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TV review: Nick Nickleby; Some Girls; The Late Great Eric Sykes

Charles Dickens, it is sometimes suggested, created the format for soap operas.

A combination of melodrama, exaggerated characters and social comment, his works were written and published in instalments, each of which invariably ended in a tantalising, ‘to be continued’ cliffhanger. Contemporary accounts even tell of American readers thronging the New York dockside, anxiously awaiting the fate of little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop (she dies).

Dickens is forever being adapted for television, but Nick Nickleby is, as far as I am aware, the first to take the bold step of updating one of the author’s novels to a modern-day setting and broadcasting it over five consecutive weekdays. Hats off to BBC Daytime – what its dramas may lack in budget it more than makes up for in ambition and imagination.

Writer Joy Wilkinson remains largely faithful to the premise of the source material – which proves both a blessing and a curse – but is obliged to gallop through the storyline at a pace that will leave Dickens purists gasping for their smelling salts. It is, however, an exhilarating and enjoyable ride.

Andrew Simpson stars as the young hothead of the title, obliged to go out into the world to rescue his family from penury. Adrian Dunbar is evil millionaire Uncle Ralph, who, for devious reasons of his own, finds employment for his nephew in deepest, darkest Yorkshire.

[pullquote]Nick Nickleby gallops through the storyline at a pace that will leave Dickens purists gasping for their smelling salts. It is, however, an exhilarating and enjoyable ride[/pullquote]

For the purpose of contemporary satire and, one suspects, to avoid all the inconveniences of filming with a large cast of children, Dickens’ private school Dotheboys Hall becomes Dotheolds Hall, care home for the elderly. Nickleby’s sidekick Smike, meanwhile, is transformed from simpleton boy to confused old lady – albeit one who can deliver a spirited rendition of Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel when called upon.

Not all of the analogies work, and several of the comedy moments fall to the ground with a resounding clunk, but Nick Nickleby is good fun. It also features a scene-stealing performance from Mark McDonnell channelling the spirit of The League Of Gentlemen to play Wackford Squeers, the corrupt and brutal care home manager. Squeers leaves the series far too soon, but for that we can blame only Dickens.

Some Girls is basically a teen girls’ take on The Inbetweeners, complete with profanity, banter, sex, swearing, violence and football. The setting, however, is no salubrious suburb but an inner city estate, lending a little more edge, as well as a more varied culturally mix, to proceedings.

The comedy is frequently broad and sometimes blunt, but the relationship between the quartet of friends is well observed and firmly rooted in recognisable, realistic emotions. I wasn’t particularly taken by the show’s use of voice-over narration, but I was extremely impressed by the narrator – Adelayo Adedayo, as Viva, is a real find. Colin Salmon, who recently waltzed off Strictly Come Dancing, plays Viva’s firefighter dad.

The great and good of showbusiness queued up to pay tribute to The Late Great Eric Sykes. In my favourite clip, elderly PC Corky, played by Deryck Guyler, ambles through the Sykes’ front door. “Don’t come barging in here like Starsky and Hutch,” Sykes protested.

Nick Nickleby, BBC1, Monday, November 5, 2.15pm
Some Girls, BBC3, Tuesday, November 6, 10pm
The Late Great Eric Sykes, BBC2, Saturday, November 3, 8.45pm

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