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The Strange Things Boutique





Mixed Blessings Series 1Running for three series between 1978 and 1980, Mixed Blessings is generally forgotten now, but at the time was seen as a somewhat daring sitcom dealing with the thorny issue of race relations. Coming in the wake of the popular but ultimately embarrassing Love Thy Neighbour – a show that poked fun at racism but did so with such a heavy hand that it eventually felt more like a part of the problem rather than a critique of it – this series took a rather more progressive approach – though seen today, some of the jokes are painfully cringe worthy. Whether or not that’s because they seem a little too on-the-ball is open to discussion though.

The show centres around newlyweds Thomas Simpson (Christopher Blake) and Susan Lambert (Muriel Odunton) – him white, her black – who have to break the news of their marriage (and indeed their relationship) to their disapproving families, and pretty much each of the seven episodes tend to follow the same basic story, as the two families butt heads. While the mothers (Sylvia King and Carmen Munroe) seem more accepting, the two fathers (George Waring and Stefan Kalipha) are both pig-headed bigots (and, inevitably, far more alike than either would admit), and the Simpsons continually make embarrassing faux pas with their lack of understanding about black… well, black anything. Keeping the peace are Thomas’ aunt (Joan Sanderson) and Susan’s workshy brother (Gregory Munroe).

‘Mixed Blessings’ could be a good description of this show as well as the title. On the one hand, Sid Green’s scripts are fairly liberal – the parental bigotry and ham-fisted comments made are clearly designed to make them look like idiots, and Blake and Odunton make an agreeable couple, their relationship presented only as odd to the intolerant. There’s an interesting guest slot from On The Buses star Michael Robbins as a racist removal man who gets to trot out a string of bigoted philosophy, only to be made to look a pathetic idiot, his arguments facile and unfounded – his humiliation quite a step from the tolerance of intolerance all too often shown in the likes of Love Thy Neighbour (the same episode features a guest spot from Porridge’s Tony Osoba, which is startling – I’m so used to hearing him speak with a Scottish accent that his London-speak here is unsettling!). But more sensitive PC-fixated readers beware – there are still lots of racial gags here. None of them racist in nature or at all mean-spirited, but it's more than you would ever hear on a modern British TV show (but if you’re not upset by the racial humour of the likes of Family Guy, you’ll be fine).

On the other hand, it sometimes feels a little too much. Aside from the cod-reggae theme tune (almost certainly performed by a white band), the sheer volume of racial misunderstandings seems a bit cliched, especially as the series progresses, and it all begins to feel like one long rehash of the first episode – the parents will be forced together through some unlikely social event (in one episode, it turns out that both fathers share a birthday), where Mrs Simpson will put her foot in her mouth, the two fathers will clash and a row ensues. In classic sitcom style, the minimal cast is rarely expanded – as well as the principals, there is a curtain-twitching, black-fearing neighbour, but only in the final episode do we see that anyone involved has friends outside their immediate family. I really hope they found a bit of variety in subsequent series. It’s not helped by the fact that Stefan Kalipha and Gregory Munroe are both pretty wooden, especially when up against sitcom stalwarts like Carmen Munroe, Joan Sanderson and Sylvia King.

Still, the show’s heart is in the right place, and it’s not unamusing – a couple of moments actually made me chortle aloud. As an example of the forgotten end of the Golden Age of British sitcoms – not to mention a historical document of social attitudes at the end of the 1970s, a time when the National Front were on the march and awareness of the political situation in South Africa was growing - it’s certainly worth a look.





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