There's a joyful simplicity to some television programmes. Some of them don't need flashy camerawork, expensive sets and costumes, star actors (yes, you, David Jason) or finger on the pulse issues for an audience to collectively wring their hands over. Some of them just need a good script and a couple of very decent performances to work their magic. Moody And Pegg delivers on both counts. Back in 1974 it kept 15 million viewers glued to the box so let's assume it must still contain magic of a kind to keep the jaded 21st Century viewer interested.
Quite honestly it might be hard to convince the picky DVD buyer of its merits as a drama or a comedy. If it was made and scheduled for today's television tastes then it would probably fit into the Cold Feet or Cutting It mold. If it was a feature film it would certainly be described as a 'chick flick'. It's twee, unashamedly romantic and a bit old fashioned, the comedy is light, bordering on bedroom farce (and we don't get many of those on telly these days) and its scaling of the dramatic heights involves a set of curtains, missing hamsters and dinner dances. Yet, it is utterly charming and beguiling. And memorable too, because I have fond recollections of this as a teenager and it left me wondering if this was the world I would face in later adult life.
The opening episode His And Hers provides all you need to know about the set up. Daphne Pegg is promoted by her boss, his way of elbowing her aside in favour of a younger, dolly-bird secretary, and she moves from Bolton to London to take up her new civil service post and occupancy of a flat. Meanwhile, antiques dealer, and slightly ageing Lothario escaping a disastrous marriage, Roland Moody has been found a new flat to live in by his estate agent lover Monica Bakewell. Unbeknownst to the pair they both have the lease to the same flat after some rather dodgy estate agent dealings and both adamantly claim ownership of the property. They agree to disagree and, for the time being, decide to share the flat, their discomfort with each other providing much of the comedy, sparking dialogue and a gradually developing mutual affection for each other.
Central to the success of the fish out water situation that Moody and Pegg find themselves in are the two leading performances from Judy Cornwell as Daphne, spinsterish with her severe glasses and hair in a bun but with a heart of gold and a deeply moral core, and Derek Waring as Roland, a sophisticated man who enjoys the company of many women but refuses to let them dominate his life. The chemistry between these two actors is the vital force that keeps the Donald Churchill and Julia Jones scripts flying along, avoiding the risky plunge into obvious sentimentality and over-sincerity.
Cornwell, probably best known now for her role as Daisy in Keeping Up Appearances, actually brings a great deal of sexiness to the character, is somewhat repressed it has to be said but when given the chance (see She: The Belle Of The Ball as a great example of Daphne being assertive for once) she radiates desire. Derek Waring, a man who instinctively knows how a cravat should be worn, manages to give Roland Moody a kind of fractured charisma. He's a ladies man but he's actually slightly baffled by the opposite sex, often seeking advice from his handyman assistant Sid (a really lovely performance from Tony Selby) on the complexity of feminine wiles.
The relationship between Moody and Pegg could best be seen as a 1970s television equivalent of the Tracy and Hepburn partnership, best seen in Adam's Rib or Pat And Mike, where an undercurrent of sexual tension between the two characters, a chemistry developing from a continual coitus interruptus between the two, offers a representation of a slightly older generation attempting to negotiate their way through the liberated social mores of the mid 1970s. It's the dissonance between the two and a pleasing quasi-Preston Sturges flippancy in much of the dialogue that keeps you watching .
Moody and Pegg are set within a rogue's gallery of supporting characters, the aforementioned Sid, played by Selby, a young music student George (a bearded Peter Denyer who, sadly, we lost in 2009), Moody's bit on the side Monica Bakewell (an essay of blonde sophistication from Frances Bennett), and Pegg's battleaxe Aunty Ethel (Sheila Keith), resplendent in a big buttoned crocheted dress. Oh, and look out for that stalwart of 1970s sit-coms, Adrienne Posta as another of Roland's affairs, Iris the hairdresser.
The presence of Monica and George is essential to understanding the relationship between Moody and Pegg and the definition of their desires. George is a virile but sensitive musician who bonds with Daphne in the first episodes and by the final story has fast become an object of Daphne's affection and a symbol of that 'older woman' syndrome that sit-coms and dramas of the era were keen to explore. Monica, on the other hand, is a symbol of Roland's desire fulfilled but also his fear of commitment. Her sex drive is actually a bit too much for our ageing Casanova. The series boasts a wistfully gorgeous title theme, The Free Life, by library music composer legend Alan Parker, that sums up the two characters intentions to escape their old lives and start afresh as each episode gently unfolds.
Eventually, the farce gets overdone and often wanders into Brian Rix or Ray Cooney territory, particularly in the weakest of the first series episodes He: The Go-Between where Roland and Daphne are erroneously sidelined by writers Jones and Churchill in favour of Commander Shelby Gibbs and his wife and their respective bits on the side. It is an unflattering cycle of escaping from detection via rain soaked rooftops and breathless dashing from room to room, with the legendary Terence Alexander reduced to dragging it up in feather trimmed dressing gown. The warmth found in the reluctant relationship between Roland and Daphne is largely absent here and makes a late reappearance at the end of the story when Daphne mischievously sets up the Shelby Gibbs with a dinner invite and a face to face with Mrs Shelby Gibbs bit on the side.
Farcical elements work better in the final episode His And Hers? where a spectacular argument over Monica's bathroom blinds leads to Daphne trying to reinstate her hand made curtains whilst yelling at Roland and inadvertently standing in Monica's bath. Monica is still in it and clutching a women's magazine to cover her modesty. It's the earlier episodes that remain the best, particularly She: The Diplomat where the mutual attraction between Moody and Pegg is properly established and Daphne helps Roland to understand the error of his ways in his relationship with the pushy Iris. He: The Lover goes quite a way to demonstrate Daphne's own lack of sensitivity when Roland is trying to entertain and seduce Monica. Need I say more when it involves Jarvis the hamster and Daphne under Roland's bed. My favourite is definitely She: The Belle Of The Ball because it allows Daphne to get her own back on the boss who promoted her out of his life, to be quietly and romantically seduced by the lovely Sid and rediscover her appeal as a woman. Cornwell and Selby are utterly charming too.
Sweet and romantic, gently amusing and boasting two exceptional performances from Judy Cornwell and Derek Waring, this is a treat perfectly designed for rainy Sunday afternoons.
Moody And Pegg - The Complete First Series (Network DVD 7953215 - Region 2 - Released 15th March 2010 - Cert PG)