"...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are
mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of every-
thing at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a
commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow
roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and
in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and
everybody goes "Awww!"
Jack Kerouac's breathtaking description of the ultimate
60s freedom icon, Dean Moriarty (aka Neal Cassady)
I still remember that line. It stood out like Dean's thumb (an in–plaster in-joke for those of us who devoured On The Road). Now if Moriarty was a hippy, then blessed be the next generation born in the 50s and 60s. But alas. Pointing at Dean is like praising a superb performance in a mediocre movie, like recommending a single classic episode from a so-so seven season series. It was, in essence, trying to prove a point against a tsunami of contrary opinions. Hippies became unfashionable, unpopular and a bit of a joke. Why? They had the one great, big idea after Darwin (let's be nice to each other) so why did they have to mutate into a self-parodic mass of derisory, flared, patchouli drenched misfits? In effect, they are perfect out of which to take the piss. At the time, hippies were very serious about themselves and their goals. This makes them even more perfect comedy fodder.
In hindsight, everyone hates hippies. Is that fair? Is it true? The real things, as featured in the cringe-worthy excerpt of The David Frost Show (featured as an off the wall Extra on this disc), seem to be fatuous, childish, anti-establishment but in a sad way and altogether (let's not be coy) utterly ridiculous. Yes, the Summer of Love was probably a good thing (I was 8 so it passed me by) but why did the admirable philosophy of being nice to each other give birth to a sub-strata of people whose fashion sense was in denial of its own thunderous theatricality and whose mindset was contrary for the simple adolescent sake of it. It seems like the older took advantage of the less worldly (isn't it always the way?) but the overwhelming effect was of a curious psychosis that went through the world. These people had a point. That point was valid, even true. But those entrusted to deliver that truth had chosen to break off from the norm so radically that their message was fatally compromised. L.B.J. may have sentenced thousands to an early grave in Vietnam but on the other side of the coin, hippies undermined their own message with a shuddering stylistic faux pas.
So enter Father Ted's writers, Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan. They created Hippies, a BBC 2 comedy that slipped under the radar in 1999 (not mine as I had my antennae tuned in to these writers' work ever since Ted and Dougal created 'My Lovely Horse'). Under something of a cloud, Linehan left the show (those pesky creative differences again, perhaps) leaving Matthews to write the remaining five. After co-writing the pilot (aired as Episode 4), Linehan didn't do too badly bereft of his Father Ted partner (he took half the reigns of Black Books and was fully in control of the strangely sweet The IT Crowd). If you're a Father Ted fan, Matthews, with the distinctive, gentle, cracking voice, was the holidaymaker in 'The Old Grey Whistle Theft' who almost swears a lot; "This is my fupping spot!" etc. He's in Hippies too attempting to play the haunting Irish ballad "I Can't Stop Thinking About Her Arse."
Hippies is three hours of rampant silliness, a broad 60s piss-take and a rag-tag collection of the most ineffective human beings since Stan and Olly sat for a neurology degree. Ray Purbbs (Simon Pegg) is an idealistic twit whose sexual frustration leads him down some painful roads. He publishes an agitprop magazine called 'Mouth' and fancies himself as the next big thing in 60s counter-culture. His girlfriend Jill (Sally Phillips) is a militant feminist who seems to be on this planet just to make Ray smart (and that's from a punch in the face). The adorable Hugo (Darren Boyd), the big great-coated lummox who hovers by the door until invited in, has Eeyore's eyes and an innocence that plays well with others. The only truly cool one among them is Julian Rhind-Tutt's effortlessly laconic Alex. Dressed in the best clothes, smoking constantly (and with an effete insouciance – he doesn't inhale), Alex is the man who can walk away from sprinting workers wanting hippy blood and still not get caught.
Hippies is knowingly daffy but performed by wonderfully perverse and talented actors. Eleanor Bron pops up (which is more than can be said for Ray, who seems incapable of producing an erection while his nethers are being smeared with plaster of Paris – as you do – or do not). Hippies is Simon Pegg's show. Bursting with puppy fat (significantly un-lean by present standards) Pegg imbues Ray's optimism and fad hugging with a dopey slapstick schtick that works very well in context. He is truly pathetic (in its original sense of inspiring pity) and is much more of a child than a functioning adult. His wandering into the dead joke areas yields some gems and it has to be said, Pegg is very good at falling on his arse.
There is a fair share of off colour, politically incorrect gags but in this context of course, we can appreciate and are allowed to appreciate the Les Dawsonisms. Ray is on a quest to correct his parents' casual sexism while he displays not one whit of empathy for the plight of the female. The show also plays with form which is always fun when it works. Simple cuts are revealed as weeks later with a casual throwaway line. Pegg is particularly adept at making these ridiculous situations funny. Laurence Olivier couldn't make them believable. The whole production design is also noteworthy more for the iconic 60s imagery the crew could not use because of copyright infringement. If the set were to be described, it would be the antithesis of the flat both Withnail and I call their home. But on the whole, Hippies is a very good, straightforward sitcom, not short on laughs. Comfort TV with added floppy hat.
A 1999 TV sit-com is not going to be originated on anything rather than BBC TV Centre studio tape. It looks fine (anamorphically presented in 16:9 which for 1999 made it one of the first widescreen sitcoms out of the gate). The Dolby Digital sound is perfectly clear and there are English Subtitles only.
The David Frost Show – The Hippy Invasion (4:36)
It may have been 'must see' TV but in the cool light of decades past, it just comes across as uniquely embarrassing. Yes, some of these people may have been as high as satellites but that doesn't excuse... wait. Yes, it does excuse... if not excuse, then explain. David Frost loses his rag with a squadron of real hippies who swear a bit. They all come across as prats. OK, maybe not all of them but what Hippies the sitcom has done very accurately, is present the ludicrously pathetic (again in the true sense) thought traps that young people got caught in when, out of the blue of the 50s, comes an era that redefined morality. Peace is not something that is synonymous with long hair, cheesecloth smocks and loons. It's just a shame that it is perceived that way.
Photo Gallery (18 Pix) (1:08)
What's the point of a photo gallery? The quality of stills is usually so low res that it's more satisfying to freeze frame from the shows themselves. I am not disrespecting the art of the photographer (stills and movies , different art forms, yes) but this is a BBC sit-com called Hippies not a Magnum-required exposé of the horrors of the Vietnam war. I guess they just had some publicity stills left over and it fills a few more spaces in the Extras description.
Arthur Matthews and Kevin Eldon discuss their hippy roots, the 'c' word that was let loose on the David Frost show ('cranberry' as Eldon reveals) and levitating the White House. The commentary is more of a chat with mates (which is fine and diverting enough). And all that in Episode 1. Matthews leads us through the rest of the shows with guests. Martin Dennis (director of each episode) pops in, a break from doing up shelves apparently. "They can't do crap drawings, art directors..." In Episode 5, it's mentioned that Julian Rhind Tutt doesn't inhale but that he smokes... It always seems extraordinarily affected when someone blows smoke out once taken in. I mean, what's the point of smoking without the inhalation kick? I guess it's just another 'in' thing but if I were Rhind-Tutt, I'd give it up. It just looks silly. The behind the scenes stuff is relatively fascinating (how far you have to go to keep actors safe even in mud baths).
I suspect Arthur Matthews is a House fan. How else would he come across the Buddy Ebsen story about his allergic reaction to the Tin Man make up (he was originally cast in The Wizard of Oz). Art Director, Dick Lunn joins writer and director for the last episode and all three cast a matey atmosphere over the reminiscences. And, if you are so inclined, you can find out about standing sets and which ones are shared by other TV programmes! I'm not being sarcastic. I actually found that mild mannered ramble around British light entertainment, quite entertaining. But I do miss Graham Linehan whose Father Ted commentaries were terrific until he realised that even he could not talk over series three with any degree of enthusiasm (not for because of a dip in the show's quality but because he'd done all the series one and two commentaries up to that time (having been reduced to telling jokes, good ones, but jokes nonetheless).
Hippies is a sprightly little gem full of obvious but still funny jokes and characters well past their wisdom dates. The series serves as comfort TV for those who do not want our laughs telegraphed by neon arrows. The cast are a joy, easy company to be with and the writing is satisfying if not quite as bark-laugh hard inducing as Father Ted (but then Ted was a one off, all three series). For a smile, a number of chuckles and a few big belly laughs, spend some time with Ray and the gang.