GEORGE AND THE DRAGON (1966)

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George and the Dragon

Classic black and white sitcom that was not only blessed by fine scripts from the experienced partnership of Vince Powell and Harry Driver, but benefited hugely from an experienced group of players, each of whom was perfectly cast.

George Russell (Sid James) is an incorrigible lech whose sexual advances have caused the resignation of no fewer than 16 housekeepers at the home of Colonel Maynard (John Le Mesurier), for whom George is employed as both chauffeur and handyman. In a desperate attempt to put an end to George's antics the Colonel sends George to the Premier Domestic Agency to find the ideal candidate that will put an end to his wandering hands. But while George plots to install another of his 'dolly birds', fate, and a fierce dragon, are about to play their own part in scuppering his plans for good.

The dragon in question is Miss Gabriel Dragon (Peggy Mount), a forty-something no-nonsense widow in the mould of Ada Larkin (The Larkins), the type of bellowing battle-axe character that the actress excelled in. When Gabriel goes to meet Colonel Maynard for an interview she mistakes Ralph (Keith Marsh), the colonel's gardener, for the old man himself. Through a series of mishaps Gabriel is employed as cook and housekeeper before the colonel has even had a chance to meet her. Then, when George can't convince Ralph to 'fire' her, he hatches a plan to scare Gabriel away. Although he doesn't fancy her at all, George makes amorous advances on Gabriel in the hope that his mock passion will send her hurrying out the front door. But Gabriel is made of sterner stuff, and truly believing that George has the 'hots' for her, she remains resolute, telling him that he'll just have to keep his feelings under control.

And so battle commences between George and the Dragon, as they come together like two juggernauts colliding head on at full speed. As he attempts to rid himself of the woman with a force ten voice and a fearsomely battling bluster, she manages to scupper every scheming conniving plan he can come up with until, in time, the relationship mellows and even a grudging respect begins to grow as the pair join forces to ensure that anything but order descends on the Maynard household.

This was a quality sitcom with two stars who had known and respected each other for many years. James and Mount had worked together in a mid-1950s adaptation of the Brian Rix farce, 'Dry Rot', and James once admitted that Mount had many qualities he had noticed in his own mother, for Peggy Mount was, in true life, anything but the battle-axe she invariably portrayed. From her point of view she found that Sid James was an unselfish and generous actor who never tried to hog the limelight. Each episode was rehearsed and shot back to back and the schedule was gruelling. When the second series began filming in 1967, the cast and crew expected a weekend off when they were ordered to be on call for publicity events. Although a star in her own right, Peggy Mount didn't feel as though she was in a position to object. But seeing how upset she was, Sid James told her to sit down and have a cup of tea. A few minutes later he returned to the set and told everyone that they could go home. Sid had used his own muscle to get everyone the weekend off. During that second series Sid James had a massive heart attack that almost killed him. During the morning of a shoot Sid began to complain of chest pains. In spite of advice to go to the hospital Sid insisted on recording the rest of that particular episode. In fact, it wasn't until the early hours of the next morning that Sid was finally taken to hospital and in the event he spent the next three weeks in an oxygen tent. Sid was out of work for five months before returning to complete series two of 'George and the Dragon', which commenced in October, 1967. The studio audience welcomed him back with cheers and applause and Sid burst into an unrehearsed dance. With the audience cheering him on he continued until he suddenly clutched his chest and fell into the wings and out of audience view. Peggy Mount remembered the moment: 'Sid was gasping for breath. He looked dreadful. I honestly thought he was going to die.' Recording was halted, an excuse was made that a zip had broken on Peggy Mount's dress and Sid recovered enough to film the episode.

There were four series of George and the Dragon airing from 19th November 1966 to 31st October 1968. The series was directed by Shaun O'Riordan, who had appeared in Mount's earlier success, The Larkin's, as her son and was produced by Alan Tarrant, who had also produced that earlier show. George and the Dragon was released on DVD in it's entirety, in 2005 and stands up remarkably well by today's standards, thanks, in no small part, to sharply written scripts and the charisma of it's stars, namely Sid James, Peggy Mount, John Le Mesurier and Keith Marsh.

Review: Laurence Marcus July 11th 2005