When Croydon’s first couple were actually a laughing matter

Local comedian ANTHONY MILLER says that the success of Purley comedy couple Terry and June was no joke

A running gag of this website is a reference to the borough’s first couple as Terry and June.

Terry Scott and June Whitfield: their sitcom was staged in Purley 30 years ago, when Croydon was a byword for sophisticated suburbia

Terry Scott and June Whitfield: their sitcom was staged in Purley 30 years ago, when Croydon was a byword for sophisticated suburbia

There is something of a fad at the moment for plays based on old sitcoms. Some fondly remembered TV situation comedies such as Rising Damp, of course, started out as stage plays, so reverse engineering them for the theatre is actually not that hard.

So in one article this week, Inside Croydon’s editor joked that one day soon, the Fairfield Halls will stage a revival of the Croydon-based sitcom Terry and June, whether watched or even featuring the Town Hall’s first couple, a stereotypical late-middle aged couple whose children have left home and are now trying to fill the existential void in their lives.

This, though, is impossible. There will never be a stage play of Terry and June because while you can recast the Steptoes and you can redo ‘Allo ‘Allo and you can find another actor to play the role of Jim Hacker, there was only one Terry Scott, and there is only one June Whitfield.

While Whitfield lives and works on, one of south London’s resident national treasures, Scott died nearly 20 years ago. Trying to recast Terry Scott would be like trying to recast Oliver Hardy. Cannot be done. A one-off.

Terry and June was an old-fashioned star vehicle, made-to-measure for its two leading players. Less a situation comedy and more an excuse to pair up Terry and June again after their previous sitcom, Happy Ever After came to what the BBC producers clearly thought to be a premature end.

Terry and June were relocated to Purley for Terry and June and their characters given new surnames, but it hardly mattered. Their location, backstory and surname might change but Terry and June were always Terry and June. Just as Stan and Ollie were always really Stan and Ollie, no matter how the situation changed. As a result Terry and June the sitcom characters are now completely indivisible from the actors who played them.

The programme, the last episode of which was made in 1987, still today reaches across the ages: not enough laughs in an episode of Come Dine With Me? The producers can stick on the theme tune from Terry and June. The cheery ditty has become British television shorthand: everyone understands what it means – even people who weren’t alive when the comedies were made.

The original title credits for Terry and June are quite interesting if you want to see how Croydon used to be, just 30 years ago. Far from parodying Croydon as a cultural and social dumping ground as Peep Show does today, Terry and June’s Croydon is depicted as an exciting metropolis so large and with so much to do in it that people – well, Terry and June – can actually get lost in it.

Above: the original title credits for Terry and June. It’s a poor recording, but it gives a clear sense of setting for the programme

In the original title sequence Scott emerges from a busy East Croydon Station while Whitfield is outside the Fairfield Halls with a leaflet of what’s on (which in those days was quite a lot). Both of them look at their watches. Separately, they head off to the newish (and open air) Whitgift Centre where they keep missing each other. Soon we see Terry passing the then new Nestle building while June passes through the recently laid out Queens Gardens.

They finally meet up at a new and clean-looking telephone box – no mobile phones then – where they laugh at their inability to do something as simple as meet up together.

Zodiac Court: not on Terry and June

Zodiac Court: not on Terry and June

This is in sharp contrast with Peep Show’s depiction of Croydon, where the most we see is the depressing exterior of Zodiac Court, inside which two eternally single and selfish flat mates with few redeeming personality traits mildly despise each other.

Obviously selected as one of the most depressing and old-fashioned sets of flats the producers could find, it’s an extreme irony that this area has gone even more downmarket since Peep Show started its run – one-third of London Road’s 179 currently occupied shops sell booze or fast food, or operate as a betting shop, pawnbroker’s or payday loan firm. Still, I guess we should be grateful that some stores are open at all.

For some reason the Croydon riots have never made their way into the plot of an episode of Peep Show despite Mark and Robert’s flat being on the front line on the night when, as the late Malcolm Wicks remarked, “the thin blue line was very thin indeed”.

Maybe they will work this into the plot some day. Probably around the time that Terry and June discuss Thatcherite politics.

Terry and June might have been an ordinary sitcom but Scott’s performances could lift some of the weakest material from the mundane to watchable. June Whitfield is, of course, also a unique talent. How many other Margaret Thatcher impersonators manage also to get work on acclaimed sitcoms written by the “alternative” comics and then get invited to Thatcher’s funeral?

It would have been easy for Whitfield to just be a comic foil to Scott, but the joke is that while Whitfield is cast as an ordinary housewife, she is not. She is June Whitfield. And that’s just weird.

The show may never have had the greatest plots in the world but together Terry and June had genuine chemistry and a genuine comic timing and…. I still have a soft spot for it. I don’t think I’m completely alone either. Maybe it was rubbish, but at least, as the late Malcolm Hardee would have said, it was both rubbish and local.

And it was so much better than Ben Elton’s latest offering.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Comedy, East Croydon, Fairfield Halls, History, Purley, Theatre, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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