1 9 8 7 (UK)
4 x 50 minute episodes
David Jason starred as priggish Head Porter Skullion in the four-part Channel 4 serial Porterhouse Blue, Tom Sharpe’s super satire of the upper-class elitism of Oxbridge life.
The title refers to a stroke brought on by over-indulgence in rich food and drink, the defining characteristic of Porterhouse, a college otherwise only known for its strong rowing team and low level of academic attainment. The few decent grades its rich students achieve are the result of cheating arranged by Skullion.
In the most fantastical and strangely beautiful scene of the series, troubled student Lionel Zipser (John Sessions) – a sexually frustrated postgraduate student who lusts after Mrs Biggs, his cleaning lady (Paula Jacobs) – had to dispose of several hundred condoms.
His solution was to fill each with gas from his fire and float them up his chimney.
From there the teated balloons floated and settled on the college lawn, forcing a horrified Skullion to rush around frantically trying to puncture them.
Meanwhile, Zipser is seduced by massive Mrs Biggs but their night together is fatally curtailed when she turns the gas fire on, killing herself and Zipser and destroying part of the college in a massive explosion.
The condom set-piece proved to be a series of headaches for producer Robert Knight. First, Durex had refused to supply the condoms because they disapproved of the frivolity of the project. Luckily Duet, a rival firm, saw the joke and sent ten thousand.
Then the dons at Cambridge – where they planned to film – objected. A suitably scholarly square was located in Peterborough.
Finally, the hoped-for still moonlight in which the ‘balloons’ – filled with a little water – would hang ‘like lost sperm in the air’ turned out a night of gale-force winds. What viewers didn’t see were about 20 people releasing 15 condoms each, while others sewed dozens into the lawns.
In the event, the wind made things funnier, David Jason won the BAFTA Best Actor award, and the night of the flying condoms lives in British television history.
Sir Godber Evans
Sir Cathcart D’Eath
Griff Rhys Jones