1 9 6 8 – 1 9 7 1 (UK)
57 x 25 minute episodes
Stammering English teacher Bernard “Privet” Hedges (Alderton) was the Form Master of class 5C at tough Fenn Street School in South London, in probably the Glammest of all seventies sitcoms
5C were a mob of rowdy, unruly adolescent boys and startlingly mature mini-skirted young women – a kind of Bash Street Kids gone to pot. . . .
Duffy (Peter Cleall) was a denim-clad football hooligan who looked at least five years older than John Alderton but sported a great Rod Stewart haircut; Sharon (Penny Spencer) was a mini-skirted, dolly bird with a feather cut while Maureen (Liz Gebhardt) was a skinny mousy girl with a crush on Sir.
The class also featured Malcolm McFee as Craven, David Barry as Frankie “Hank” Abbott and Pete Denyer as simple but loveable Dennis Dunstable.
All the kids were played by actors well past school-leaving age – Most were actually in their early 20s when the show began – which is why they looked like the most developed fifth-formers you’d ever seen.
The gang caused Hedges much heartache but at least he could share his sorrows over a cup of tea in the staff room with his fellow teachers; cynical Welshman Price (Richard Davies), the straight-laced deputy head Doris Ewell (Joan Sanderson) and Norman Potter (Derek Guyler), the Hitlerian school janitor (or “Administrative Executive” as he described himself) who had been a Desert Rat in the 8th Army during WWII. Noel Howlett played the well-meaning but vapid headmaster, Morris Cromwell.
The 1971 movie of the same name starred the same cast (with a different Sharon, now played by Carol Hawkins) and a few noteworthy additions, including Jack Smethurst (from Love Thy Neighbour) as a bus driver.
When Alderton left Please, Sir! the series continued as The Fenn Street Gang from 1971 to 1973, concentrating on the antics of the kids from 5C after leaving school. Alderton made guest appearances in this series.
The Fenn Street Gang marked a turning point in the fortunes of Please, Sir!, and in turn spawned another spin-off, Bowler.
The first Fenn Street series ran simultaneously with the last of Please, Sir! and Esmonde and Larbey were at full stretch to script all of the episodes; eventually, they handed a dozen Please, Sir! programmes over to other writers.
With the old 5C disbanded, new pupils (and staff) were brought into the cast but they did not capture the viewers as before. Worse, John Alderton wanted out.
His character, Hedges, had become engaged to Penny Wheeler (Jill Kerman) during the third series and they were married in the 1970 Christmas special; now he was written out (appearing in three episodes of The Fenn Street Gang and two of the final series of Please, Sir! before doing so) to take a year’s course in sociology.
He too was replaced but, again, the formula that had made the show so successful was now lost, and it somewhat fizzled out from here, the final episode seeing the perpetual spinster Miss Ewell marrying Mr Sibley.
The American sitcom Welcome Back Kotter was based on Please, Sir! and gave John Travolta his start in TV. The parallels between this show and Please, Sir! were obvious, but the US producers did not acknowledge the British predecessor and it was impossible for anyone to prove otherwise.
The second series of Please, Sir! straddled ITV’s switch from black and white to colour transmissions, the first eight episodes being screened in monochrome, the remaining five in colour.
They were all made in colour, however, as subsequent repeats proved.
Liz Gebhardt was diagnosed with cancer and admitted to hospital in summer 1996. She died in August, aged 51. During her cancer treatment, she sustained injuries from radiotherapy.
Malcolm McFee died on 18 November 2001 at the age of 52. He had been suffering from cancer.
Penny Spencer (1)
Carol Hawkins (2)