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Charlie Catchpole column; Saeed case of over-reacting.

ENGLISH actor Sid Jeffries hit out last night after being sacked from the country's favourite soap, Curry Nation Street.

Jeffries - who starred in the acclaimed TV series Duel In The Rose And Crown and The Far Cricket Pavilions - joined Curry Nation Street only six months ago as van driver Ronnie Dipstick, head of the programme's first-ever English family.

The decision not to renew his contract was taken after a series of behind- the-scenes problems, which included him spending a night in police cells after a drunken row with two women on a train, and arriving late on set after watching a cricket match.

Last night, an angry Jeffries said: "Would they have treated an Asian actor like this?"

His wife, and agent, Doris added: "At last, Curry Nation Street had found a character who was popular with the English community.

"Ronnie Dipstick wasn't stereotyped. He was an educated man, not just a white-van driver.

"English people will take this as a big rejection, a big snub to them.

"Sid is particularly concerned about the message his treatment sends out to young English actors.

"He has opened so many doors for them and, with this unexpected and inexplicable dismissal, it will look as if they are being slammed shut again."

Nonsense, isn't it?

Yet, if you substitute Asian for English, and change names and programme titles, you've got a near-enough verbatim report on Coronation Street's axeing of actor Saeed Jaffrey by writing out the character of shopkeeper Ravi Desai.

Jaffrey's sacking has been subtly, and not-so-subtly, portrayed as a race issue.

Respected Asian actor (My Beautiful Laundrette, Jewel In The Crown) joins top soap in blaze of publicity, with headlines about popular TV finally reflecting face of multi-cultural Britain, etc.

Then he gets the elbow, following a spot of difficulty off-screen, and the Asian community is supposed to take it personally. Snub to multi-cultural Britain, etc.

What a lot of rot.

Some might say that Saeed Jaffrey is an actor of extremely limited range who should count himself lucky to have landed as many major roles as he has.

I wouldn't say that myself (mainly because m'learned friends in this newspaper's legal department wouldn't let me).

But I will say it's blindingly obvious that Jaffrey's skin colour is completely irrelevant, and Ravi's departure is almost entirely down to his wildly over-the-top performances.

All that eye-rolling and arm-waving. All those lip-smacking exclamations of "Good day, dear lady!" Fred Elliott must envy such high-quality ham.

Maybe the relentless pressure of filming a four-times-a-week soap is also to blame.

The brutal truth is that some people can cut it, and some can't.

That's why new cast members are brought in on short-term contracts - so the producers can see how they shape up.

For every Barbara Windsor or Jacqueline Pirie who triumphantly make the grade, there's a Tina Hobley or a Matthew Marsden who doesn't.

Before spouting off any more, Saeed Jaffrey and his friends should study the performance of one of the Street's youngest and brightest talents, Georgina Taylor - who has handled the transformation of Toyah Battersby from lumpy, sulky schoolgirl to confident, radiant young woman with skill, subtlety and a depth of emotion which takes your breath away.

Now there's a real jewel in the crown.

JACK'S ECLIPSE OF THE SON

THE Street's latest pair of star-crossed lovers, Toyah and Spider, missed the eclipse. But they did feel the earth move.

"How was it?" asked Emily when Spider came home.

"Er, it was..." said Spider, sheepishly. "Brilliant!" squealed Toyah.

Just as well they were zipped up in a tent. One good gust of wind would have blown Spider's hilarious apology for a beard clean away.

In the Rovers, everyone was toasting Jack Duckworth's health - except Les Battersby, who thought it was a dodgy day to be going under the knife ("What with the eclipse going on. Bad omen, is that!").

While Jack waited for his op, you could clearly see the scar on his chest from actor Bill Tarmey's own quadruple heart bypass in 1986. Whoops.

Jack's convalescence won't be helped by the untimely turning up of the Street's perennial bad penny, his good-for-nowt son, Terry. Already, the poor bloke's memory seems to be going.

"He's your son! He wanted to come!" said Vera.

"Only because he thought I might not pull through, and he'd come in for a bit of summat!" growled Jack - only to repeat the same sentence, word for word, ten seconds later.

And another thing ... Jack told the hospital staff he had two grandchildren, Tommy and Brad (or R. Tommy and R. Brad, as Vera will have it).

Er, what happened to his first grandchild, the result of Terry's fling with a neighbour's daughter about 15 years ago?

Wasn't the girl called Andrea Clayton? And wasn't her father a milkman, played by Johnny Leeze - who went on to become Ned Glover in Emmerdale?

Or is it MY memory that's going?

Larry pops up and pops off

BECAUSE The Larry Sanders Show was a top-class comedy from the States which laid bare the flabby tissue of television and poured salt into the wounds, the BBC never knew what to do with it.

Sometimes they showed it on a Tuesday, just after 11pm. Sometimes, on a Wednesday, just before midnight. Keeping us guessing till the last, they ran the final two episodes on Sunda, 11pm to midnight.

Jim Carrey came on the show and delivered a ghastly, over-the-top tribute song. During the ad-break, he hissed: "Let's cut the crap, Larry. I'm here for three reasons. Last show, big ratings, new movie coming out." Earlier, Sanders (Garry Shandling) had run across the studio car park to beg Warren Beatty to appear on the show to say goodbye. "I could say goodbye to you now" said Beatty, getting into his car. Sanders pleaded. Beatty thought, turned the ignition and murmured: "Goodbye." It never happened to Parkinson.

WHAT A RIP-OFF, ULRIKA

NOT content with gobbling up and regurgitating almost every successful BBC format, ITV has now resorted to cannibalising itself.

Mother Knows Best (Saturday), the latest showcase for Ulrika Jonsson's amazing range of talents (i.e. smiling prettily, showing off and, er, that's about it), began by raiding Changing Rooms.

Lippy Lorraine, who could walk into an empty room and start an argument, complained that her son John and daughter-in-law Tara had no taste, and supervised the redecoration of their living area.

This involved putting up maroon flock wallpaper and hunting prints, and laying a pink shagpile carpet.

"I like the feel of a nice shagpile!" cried Ulrika, pulling a face at the camera. If this was a joke, nobody noticed.

Not surprisingly, John and Tara were appalled. So Ulrika promised it would all be changed back again. A completely pointless exercise, then.

Next came a feeble attempt to graft Style Challenge on to Blind Date.

Colleen, a different John's mum, attempted to find Miss Right for her lump of a son by firing inane questions at three girls perched on stools.

Then she decided that John, who appeared to have been sleeping rough in a skip, needed smartening up - and he was dragged away to have a haircut and be crammed into a suit before dinner with his luckless date.

Time for a Stars In Their Eyes segment, with schoolteacher Jane coming on to embarrass her son and daughter by singing Dancing In The Street (unfortunately, her style owed more to Vic Reeves than Martha Reeves).

Finally, it was the turn of Surprise Surprise to be ripped off. Jan believed in white weddings, and was naturally disappointed that her daughter Anita and husband Mark had opted for a Star Trek theme.

All expense was spared as the couple and their guests were kitted out in formal gear and placed in front of a blow-up photo of a church, before - surprise, surprise! - Uncle Somebody arrived after being flown in from Kansas (where the corn comes from).

Astonishingly, the team which cobbled together this putrefying pile of garbage included no less than three producers and someone billed simply as a "consultant". What - if anything - he was consulted about, I can't imagine.

Charlie's Choice

The Sopranos (Thursday, C4)

MORE everyday dramas in the life of a typical New Jersey Mafia family.

Tony's little boy, Anthony Jr, has been stealing sacramental wine from the church and hints that he knows what his dad does for a job.

This gets Tony talking about his own childhood to his sexy shrink.

SQUARE GOES IN

CIRCLES

EASTENDERS threw a spanner in the works of the astronomical clock, by bringing the eclipse forward to Tuesday.

Melanie pursued Ian to Devon, and asked him to marry her. Ian hummed and hawed and thought not really.

Mel came back to Walford (which was bathed in a brilliant sunshine which passed the rest of Britain by) pursued by Ian, who had changed what passes for his mind.

Beppe told Grant he'd done a deal with Steve and was buying into the E20 club. Don't ask how he raised the money.

Since being booted out of the police Beppe has been a waiter in a restaurant on the brink of bankruptcy and is now a minicab driver who's such a soft touch that he gave Sam a free ride across London.

Bianca went to Manchester for her art college interview. She made a big impression, despite having no qualifications.

She told the interviewers that what she loved about the market was "seeing people buying stuff that's gonna look good on them".

What? No one has ever bought anything from Bianca's market stall that would look good, even on a scarecrow.

When desperate Dan turned up at her hotel last night, she wailed: "I don't even know who I am any more."

The scriptwriters don't seem sure either.

Snide by side

HYPOCRISY Watch latest: On the BBC's main evening news on Sunday, Fiona Bruce reported sniffily that Charles and Camilla had started their holiday separately "to avoid the attentions of the world's press".

So who had exclusive film of the couple stepping ashore together in Athens and sitting side by side in a bus to the airport? Why, the BBC!

Charlie's Clanger

MOST moving performance by a corpse - Maud's late fiance Sidney in Coronation Street. His body keeled over on the back seat of Fred's car, but in the next shot the dead man was sitting bolt upright again.

Like Hayley Paget, of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, you could win pounds 30 by writing (postcard or back of sealed envelope only) to: TV Clangers, The Mirror, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP. Or fax me on 0171 293 3544.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Catchpole, Charlie
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 17, 1999
Words:1773
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