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Tuesday 18 December 2018

Hattie’s love story doesn’t do her justice

I'M GROWING more than a little tired of biopics revealing the dark private lives of British television's early entertainers.

Fantabulosa!, starring Michael Sheen as the insecure and vindictive Kenneth Williams, was brilliant.

The Curse of Steptoe, detailing the supposed mutual hatred between co-stars Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell, was great too, even if subsequent claims of inaccuracy by Corbett's family mean it will never be shown on TV again.

The Road to Coronation Street and Eric and Ernie, shown on New Year's Day, were charming, if superficial, slices of nostalgia. Hattie, though, was a bit of a dud.

Unless you're a certain age, the name Hattie Jacques won't mean a lot. She was, to quote herself in this 90-minute drama, British comedy's "funny, frigid, fat lady", loveable but doomed to typecasting, who played a succession of sexually frustrated battleaxes in countless Carry On films.

Hattie, starring Gavin & Stacey's Ruth Jones, who caught the look, the voice but never the essence of Jacques, purported to tell the story of the passionate affair that destroyed her lengthy marriage to that other British comedy stalwart, John Le Mesurier (Robert Bathurst).

I say purported, because although the drama was based on her authorised biography, we were warned at the outset that some scenes had been "created or changed". When you have the truth at your fingertips, why the need to embellish it?

Jacques's stock-in-trade was self-deprecating remarks about her weight, so she's understandably smitten when a Cockney chancer called John Schofield (a one-dimensional performance from Being Human's Aidan Turner) woos her.

Schofield turns up on the set of Carry On Cabbie and within minutes Hattie's caravan is rocking to the sounds of more than laughter. Before long, he's been installed as her lodger and live-in lover, and Hattie spends her nights sneaking into his room for vigorous sex while Le Mesurier and their two young sons are asleep.

The best thing about Hattie was the excellent Robert Bathurst, who played Le Mesurier, a glass of whiskey seemingly welded to his hand, as a mixture of very English, very gentlemanly stoicism and languid, resigned world-weariness.

Catching Hattie and Schofield in the act, he mutters, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry," and quietly retreats from the scene.

Bizarrely, Le Mesurier then agrees to let Schofield stay in the family home and share Hattie's bed, while he moves into the spare room.

When the inevitable divorce comes, he makes the ultimate sacrifice by allowing himself to be named the adulterer in the marriage, thereby preserving Hattie's pristine public image.

Hattie was framed as the tragic story of a woman who had it all but ended up with nothing (Schofield eventually ditched her for a younger, thinner model), yet she emerged from it looking shallow, selfish and cruel.

Your sympathies really lay with the cuckolded Le Mesurier. This should have been his story, not hers.

Some sympathy is also due to the people on the receiving end of Mary Portas's ire in Secret Shopper. Portas dons a wig and goes undercover to expose the tawdry service being provided by staff in some of Britain's best-known chain stores.

"Expose" is hardly an appropriate word, though. We all know what it's like to spend ages standing on a long queue in a hot, crowded shop, only to find that, when you eventually reach the counter, the person serving you has the manners of a surly, scowling gorilla.

It's not pleasant and it's not forgivable, yet it's probably understandable if you've ever spent long hours working in one of these places for the kind of money TV celebrities spend on taxi fares.

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