‘A Hammer Special Comedy Presentation’.
Here’s a Hammer Film which opens with a funeral scene and trades in the macabre trappings of death throughout – but it’s one of their early 1970s spate of TV sit-com spin-offs rather than a gothic horror. Writer Peter Lewis created the format with ‘Last Tribute’, a BBC Comedy Playhouse episode that lead to a seven-episode follow-up – rather a scanty track record compared with On the Buses, The Likely Lads or Steptoe & Son, which had more successful spin-offs at the time. Series stars Bill Fraser, Raymond Huntley (a Hammer veteran from The Mummy) and David Battley reprise their roles as roguish provincial undertakers (one key line ‘a spare stiff – a funeral director’s nightmare’ is repeated from the pilot) in a plot which has them in a rivalry with a snazzy, creepy new funeral parlour that’s a front for dope-smuggling (cue a wrong cremation that gets all the mourners stoned) and the Wrong Box-style lost corpse of a soft drinks tycoon (which winds up as a commemorative statue).
I dimly remember the show as being sharper and more character-based than this mostly witless runaround. It runs to a few familiar Hammer faces (Michael Ripper, Dennis Price and Roy Kinnear) and some unfamiliar ones (a lot of Hammer’s behind-the-scenes personnel appear as mourners beside their billing in the opening credits), plus staples like Sue Lloyd, Dudley Foster, Bob Todd, Peter Copley, Hugh Paddick, Eric Barker, Michael Robbins, Richard Wattis and Ken Parry. In fact, it’s so crowded that the three leads – who have a distinctively lugubrious style – find it hard to get a look-in, especially since most of the comedy mix-ups have surprisingly little to do with them. Sample line: ‘this is no time to be flogging bottoms.’ Directed by John Robins. The credits omit the apostrophe from the title.