Gladys: Don't be nasty about your mother. She was a warm-hearted woman.
Arkwright: Aye, and it w-wasn't just her heart that was warm. They say m-many a b-builder warmed his hands on her b-b-brazier...
'Open All Hours' is a popular and well-liked British television sitcom, starring Ronnie Barker, and derived from a series of one-off comedy specials aired in 1973. The same series, 'Seven of One', also produced to Barker's equally successful 'Porridge'. The show was devised and written by Roy Clarke, fresh from creating 'Last of the Summer Wine' earlier the same years. Four series ran irregularly from 1976 to 1985, totalling only 27 episodes, including the pilot and a Christmas special. As with 'Fawlty Towers' (twelve episodes), 'Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em' (22 episodes) and indeed 'Porridge' (21 episodes), constant repeats have given the impression that the series was more rife than it was.
Along with the aforementioned, plus 'Dad's Army', 'Only Fools and Horses' and to a lesser extent 'The Good Life' and 'Are You Being Served?', 'Open All Hours' is by now deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of British television viewers as one of the final successful examples of an old-style, pre-alternative comedy sitcom. It did not incorporate elements of soap opera or social commentary (unlike 'Only Fools...'), there were no story arcs or character progression, and it did not affect an ironic distance from its material. Its characters were essentially sympathetic (unlike 'Rising Damp', or the extraordinarily grim 'On the Buses'), and working-class. All of these elements are unusual nowadays, both in sitcoms and in real life. Of the series' competition, such fare as ''Allo Allo', 'Ever Decreasing Circles', 'To the Manor Bourne', 'Hi-de-Hi!' and so forth are held with much less affection nowadays. Of its temporal and philosophical contemporaries, only 'Last of the Summer Wine' remains in its original form, although in itself this unwillingness to change has caused 'Summer Wine' to become mildly post-modern in its self-conscious rejection of the modern world.
'Open All Hours' starred Ronnie Barker, one of the most popular comedy actors of his era, as Arkwright, owner and manager of a small cornership in an unidentified Northern town (in reality, Doncaster). Despite the title, the shop was not in fact open for twenty-four hours a day; this was unheard of in the UK until the late 1980s, because people did not generally have twenty-four hours' worth of money. Arkwright was afflicted with a terrible stutter and a mad crush on a nurse, Gladys Emmanuel, who lived across the road. Gladys was played by Lynda Barron who, according to Cinemorgue.com, met a nasty end in 1971's 'Hands of the Ripper'. Arkwright was unmarried, and had a nephew, Granville, played by David Jason in his first lead role. Granville's age was never stated; Arkwright treated him as if he was a child, yet he was clearly much too old to be delivering groceries on pushbike, whilst Jason was in his mid-thirties at the time.
Arkwright kept his eyes on the pennies and was not averse to selling slightly damaged stock, whilst Granville was a dreamer who longed to escape the sickening nightmare hell of England's pestilent, depressed north. There were no other recurring characters, save for a till. Consumers popped into the shop in order for comedy to happen. As was the fashion in the day, the universe was reset at the end of each episodes, and by the end of the series nothing had been resolved. As with many aspects of British culture, the characters were all losers who experienced dismal, repeated failure, but who were chipper enough to smile at this and take it, and take it, and take it, without ever fighting back against the real enemy. Not the Germans, the real enemy.
Unlike 'Fawlty Towers', the plotlines in 'Open All Hours' were skeletal things; typically, Arkwright would interact with his customers whilst Granville would attempt to advance himself in the world by, for example, spending some money on a new suit. The major theme was sex; Arkwright's fruitless, carnal pursuit of buxom nurse Gladys Emmanuel (a nod to the contemporary 'Emmanuelle' films), and Granville's fruitless, carnal pursuit of any attractive female, most often the milklady. Granville was the more successful of the two, in that he actually had sex - one plotline even featured Arkwright employing an escort girl to keep Granville happy - although never for very long, whilst the relationship between Arkwright and Gladys was never fully explained. They clearly had a history, and Gladys was never entirely dismissive of Arkwright's advances - which nowadays would be grounds for police intervention - but, apart from the detail of Gladys being a martyr to her sick mother, we learned nothing more.
The relationship between Arkwright and his nephew resembled that between Derek Trotter and his younger brother Rodney in David Jason's later 'Only Fools and Horses', and is clearly a nod to the earlier, bleaker 'Steptoe and Son'. In both series the pivotal relationship was between two generations of grown men tied together indirectly by family; the age difference in 'Open All Hours' is greater, and perhaps because of this the relationship is mellower, not least because Arkwright seems comfortable with his life. In all the aforementioned, the younger character feels constrained by the demands of home and work, constraints made more binding by their familial nature; whereas Harold Steptoe fantasised of being an international jet-setter, Granville's ambitions were more modest, unconsciously and subconsciously restricted by Awkright's limited, but grounded, worldview. In contrast, Rodney Trotter was both unimaginative and unambitious, as 'Only Fools and Horses' was really about Derek. As an aside, 'Hours' is not quite classic as 'Steptoe' or 'Only Fools...', although it is certainly in the same league; only its small scale and lack of conflict holds it from greatness. Nonetheless, as with 'Dad's Army', it is almost the definition of the kind of thing you might want to watch whilst ill in bed.
'Open All Hours' was set in an unidentified northern town, and much of the series' humour derived from the cast's accurate portrayal of the regions colourful inhabitants, and from Arkwright's curious vocal delivery. Apart from his charming northern accent, Arkwright was possessed of a distinctive stutter, transforming innocent words into torrents of syllables, often masking or creating innuendo in the process. As with 'Are You Being Served?' the wit drew heavily on the art of sexual innuendo, although whereas the former series relied on crudity and excess for its laughs, 'Open All Hours' was considerably more subtle and sophisticated, which is one reason it has aged well.
The inneundo in the quote at the top of this writeup works on no less than five levels, for example. Firstly, it is simply a metaphor; the 'brazier' represents the warmth which Arkwright's mother was wont to spread. Secondly, 'brazier' provokes an obvious verbal association with 'brassiere', this making the most obvious innuendo relatively clean. Thirdly, and stemming from this, Arkwright's history of verbal tics suggests that he might actually have meant to say 'brassiere' after all. Fourthly, the innuendo has a much cruder undercurrent; the singular use of 'brazier' (rather than 'braziers') and the fact that a brazier is a source of heat suggests that Arkwright was referring to his mother's vagina, albeit in euphemistic terms. Fifthly, 'brazier' is simply an amusing word, like 'cockle'.
'Open All Hours' was not a period piece, at least not initially; although never explicitly stated, it was supposed to take place in the contemporary world, albeit that of 1973. Nonetheless it had a timeless air to it, and apart from the parked cars, very little of the series was tied to a specific era. It could just as easily have been filmed in black and white, and set in the 1950s, and it is for this reason - its pre-datedness - that the show has aged well, a trait it shares with 'Dad's Army'. Although reviled during the 80s and early 90s for being a dated, cosy throwback to a complacent, shallow past, 'Open All Hours' remains a popular and well-liked repeat, having outlived two subsequent comedy generations (certainly, neither 'Filthy, Rich and Catflap' nor 'Newman and Baddiel in Pieces' are likely to be repeated on analogue terrestrial television). So much water has passed under the bridge that the blind emotion of yore is no longer appropriate; ultimately, all the dinosaurs died out, not just the vegetarians. The war has moved on, and we are all equal now.
As with 'Dad's Army', ''till Death us Do Part', 'Steptoe and Son', 'Coupling' and many more the show was sold to America in 1981 and turned into 'Open All Night', about which I know nothing. Unlike 'Sanford and Son' and 'All in the Family' the show was not a success, lasting half a season.