MOODY AND PEGG - The Complete Second Series / DVD Review

SPOILERS AHEAD

A welcome release for the second series of Moody and Pegg, Julia Jones and Donald Churchill's bittersweet comedy drama from 1975. We left the first series, broadcast in 1974, with Daphne Pegg and Roland Moody, our reluctant flat-sharers, having reached some kind of detente in their relationship after one of their occasional feuds. That initial series was a wonderfully played mixture of wistful romance and often quite anarchic farce, the entire appeal of the series generated by two brilliant central performances from Judy Cornwell and the late, great Derek Waring.

The second series, comprising of another six episodes, carries on in the same vein but adds some refreshingly new elements into the mix. We open with pretty much a restatement of first principles, both aesthetically and thematically, in Full House wherein Daphne is seen pacing about the flat in a stylish pale blue silk dressing gown and a huge pair of fluffy pink slippers (very popular slippers according to Cornwell in the interview on this set) as she waits to break the news to Roland that her Auntie Ethel, having rushed down from Bolton, has commandeered his bed.

This also provokes a reestablishment of the conditions agreed by them both about the mutual sharing of the flat. "You are in breach of our agreement," accuses Roland upon discovering his occupied bed. It transpires Auntie Ethel has provided Daphne with some company after Roland's temporary departure seen at the end of the first series. Daphne's sudden embrace of Roland, in her delight to see him back, and her defence of "I'd much rather have you Roland... er well, it is... er more natural... er... a woman is supposed to live with a man and n-n-not another woman" underlines what is, at heart, a very nostalgic and conventional view of the world in what were seen as progressive times for both sexes in the cultural and social upheaval of the period.
"laughter... grows out of subconscious anxieties"
Even though much is made of Daphne's employment and status with the civil service as somehow having more credit than Roland's unsettled position as self-employed antiques dealer, the relationship between her and Roland, despite being punctuated by a series of very bitter and often immature disputes, does suggest a return to more homespun if not romantic values in terms of desire and the post-war consensus.

As Garry Whannel notes in The Arts in the 1970s much of "popular television occupied a middle position" in securing a commonsense view of the public, political and social debates in which these programmes were made. "Commonsense is constantly trod and retrod" in a series such as Moody and Pegg, the characters and situations both nostalgic for a time when desire, class, masculinity and femininity seemed more straightforward as they cope with the deconstruction of deference and class and the rise of feminism and equality. Moody and Pegg is perhaps a less cruder form of the politicisation of gender that inhabits many of the half-hour sit-coms of the period where "laughter... grows out of subconscious anxieties."

Pointedly, it becomes evident that Daphne has drafted Roland in to rid herself of the interfering Auntie Ethel because, like all well-behaved middle class gentlemen, "he always knows the right thing to say" to the conspicuously working class, and rather blunter, Ethel (a scenery chewing, knitwear enhanced performance from the great Sheila Keith). However, this descends into the farcical, often a form employed for gender misunderstandings, as Ethel screams the place down when she sees a man in her room and takes on the role of affronted, hair-netted battleaxe. Naturally, it's Ethel who wins the occupancy of the room against the often effete Roland. He ends up with Daphne's bed after she capitulates with "take anything of mine, Roland!" with her innuendo suggesting those subconscious desires that power on throughout the rest of the series.

Keith treads a very fine line between overacting and suggesting Ethel's skills as emotional blackmailer as she reduces Roland and Daphne to tears with her bequeathing to Daphne of childhood mementos and a paean to lost youth and her rejection in old age. Look at the moment when she searches for the porcelain dish in her bag as she switches from weeping old age pensioner to calculating monster and that little smile in closeup as the scene ends with Roland asking Ethel to stay as long as she likes. Suffice it to say, they all end up drunk around the kitchen table.

The Full House of the title then lives up to its name as various waifs and strays turn up on the doorstep, including Roland's ex-wife, Gloria (Jo Rowbottom) and her boyfriend Len (Michael Robbins) on the run because he apparently couldn't pay his VAT. With Rowbottom and Robbins it shifts into prime sit-com territory rather than genteel philosophising about the on-off relationship between Roland and Daphne.

In some ways this seems perfectly natural as Robbins was already notable for his role in On the Buses and Rowbottom for various appearances in everything from Doctor Who, Z Cars, Please Sir! and that infamous high water mark of ITV sit-com gold, Romany Jones. Note also that Roland's perceived tasteful, middle-class aspirations contrast vividly against the rather vulgar and shrill lower-class, bad taste stereotypes of Gloria (sporting a leopard print fur coat) and Len (in check trousers and a retina-searing yellow shirt).

Best to persevere with this set as Full House is not the best example of what the series can achieve and the later episodes are a return to the form of the first series. Fortunately Roland pawns Auntie Ethel's knick-knacks and pays off Len and Gloria, returning us to the quiet romance of the flat-share, justifying his decision to Daphne as "I had to decide whether you wanted Len and Gloria and Auntie Ethel and a Chinese Tang saucer or whether you'd rather just have me and no... Chinese saucer. And I decided you'd rather just have me."
"I was a virgin... at 22. I was a very late developer"
Roland's Ladies is rather better and introduces the recurring character of Roland's daughter, Rowena, among the more farcical and slapstick elements. It's also the return of Iris (Adrienne Posta), one of Roland's former flames, as she sets about selling her hairdressing business. This is by turns a very bittersweet encounter between Roland and the daughter he never knew he had with a welcome exploration of Roland's past misdeeds in Hastings in 1955 and some very broad comedy as Iris ropes in Daphne, Roland, Roland's colleague Sid (Tony Selby also returning to the series) and another former love Monica Bakewell (Frances Bennett) to populate the salon and prove to her potential buyer that it's a very going concern.

There is some lovely interplay here in the back yard of Roland's antiques shop between Waring, showing Roland at his most vulnerable, and the elfin Lea Dregorn (later as Lea Brodie in Warlords of Atlantis) as the impulsive Rowena, decked out as 1970s hippy chick, utterly delighted to discover Roland is her dad. It's a quiet, nostalgic interlude, one that again underlines the rose-tinted attitudes to post-war and pre-Swinging times ("I was a virgin... at 22. I was a very late developer" offers Roland), before the high camp antics that take place in Iris's salon. The revelation of his daughter's existence also enables Roland to challenge Daphne's perception of him as a selfish man-about-town (his various women are described as "all bosom and no brains").

Again, Waring is wonderful as Roland when the enormity of a whole new chapter to his life is revealed to him and he confides the details of his relationship with Rowena's mother to Daphne over supper. This once again taps into the romantic, often confidential nature of the relationships at the heart of the series. However, it also ignites a crisis of confidence too, wth Roland worried that his daughter will only see him as "a dirty old man who gets drunk and chases tarty birds. I am of course but I don't want her to know that!"

It's at this juncture that Iris turns up and the episode flips into farce mode. The selling of her hairdressing salon turns into a series of disasters as customers, including Monica, end up with outrageous hairdos courtesy of Roland and Sid, dressed to camp perfection by neighbour Percy (who examines Sid's chest, as he unbuttons his shirt to achieve that silk shirt and medallion look, and declares, "Oh, it's a little stark, love" to which Sid retorts, "This is about as stark as I'm getting!"); Daphne destroys the nails of a successful 'hand' model; an escaped snake causes a riot (bit of an old cliche that one) and the shop's electrics combust.

It's a very amusing parade of Posta at her most self-consciously camp as Iris, of Daphne, Sid and Roland well out of their comfort zones, with plenty of slapstick and some terrific double entendres littering the script (as Roland puts a customer under a faulty hairdryer he declares "Iris, I can't turn her on" to which Iris responds, "There's a knob in the end, do it yourself!").

It's back to what the series does best with Daphne and Roland: At Home in which we find our erstwhile couple alone on a wet Sunday afternoon. Roland is at his lowest ebb as the antiques trade is proving to be very fickle during "the run on the pound" and he's broke and demoralised. This is, for the most part, a two-hander between Waring and Cornwell and you can see why their casting had such an impact on the series as a whole. Both are charming, witty, sensitive and extremely funny in this episode. It's probably the best of the second series as Roland succumbs to a vision of a penniless mid-life crisis (joining the many others he catalogues from the newspaper headlines - "Paul Getty sells 'is Reubens, Elizabeth Taylor pawns her diamonds, I Was A Teenage Bankrupt") and needs Daphne to bring some light back into his life.

For Daphne, things are looking up in the relationship department and she's been out to the ballet with a male colleague, Edward. Roland wants to hear all about it because, having not had any interest for months, he might "get a thrill on the rebound." Roland's fascination with this other man is part and parcel of the frantic discourses about masculinity that occupied many sit-coms of the 1970s. He feels that vicariously he can re-empower himself by listening to Daphne wax on about the "athletic" man whom she's about to go and watch play rugby, her female fantasy she wants to squeeze up against. As she describes Edward's virtues, she also notes that he's a little slow on the uptake and she wants to tread gently as she doesn't want him to think, as Roland so ripely puts it, "that you're dying for it!"
"As a man, what would turn you on?"
The episode builds on this notion with, initially, Roland attempting to essentialise his masculinity in relation to the unseen Edward and, later, by repeating this almost to the point of a physical relationship with Daphne. His depression and lack of self-confidence is exacerbated by the fact that it is also his birthday and that no one has remembered it, including the official receivers and bailiffs he's acquainted with. When she asks him what he'd like for his birthday, he mournfully requests a game of Russian roulette. "Will they have that in Selfridges?" she innocently enquires. Later, as she parades a new outfit in front of him and asks subtly if he thinks it shows off her figure well all he can say is "It doesn't give you a big arse, no."

She suggests he comes with her to the rugby but then realises that Roland's presence might incur Edward's male possessiveness. He feels even more unwanted and like many men feeling sorry for themselves turns on the emotional blackmail, declaring "I can't see any light anywhere. You go and enjoy yourself!" with his martyrdom to the fore. It's also interesting to see Daphne allowed to offer a female point of view on the world in contrast to Roland's disintegrating male subjectivity where, even if it is a highly romanticised take on male-female relationships, it is a precursor to the character's development in the last half of this series, and displays a woman capable of the sexual excitement she often represses and reveals again a rather coquettish, seductive side to Daphne.

However, the day out with Edward doesn't take place after he rings and puts her off and Daphne has to fall back on Roland's company for the afternoon. As Daphne herself begins a serious self-examination of her feminine appeal and worries that she's been too cheap in her friendship with Edward, Roland, now chirpier, finds solace in a Chinese takeaway. What transpires is an interesting exploration of role-playing and male/female fantasy as they both try and cheer each other up, their close physical contact momentarily reaching new heights when they agree to sleep together.

"As a man, what would turn you on?" asks Daphne of Roland, desperate to know where she has gone wrong and framing the episode's theme of rejection - by society itself (not for Daphne the hob-nobbing at Henley and not for Roland a successful business) and by other men and women (both of them without love). She now feels she's at a crisis, "past sex and that sort of thing", and suddenly finds herself joining Roland as one more mature person incapable of finding a lasting relationship. However, Roland selfishly borrows some money and decides to call Jane, an old girlfriend.

As they play Scrabble, Daphne then comes to understand that Jane is a "tart" and Roland is borrowing the gas money to spend on her. He sees it as a way of cheering himself up as he faces the "grey plateau of despair." Daphne simply sees him reduced to a man with "salacious appetites" driven by sex and money (and with impeccable timing Cornwell then pipes up and offers "is crumpet allowed?" as Daphne turns back to the game). Naturally, Roland can't help but reveal that Jane dresses up as a French maid with a feather duster and Daphne, quite appalled, asks, "What does she do? Dust the ceiling while you're messing about?" This is clearly not the kind of 'love' that interests Daphne and as we see later, her challenge to and interpretation of this fantasy, and of male fantasies in general, results in complete and hilarious disaster. You'll never see Marlene Dietrich and The Blue Angel or Howard Keel in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in quite the same light again.

Over onto Disc 2 for the final three episodes, opening with Daphne - The Primitive. This ushers in a loose trilogy of episodes and introduces the character of Jim (Denis Lill) who will be instrumental in the emotional journey that Daphne will eventually undertake. Daphne and Roland are preparing a cosy dinner for Rowena as a way of properly getting to know her. She is not convinced by Roland's attempts to set the ambience and his sudden ability to innately understand the younger generation. "How can you possibly know so much about a 19-year-old? Her views are probably quite different from yours," she declares.

Daphne's not only articulating the inevitable downside of what was then seen as the generation gap but she's also attempting to ensure her own modesty is protected in the fall out from what she calls "that wet Sunday". Naturally they argue about what exactly happened on that afternoon and Roland suggests that she shouldn't "pass moral judgements" on their behaviour. He sees it as a romantic, poetic episode, outside the sphere of moral strictures, whereas Daphne clings to her repression and is faintly ashamed by the memory of it.

The generational attitudes to love, men and marriage are best explored in an lovely little scene between Rowena and Daphne. Rowena is pretty forthright about what she wants from a man ("good in bed") which shocks Daphne a little who is not used to talking about sex in such bold terms. It's also here that we get an indication that Daphne doesn't want a conventional husband ("not a real husband... a sort of...") but would settle for what Rowena describes as a 'consort'.

As this was just before punk threw out its challenge to any remaining so-called traditions, Rowena's counter-cultural role is less about the resurgence of a disenfranchised generation reclaiming its working class roots and more representative of the last gasp of middle class teenagers who self-consciously styled themselves as 'anti-establishment'. Note how she dismisses what Roland sees as a symbol of being 'with it' in the David Bowie album ("it's a reissue, he did it three years ago") and finds more excitement in the nostalgia of The Inkspots. The shifting sands of this cross-generational appeal to nostalgia was very much a cultural trope of the mid-1970s.

When Rowena invites a male friend to the dinner, both Daphne and Roland misconstrue, as is typical in most farces, her actual motives. While they think she's seeking their approval of Jim as a potential husband, Rowena is actually trying to get Jim and Daphne together.  Unfortunately, Roland gets a teensy bit jealous of Daphne's ability to relate to Rowena and pompously lays down the law. Daphne takes great umbrage and decides that if Roland insists in making her conform to the stereotypical, distant housekeeper he wants her to be then that is the role she will play.

Pointedly, she criticises him for changing his mind ("you put on morals like you put on a new coat"), which Roland always seems to do, as he switches the dinner party from intimate get together to an interrogation of a future son-in-law. Roland then insists Daphne makes herself scarce, worried that her presence would undermine his own moral rectitude if he now has to meet Rowena's intended. As he hands her a fiver and tells her to go out for chop suey at the local Chinese, she sounds the call to arms in yet another battle of the sexes (and ages): "you hypocrite!" Listen out for Daphne's hysterical reaction from the kitchen when Jim deflates Roland's pomposity about his newly-acquired daughter.

The dinner is an uncomfortable and embarrassing disaster with all attendees at cross-purposes, making extremely nonsensical small-talk while Daphne storms about like a demented Hilda Ogden ("nuts for three!"). Jim also turns out to be a man living on his nerves, utterly clumsy outside of his comfort zone and bewildered as the dinner table turns out to be the front in Roland and Daphne's mutual and heavy bombardment of childish bitchiness. Even as Roland surrenders, the 'chutney incident' is lying in wait to scupper any last minute cease-fire and all bets are off as Daphne and the chutney finally come to blows.

It's a skin-crawlingly funny exploration of social etiquette that turns into a rip-roaring diatribe from Daphne as, disrobed from her chutney covered posh Italian dress and hurtling through the room in tears, she claims, "Oh, I never want to see another man as long as I live!" The concluding act is an hilarious one-up-manship contest between the two of them to completely wreck the flat and empty each other's belongings out into the street in an orgy of unreasonable self-destruction that reflects the finest traditions of screwball comedy and slapstick and offers Waring and Cornwell a chance to indulge in some physical comedy.
Cue much hilarity about blocked baths and opera recitals
Things have obviously taken a turn for the worse in The Plumber's Mate as it seems both flat-mates, no longer compatible to shared living, want to divide the place into separate and private areas à la Albert and Harold's own approach to the Berlin Wall in the Steptoe and Son episode, Divided We Stand. Before the wall goes up between man and woman, both psychologically and physically, Daphne and Roland attempt to find their own rooms.

Daphne has a close encounter with that other 1970s sit-com stereotype, the man-hating lesbian. Mrs. Frisby, (Susan Engel in over-the-top comic form) who provides a self determining retort of "Men!" to Daphne's critique of Roland, is all breathy lechery as she misunderstands Daphne's situation. "You seem to be the type of woman I'm looking for," she smoulders as Daphne tells her about her spinster existence. The possibility of her and Daphne having an "understanding" is dispelled by the arrival of Roland, also wanting to look at the room. The spectre of homosexuality disrupting the normality of the traditional man/woman/heterosexual relationship is banished as Daphne, rapidly sensing she's Mrs. Frisby's prey, leaps toward Roland for protection.
 
And so the flat is divided into two private areas, one for Moody and one for Pigg... er Pegg, as soon as Daphne's corrected the sign on the door. We also see the return of Jim who, rather than being put off by the cat-fight between his dinner hosts, has come calling with flowers for Daphne and literally crashes through the partition wall into her life. The episode then slowly shows their relationship developing. He turns out to be the heir to the Fullerton water-closet manufacturing business. When he looks over their plans to convert one of the rooms into another bathroom it is the beginning of a chain of events that sees the plumbing blocked in various flats in the building, including one belonging to opera singer Veronica Spicer (Abby Hadfield). Cue much hilarity about blocked baths and opera recitals. 

The final episode, The Proposal, opens in atypical style. We find Jim and Daphne now together in his flash London apartment. He asks her to marry him but she would rather he propose a 'union' instead of a conventional marriage. The stage is set for a get together of all their friends and acquaintances to celebrate their living together, with Daphne endorsed as Jim's 'mistress'. However, Jim's housekeeper Mrs. Stonebridge provides an ominous signal of what is to come when she confides in Daphne about Jim's previous wife.

Auntie Ethel is, naturally, outraged at this arrangement and wails on about Daphne's defying of tradition ("that nasty word.. union... it makes you sound like a couple of officials") and social etiquette. However, when she understands that Daphne is 'marrying' into money, she soon changes her tune. When Daphne explains that she agrees with Roland's view that "marriage is fast becoming obsolete", Ethel accuses Roland of taking money from Jim to make "my niece his concubine." Ethel eventually takes to her bed with a bad cold and refuses to come to the party Daphne has organised in the flat until Percy coaxes her out with a glass of champers. 

Roland, meanwhile, desperately needs a few grand to purchase the lease on new premises and has been searching for a new shop with Rowena. Again, he's down in the dumps because he can't afford anything, has had his notice to quit the current shop and will be out on the street in weeks. Roland's crisis of masculinity is again underlined as he frustratedly cries to both Daphne and Rowena, "I've got to live my life as my self, haven't I? I can't have women shoring me up. I'm a man for God's sake," as, in a rather undignified state, he soaks his sore feet in a bowl of water. "I'm in command of my own destiny. I'm not having a woman tell me what to do!" he puffs. Rowena then orders him to lift his foot out of the water and he complies as she pours more salt into it.

At Daphne's news, he gets rather crotchety and perhaps jealous that she has found someone with more money than he currently can get his hands on. However, after Roland pathetically grumbles about being left with the lone responsibility of the flat, Daphne angrily rounds on him and suggests that she will advertise to find someone to occupy the flat with him once she moves out. It's a very bittersweet scene as he capitulates to her and offers, "I've got no kind of hold over you. We met as strangers... now we part... as strangers." Which is, of course, not true because if there is one couple that know each other very intimately then it's Moody and Pegg.

Roland's fortunes momentarily perk up as an old flame, Stella Lonsdale, answers the advert for the flat. But it's a fleeting proposal and Stella decides the flat-share wouldn't work, leaving Roland back to square one. Daphne also faces her own insecurities head on too. She believes she's found the 'consort' she's looking for and, under her influence, Jim seems to have found security, despite his nervousness and clumsiness. And yet there's a feeling that this is all that he ever wanted and perhaps without that firm response to an actual proposal of marriage, he obviously finds the strength, gleaned from Daphne, to leave her and disappear to Brazil on a two-year archaeological dig. These themes all tap into the growing popularity of co-habitation and non-traditional forms of 'living together' in the mid-1970s as an alternative to marriage, themes that are right at the heart of the series format itself. The party we see later is in itself a further example of these arrangements as various guests turn out to be a chain of ex-lovers and partners.

Again, we see the swings in Roland and Daphne's mutual fortunes played out. As Daphne ascends so Roland descends and, typical of the narrative structure in Moody and Pegg, this eventually turns on its head. Therefore, as Daphne faces being dumped by Jim, an opportunity presents itself to Roland. After a get together with friends and neighbours, including the return of Monica, Iris, Percy and Veronica, Daphne is left humiliated by Jim's flight abroad and she quietly does a flit to the hotel they'd booked to be together at but, under the circumstances, to spend time on her own and consider her next move. What happens next is for you to find out but it brings the series, with its charming, appealing central performances from Waring and Cornwell, to an appropriately bittersweet end.

Special features
A lovely little interview, about 25 minutes long, with Judy Cornwell about how the series was written and produced, her relationship with fellow actors, especially the late Derek Waring and her subsequent career as a writer.

Moody And Pegg - The Complete Second Series
Thames Television Production 1975
Network DVD / Released 27 June 2011 / 7953540 / 300 mins approx / Region: 2 - PAL / Subtitles: None / Sound: Mono - English / Picture: 1.33:1 - Colour / Cert: 12

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