Don’t Wait Up was a perfect example of a classic middle-class BBC sitcom. Starring Nigel Havers, Dinah Latimer and Tony Britton, how could it really be anything else?
It was a gentle comedy but with an often witty script (the programme was created and written by George Layton who also voiced children’s cartoon Pigeon Street) and great acting from the main cast. Havers (Chariots of Fire, Dangerfield) is renowned for playing charmingly smooth English gents and in Don’t Wait Up his role was no exception. He played Tom Latimer, an NHS GP who, at the time we first met him, had just split up from his wife, Helen (Jane How, who played Dirty Den’s mistress, Jan, in EastEnders). This caused problems, not just personally but also professionally as she was also the landlord of the building where Tom had his practice.
His father Toby (Tony Britton, There’s a Girl in My Soup, The Day of the Jackal – and father to TV presenter Fern) was also a doctor but in a private practice. He, too, was having relationship troubles and tells Tom that he was to divorce his mother, Angela (the beautiful Dinah Sheridan, a stage, film and television actress and mother to Magpie presenter Jenny Hanley) after thirty two years of marriage.
Tom didn’t take this news very well, nor did he seem particularly enamoured of his father’s intention to move in with him. This obviously set the scene for tension between Latimer the Elder and his son and brought about many amusing arguments about not only their domestic situation but medical practices and politics as well. It also made for more farcical situations while Tom tried to bring his mum and dad back together. These attempts generally never ended well but it never stopped Tom (or in fact, Toby himself) trying to persuade Angela that she should come back to her husband.
Tom also had his fair share of tension with his own ex-wife but received recompense in the form of Madeleine Forbes (Susan Skipper, Carry on Laughing, The Sweeney, Doctor Who and an original voice of Sat-nav), his father’s very attractive receptionist. Obviously, Toby was not initially very happy when the two began a relationship, but he did prove supportive when they temporarily split up in series three.
At the end of series three Tom decided he couldn’t take living in such close proximity to his father anymore and Toby reluctantly moved into a hotel. Series four was primarily concerned with the men’s living arrangements (fires, hotels, new flats, old flats) while series five saw both couples back together, with Tom and Madeleine arranging their wedding and Toby and Angela holidaying in Portugal. All seemed to be back to normal, until the senior couple returned home and realised that perhaps their problems seemed easier to solve in the sunshine than they did back in real life. They were united, however, in their excitement for Tom and Madeleine.
The sixth, and final, series of Don’t Wait Up began with Madeleine’s pregnancy and ended with the traditional television race to the hospital when she went into labour, five days overdue.
It wasn’t just the main cast who provided the humour: also adding a comic performance to proceedings throughout the show’s run was Tom’s partner, Dr Charles Cartwright and Toby Latimer’s secretary, Felicity Spicer-Gibbs. Cartwright was played by Richard Heffer (Colditz, Dixon of Dock Green) in the first two series and then by Simon Williams (Upstairs, Downstairs – and whose sister, Polly, married Nigel Havers), while Spicer-Gibbs was played by Jane Booker (The Darling Buds of May, Colin’s Sandwich, Nanny).
Don’t Wait Up began in October 1983 and remained on UK television until March 1900. The series alternated between seven and six episodes, with 39 in total. It was never recognised as a classic - not even making the top 100 in the BBC produced Britain’s Best Sitcom from 2004 – and perhaps six series stretched the premise a little thin but it was certainly watchable and, on many occasions, very funny.