Network on Air (studio)
1175min approx (length)
12 March 2018 (released)
02 April 2018
THE FENN STREET GANG from the early 70's (all 3 Seasons in one DVD box set here) was a spin off from the more popular classroom comedy series PLEASE SIR! which was first screened shortly after the success of the 1967 film TO SIR, WITH LOVE, in which black schoolteacher Sidney Poitier takes a job teaching children in a rough East End Secondary School.
In FENN STREET GANG there is a direct similarity, albeit on a ‘comedic’ level. Here the former pupils of Fenn Street are seen after leaving school and over a staggering 47 episodes the series follows the erstwhile Form 5C through trials and tribulations as they try to get to grips with the real world out there. The Gang in question are six in number: Eric Duffy (Peter Cleall), Sharon Eversleigh (Carol Hawkins), Dennis Dunstable (Peter Denyer), Frankie Abbott (David Barry), Maureen Bullock (Liz Gebhardt) and Peter Craven (Leon Vitali, later portrayed by Malcolm McFee). Looking at the initial idea of six far from overtly bright (so that Joe Soap can identify one presumes) and unqualified young adults finding their way in an adult world seems promising, however...
There are three different producers on this series; perhaps starting with Bryan Izzard (the man responsible for the ever popular rubbish ON THE BUSES) and the Gang didn't get off to the best start. You might almost say if you have an I.Q. of 74 then THE FENN STREET GANG is just what you are looking for and if this sounds harsh then the dumb dialogue (not to mention the by and large dumb plotlines) will prove that a ‘harsh’ sentence is justified. Izzard could never be accused of over-estimating the intelligence of the average viewer and if the success of ON THE BUSES is anything to go by then he wasn't wrong with his tactic.
It really is rather difficult to say anything even remotely good about this series which comes across as little more than infantile. The only positive thing that comes to mind is that the gang are an intrinsically good lot with the exception of rubber-faced Frankie Abbott, a hopelessly naive mother's boy with a mental age of about seven (if that isn't an insult to a seven-year old) who has somehow managed to get himself a job working for a Private Investigation Agency and walks around wearing a trilby and a mac uttering absurd Americanisms. Quite frankly such a moron would not have a friend in the world.
The other ‘gang members’ are slightly better: Duffy is the leader of the bunch and is a little wiser - but not that much. Sexism had apparently not been 'invented' by 1971 so although he is in love with former school pin-up Sharon (Miss Hotpants) it is perfectly alright for him to say about another woman “Cor, I wouldn't mind giving her one”. Well at least he says 'her' as opposed to 'that'. Cleall and Hawkins play their characters as totally irritating and almost insulting stereotypes plus, Cleall sounds far too old for someone of sixteen years of age. McFee (who was Craven in PLEASE SIR) reprises his part in the second series and is far more feasible as the ducking and diving lothario wise-boy (lacking Duffy's scruples and 'leadership qualities') than Leon Vitali who doesn't get it at all. McFee was, in fact, the genuine article and as such is slightly more convincing. High-pitch voiced Dunstable is educationally ‘sub- normal' but with a heart of gold and in fact far brighter than the vacuous cretin Abbott… not that is saying much. Maureen is training to become a nurse and is the gang's caring mother figure – of course it provides plenty of opportunities for laugh-out-loud (or not-laugh-at-all) scenarios.
One still gets the idea that there could have been something in this series. Perhaps writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey were simply not capable of 'Depth' or it wasn't par for the 1970's. If all this isn't bad enough we have regular guest spots. John Alderton as teacher Bernard 'Privet' Hedges makes a few appearances in the first series, hapless body language and awkward twit that he is he certainly does not take the series away from the kids. Re-enter Barbara Mitchell (Abbott's mother), Peter Bayliss (Dunstable's dad) who had been in PLEASE SIR and of course the 'incorrigible' Mr. Bowler (George Baker).
Mitchell is by far the worst offender - this apparent giantess (she wasn’t really- it's just that the gang are all quite small and remember they were all too old to play teenagers in the first place) eats up every scene she is in in, courtesy of her 'gloriously' OTT sex-starved clinging attention seeking mother. The same can be said of Bayliss's (a superb restoration actor) drunken old skate of a dad. George Baker had a real result as Mr. Bowler, a local gangster with delusions of grandeur. In his case another absurd stereotype with a funny accent and you can see it coming a mile off: “Shall we play a little Shopping?” (Chopin - oh, please!). The character of Mr. Bowler was so popular he got his own series in yet another spin off.
If we are talking low level, in one episode (after Abbott has been sacked for incompetence) Maureen - looking at a poster on the wall - suggests he join THE PROFESSIONALS. His reply: “Cor, I'd have me own tank and blow people up!” Abbott even manages to find a girl (hence the maxim 'There's someone for everyone') called Celeste (Rosalind Elliott) who works in the same boutique as Sharon. Well, Celeste also has a funny accent and a catchphrase “(I dunno”) which she draws out unmercifully. Mercifully she didn't get her own TV-series! Top TV-composer Denis King's title music is not exactly his most memorable either.
Still, THE FENN STREET GANG will have their fan-base after all those decades and with a total of 7 discs included in the DVD-Set, you’re bound to be in Fenn Street heaven!