Monday, October 23, 2006

Dear Mollie.

So let's talk about TV. I am highly overdue for a highly idiotic, worshipfully tedious, wonkily descriptive love-letter to Mollie Sugden, best known to American audiences and to me for playing Mrs. Slocombe on the TV show Are You Being Served? None of this will reflect that well on me--but you know the blog pledge: semper veritas. You gotta TALK about this embarrassing shit.

They've been showing this Britcom on one of our local PBSs again recently, and although I can recite every word of dialogue along with the shows, up and down, I'm still totally enjoying it. Newly so. The show is lame, stupid, sophomoric, good-hearted, full of dumb jokes, fart jokes, fag jokes, uncomfortable dated vaudeville racism (occasionally I turn the channel), creaking plot construction, badly dated comedy and most every episode manages to work in the word "pussy" for a laugh. I snicker constantly. It's similar to, but not as good as comedies in the tradition of farces like Noises Off--it doesn't go fast or smart enough. But it's still great.

My favorite actor by far is Mollie Sugden, who has the ability to roll words around and out her mouth like chocolate. She's brill. Mrs. Slocombe is the character who makes the constant pussy jokes (she is talking about her cat) that most people who know the show remember. It's so stupid--they're funny every time. Every time! They're not my favorite Slocombe bit, but I love it when her delivery borders on the bizarre: [on the phone] "Hello, Is that Mr. Akbar? Mrs. Slocombe here. Your next-door neighbor. I wonderrrrrrrrum--would you do me a favor? Would you go to my front door, bend down, and look through the letterbox, and if you can see my pussy--would you drop a sardine on the mat?"

Her other catchphrases are "I am unanimous in that!" and "Weak as water!" (Spat out at all the lame, chickenshit men she's surrounded with). She's also hilarious describing her trips to the local pub where she ends up drunk most nights, baffled at how it happened (the tonic's gone bad), or defending herself drunkenly: "I simply slipped down to the corner to buy a packet of cris-ops." She's at her absolute best, though, when the show tackles class stuff the way a dated broad British comedy like AYBS? would: her mien and speech patterns zoom in and out of genteel, trying too hard, dead common, indignant, refahned, full of herself, bawdy, gossipy, pissed-off. They veer, careen.

One of my favorite bits is when she's answering the phone for a coworker and trying to sound posh (there's a lord on the other end) and carefully enunciates: "HOH? Yes? Whom? ...HOWevah, if you wouldn't mind 'angin' on a mo..." It's so fucking hilarious, the way she hits the Hs in all the wrong places, then drops them again a sec later. She has great delivery, great timing. There's one episode where she's in love with the (hopelessly queeny) Mr. Humphries and buying him a pair of gloves; the salesclerk asks her what sort of personality the gentleman has and her answer, after a beat, is just one word: "SUEDE" ("ssswwwwwwaaaaaiiiiiddd-euh"). She packs the 10 second-long word with way too much meaning. It's fabulous.

I love how she makes phrases like that her own. I have found myself chanting "I-joost-don't-CARE-when-I'm-on-the-continent!" more and more (her description of a carefree flutter at middle-class travel) and even put her description of how custard is made as the outgoing message on my answering machine for a while--just because of the sheer pleasure of those round fruity tones: "WELL! Reeaaahhl custard is made with noo-laid eggs, fdrrrresh cdrrrreamy milk, and refahhned cahhstohrrrrr shhhhhhugarr." I can't remotely do it justice.

I can't do her justice! She makes me think about the A.Maupin description from Babycakes of an English woman in a pub: "She was well pasty forty and her makeup had been appled with a trowel, but there was something almost valiant about her cheerfulness as she drank alone, jiggling her large calves to the beat of 'Abracadabra.' She reminded him of one of those jolly barflies from Andy Capp." Without being too serious about it all, there are times when her acting and the observations it conveys seem like they're out of an Ayckbourn play. Or from Sheridan (she'd have made a brilliant Mrs. Malaprop). She's a hopeless mess, Sugden takes her way out far and back, her character is the constant butt of jokes, but there's something kind of noble about her, yes, something valiant. Not sure I would entirely mind being her someday, tetchiness and all.


p.s. The entire boxed set of AYBS? costs $150! That's like...$.50 a buttfuck joke.

p.s.s. I love that when you search for photos of Mrs. Slocombe you get a few of Tammy Fake Bakker, just 'cause. Archetypes.

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