new flat. Oliver and Simon decide to help them by redecorating the flat.
Just the Ticket: A series of mishaps contribute to a difficult day for Simon and, especially, Oliver.
A Point of Honour: Simon advertises for an assistant for his shop but runs into trouble after interviewing one applicant.
A New Lease of Life: Simon is feeling melancholic and decides to make a big change to his life.
Aspects of Love: Simon arouses Oliver’s suspicions and, in turn, Oliver is the subject of a rumour. These lead to gossip in the village.
Neighbours: Simon holds a meeting of the Residents’ Association. There is a new resident who is about to move in and this leads to a sleepless night for both Simon and Oliver.
Bonjour Paris: Off to Paris but soon they are in trouble at the restaurant and with the police, also causing a lot of trouble to an embassy official.
A Winter’s Tale: Christmas time. Simon and Oliver volunteer to keep watch overnight in the local church.
X Marks the Spot: Oliver and Simon both decide to stand for election to the local Council.
S.W.A.L.K.: Simon has a female pen-pal who he is looking forward to meeting, with a view to marriage. However, the reality is different.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Both Oliver and Simon are doing the pools and hope to win big. After Oliver makes a mistake, Simon takes the opportunity to have some fun.
Happy Holiday: A weekend away for Simon and Oliver in Ringo’s mother’s country cottage. Trouble is that it’s the wrong weekend.
There But for the Grace of God: Simon comes across an old acquaintance who is down on their luck.
A Car by Any Other Name: The vicar wants to sell his car and gets Simon to help, while Oliver is also selling his car. A confusing time is the result.
Viva Espana: Ringo wins a holiday in a competition and they all go to Spain.
The Best Laid Plans: It is the 10th anniversary of the two antique dealers being in business; they decide to go out to have a meal and visit the theatre. But they encounter some difficulties.
Born Again: Simon is searching for the meaning of life and thinks he has found it after listening to a preacher in the park. Oliver, however, sees a business opportunity.
There Goes the Bride: Aunt Eleanor decides to get married after a whirlwind romance.
Two Fools and Their Money: Both Simon and Oliver are in financial difficulties and decide to approach their bank manager.
The First of the Queue: Oliver tells Simon about a bargain in a shop, which leads to extraordinary efforts by the two to be first in the queue to buy it.