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Flash back: Touch of class with this warm-hearted comedy; PLEASE SIR! (LWTr1968 -1971) Fenn Street Gang (1971 -1973).

Byline: Peter Grant

PLEASE SIR! was the first sit-com about a school and manyfans believed it was inspired by the Sidney Poitier movie To Sir With Love.

Since then TV has steered away from making comedies set in classrooms - preferring hard-hitting dramas.

It was one of London Weekend Television's biggest hits and established a "class act" which had its spin-off film and a TV series - The Fenn Street Gang.

John Alderton, Deryck Guyler, Joan Sanderson, Noel Howlett, Erik Chitty and Richard Davies were the staffroom teachers, all nicely fleshed-out characters in the way that Dad's Army made household names out of its cast.

The Please Sir! TV terms ran from 1968 to 1972.

It was set in Fenn Street school and was noted for featuring several actors clearly older than school age in the roles of the pupils.

Sexy Carol Hawkins, for instance, was 23 when the programmes actually finished.

But the viewers happily suspended disbelief.

The strong cast included mild-mannered Alderton as teacher Bernard Hedges in charge of the hapless 5C.

He was teaching history and English and had views on new teaching methods - much to the annoyance of the disillusioned staff.

Liverpool's Deryck Guyler was perfectly cast as the jobsworth caretaker Norman Potter - a Desert Rat who, on most occasions, was the butt of the pupils practical jokes.

Stern Joan Sanderson was the formidable teacher Doris Ewell, and Richard Davies was the philosophical Welsh teacher Mr Price.

Noel Howlett was the incompetent headmaster.

The students, played mostly by actors in their 20s, included Malcolm McFee as the smoothie heart throb Peter Craven.

Peter Cleall was the rebellious, wise-cracking Eric Duffy; poor boy Peter Denyer was the not-too-bright, but all the same loveable, Dennis Dunstable who had a neat line in hole-ridden sweaters.

David Barry was the quirky wannabe tough guy-cum-mummy's boy Frankie Abbott.

Penny Spencer and Carol Hawkins both played the classroom sexpot Sharon Eversleigh and Scouser Liz Gebhardt was the love-lorn Maureen Bullock who had such a crush on Sir.

The TV series' name is variously recorded as Please Sir; Please, Sir; and Please Sir! but the last of these is correct.

A spin-off series, The Fenn Street Gang, followed the adventures of the group of former pupils in the adult world after leaving their schooldays behind them.

It ran for 21 episodes between 1971 and 1973.

The series made stars of several actors, although oddly none of the students found lasting television fame.

LWT Head of Light Entertainment, Frank Muir, cast Alderton as Bernard Hedges after he had spotted him as a teacher in the opening episode of a sit com called Never A Cross Word.

The series was the creation of former school chums and a new-to-television comedy writing team of John Esmonde and Bob Larbey who went on to write Get Some In!, Ever Decreasing Circles, As Time Goes By and the enormously successful The Good Life.

The format of Please Sir! travelled to the US as Welcome Back Kotter, which launched the career of one John Travolta.

However, the US producers of that particular series never acknowledged its British predecessor.

CAPTION(S):

OH SIR! John Alderton as teacher Bernard Hedges and Scouser Liz Gebhardt as the love-lorn Maureen in Please Sir!
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2007
Words:538
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