The much picked-on pariah of British comedy, Mind Your Language is so reviled that even the constant parade of 70s nostalgia programmes either skip over it completely or mention it so quickly in passing that not even a clip dared be used.
From the dizzying mind of Vince Powell (For the Love of Ida, Love Thy Neighbour and, yes, Slinger’s Day all have his anti-Midas touch upon them – how’s that for a CV!], Mind Your Language follows the mishaps of teacher Jeremy Brown and his adult night class of English students from around the world. No country is left unscathed – it’s essentially one of the biggest total wars England has ever launched.
The problems, of course, arise from the forehead-slapping stereotyping of the international students; you really have to prepare yourselves for an avalanche of “a thousand apologies”, “excusing mes” and “hokey-cokeys”, ‘comedy’ misunderstandings and light entertainment gold such as:
Mr Brown: “I am Mr Brown”
Ali: “No, no I am Mr Brown!”
It’s not a very good joke by any standards.
However bad the gags, however low it stoops to get laughs, the show is saved entirely by the cast. Jeremy Brown is played by the terrific Barry Evans, one of Britain’s most regularly over-looked stars; his naive, rather hapless portrayal is a perfect foil to his students’ antics – similarly, starchy principal Ms Courtney (Zara Nutley) sends up the British stiff-lipped reserve as much as anyone else; bumbling caretaker, Sid, is played by Tommy Godfrey, a mainstay of TV comedy and British sex comedy flicks throughout the 70s and early 80s, who adds cockney to the list of exaggerated accents.
The students are even better, thankfully all played by actors from the country of their character. Of particular note, the always cheery Ali (Dino Shafeek, recognisable from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Carry On Emmannuelle), George Camiller’s Italian wide-boy, Giovanni and the extravagantly-moustachioed Juan, played by Ricardo Montez whose 45 year career covered everything from Hammer (Pirates of Blood River) to Mamma Mia. Two real curve-balls; Danielle, the sex-obsessed French student is played by Françoise Pascal, who’s journey to comedy came via Coronation Street and Jean Rollin’s La Rose de Fer. Even better is the stunning Swedish student, Ingrid, played by Anna Bergman, star of British and Euro sex comedies throughout the 70s and, surely not, daughter of Ingmar.
For a relatively large cast, each character is given pretty much equal screen time. Ultimately, the students win out at the end of each episode, either Brown or Courtney brought down a peg or two and the joke being on authority, not at the expense of any particular race.
Compared to other comedies of the time, particularly Love Thy Neighbour’s fondness for the words ‘Sambo’ and ‘nig-nog’ and – perhaps even more so – Spike Milligan, a man who seems to have escaped a career littered with horrifically racist terms virtually unscathed, Mind Your Language is, ultimately, harmless, and throughout the 3 series released here (the 1986 reboot remains in the wilderness) it does raise more than a few smiles. That it should have been all but scrubbed from the record books does it a considerable disservice; it’s well worth revisiting.