Before anything is said about this programme, it is first appropriate to mention the opening titles. The twangy guitar theme (created by the master himself, Ronnie Hazlehurst) played over the bizarre sight of Ronnie Corbett’s rotating neon head. That’s all that we need to say about it.
So, to the show itself. Sorry! included that tried and tested plot device; a monstrous mother whose psychological torture is the reason that the main protagonist behaves the way he or she does. It would be totally fair to lay that accusation at the feet of Phyllis Lumsden (the brilliant Barbara Lott). In fact she’s worse. A gargantuan monster of her son’s nightmares, she is controlling and mean-spirited and will stop at nothing to ensure her little angel doesn’t leave home and therefore, her side. Well, the word ‘little’ is a bit misleading; short in height her son may have been but he was hardly a spring chicken. Timothy Lumsden was 41 when we were first introduced to the characters in the programme; Ronnie Corbett, who played Timothy was 51.
Sorry! was a BBC sitcom, first broadcast in 1981. Corbett was already appreciated and loved for his work as part of The Two Ronnies (the two shows shared writers in Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent), as well as the late sixties’ satire The Frost Report, and was a natural to play Timothy. Short in stature but with a big heart, Timothy was witty and warm but hampered by a natural shyness, an ability to trip over his words when he was nervous and of course, his mother. He would have liked nothing more than to meet ‘the one’ and escape the maternal prison Phyllis had created for him. In fact, over the course of the seven series Tim met several women who could have potentially been ‘the one’ and each time came very close to breaking free. His mother, however, was skilled in emotional blackmail and used this freely to reign him back in. Mind you, Tim didn’t always help himself; perpetually frustrated and disappointed with his life there were occasions when he could have made that leap but was drawn back into the fold with the promise of a jam roly poly for his tea. Adding weight to the suspicion that Tim wasn’t always averse to being cossetted was the episode in the second series when his cousin Brinsley appeared; Phyllis made a huge fuss over her nephew, and Tim was shown to actually be fairly jealous of the attention that had been taken from him.
Timothy was often aided and abetted in his quest for love and freedom by his sister Muriel, and his best friend Frank. Muriel (Marguerite Hardiman) had once been in the same situation as her brother, but had somehow broken her mother down and got out of the family home by marrying Kevin (Derek Fuke). Phyllis never viewed Muriel in the same way after this, and was generally rude and dismissive towards her. As she had successfully freed herself, Muriel was hugely motivated to get Timothy out too, and she was often frustrated with Tim’s lack of fight when his mother bore down on him.
From all this emphasis on Timothy’s relationship with his mother, you might think that there was no father in the picture, but you’d be wrong. Tim’s dad Sydney (William Moore) was present and correct in the Lumsden household, but as with television stereotypes of overbearing mothers, there had to be a hen-pecked husband lurking in the background. Affectionate towards his son, he still preferred to take the easy way out by not confronting his wife when she went on the rampage, instead taking refuge behind his newspaper. The only time he really made an effort to speak up was with his famous catchphrase ‘Language, Timothy!’ which he would sternly intone at his son when he felt the boundaries of taste had been breached. The comedy of this however, was that Timothy had rarely, if at all, said anything that would possibly offend anybody anywhere. Not that Sydney ever said it with real gusto; on the occasions he uttered it in the middle of a stressful situation, Timothy would retort with ‘Oh, shut up father!’ to which Sydney’s reaction would be a mild ‘Fair enough!’ Hilarious.
Sorry!’s first run lasted from 1981 to 1982, and three series were shown in that time. There was also a short special filmed for and shown during ‘The Funny Side of Christmas’ in 1982. After a break, series four kicked off in 1985, with the forty third episode being broadcast on 10 October 1988.
This final episode was titled ‘Up, Up and Away?’ and as it suggests, the programme finished with Tim finally walking away from Phyllis’ domineering arms into those of his girlfriend Pippa’s (Bridget Brice). If you thought Phyllis was bad enough as a mother, imagine what she would have been like as a mother-in-law.