Maybe it’s just our Flag Of Saint David-tinted monocle, but it seems like for much of last decade, when it came to regionally produced or commissioned programmes going out nationally on the BBC, the majority of big hitters have been from BBC Wales. Alongside Doctor Who and Torchwood, shows such as Life On Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Casanova, Merlin and Being Human have had the BBC Wales Cymru badge stamped somewhere on their end credits. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, it was BBC Scotland who’d produced a higher proportion of the most enjoyable regionally-sourced or produced shows to hit the network, with shows like Naked Video, Film [Year], Rab C Nesbitt, The High Life, Bad Boys (post-Brush Strokes pre-cleaning product shill vehicle for Karl Howman, ah, you remember it), I Lovett, Athletico “Scotlard” Partick, and City Lights jostling for space in the Radio Times, to name but the ones we can remember.
By the mid 00s, despite the sterling work of BBC Scotland’s Comedy Unit, it seemed like very few networked BBC shows were coming from the land of deepfried bagpipes, the occasional edition of Only An Excuse slipping onto BBC Two aside (“’Ere, Dave! ‘Oo the fuck are Sir David Murray and Chick Young? When are they going to take the piss out of David Beckham?”). Maybe it was all the self-satisfied middle-Englanders who’d written to Points Of View, smarmily pointing out that they’d needed bring up page 888 whenever they’d tried to watch Rab C Nesbitt, that caused the shift in policy.
Anyone south of Hadrian’s Wall taking the trouble to explore the outer reaches of their Sky Digital EPG for episodes of Chewin’ The Fat (or even those who caught its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances on BBC Two) will know just how much of a shame that is, with it being a largely enjoyable, accessible and amusing sketch show. The standout characters of the series proved to be mischievous pensioners Jack and Victor, who proved they were very much – ho ho! - Still Game, despite their advanced years (Reader’s voice: “Yeah, enough of the continuity-announcer wit, thank you”). The characters had actually started out in a stage play (called Still Game), with the pair, alongside pal Winston, stranded in Victor’s flat due to a broken lift, while Jack and Victor would later put in great little Statler and Waldorf-style turns taking the piss out of the acts in Scottish pop mockumentary ‘Och Around The Clock’, whilst sat watching the show on Victor’s telly.
The characters proved to be popular enough to warrant their own spin-off series, if annoyingly it was shown only on BBC One Scotland. With writer-performers Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan given room to breathe more life into the other elderly residents of Craiglang, and to conjure up all manner of enjoyable japery with them, it became an huge hit North of the Border, with the opening episode of series three viewed by more than 1.5 million people, reportedly making it the most watched BBC comedy in Scotland of all time, clocking up a 47% viewing share. With the show attracting such a phenomenal audience in Scotland (the only BBC region showing it at the time, remember), a few episodes from the early seasons were thrown onto national BBC Two. The episodes, seemingly picked at random from the series run, went out on Saturday nights just after repeats of Have I Got News For You, as opposed to a more recognised sitcom slot, suggesting it might be a case of “oh, we tried it nationally, but it didn’t pick up the viewers. Not to worry”.
Luckily, sense prevailed, and from series four onwards Still Game has been broadcast nationally, this time in a more reasonable Comedy Zone slots, and it proved to be as popular as you would hope. Looking at MediaGuardian’s overnight figures for the first few episodes of series five, the antics of Jack and Victor regularly outperformed shows from household names Steve Coogan and Catherine Tate. The numbers for 10th July 2006 show Still Game attracting 2.3 million viewers, an increase of 600,000 from the previous week, putting it 300,000 ahead of The Catherine Tate Show, and some 700,000 ahead of Coogan’s Saxondale.
Yeah, we know guys. We didn’t think Saxondale was that bad either.
It’s not hard to see why Still Game proved such a hit throughout the UK, either. While we can only guess as to the reasons why it took so long for the show to be broadcast nationally – presumably besuited idiots panicked that a show about pensioners wouldn’t play well with the hip young gunslingers in that 25-34 demographic – it’s a quite wonderfully written show, packed with characters who are properly lovable-despite-their-foibles, and it’s performed excellently. We’re tempted to say “it’s like a non-shit Last Of The Summer Wine”, but that would merely be damning it with faint praise. Instead, we’ll go as far as to say that were the show being broadcast in the 1970s, in primetime, and with the fruitier language toned down, it could honestly have been right up there with Steptoe & Son, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Reginald Perrin and Porridge in the collective hearts of the nation. Aye, really.
If you’ve not seen the show before, several full episodes are knocking around on video streaming sites. While this doesn’t give you the option of sitting down to watch “just one episode” on DVD, only to somehow find it’s three hours later and you’ve just sat through an entire series, you do get to enjoy the proper theme music from The Cuban Boys, as opposed to the slightly annoying library music used on the DVD versions. Here’s the first episode of Still Game in full, but if you’ve any sense make sure you pick up the full DVD box set, containing every single episode plus all the Christmas and Hogmanay specials can be bagged for under £22 from Amazon.