With the technical innovation that was the video recorder marching into our homes in the Eighties, there was a section of society that were incredibly wary of what this technology allowed people to watch in their own homes. The phrase “video nasty” was born, and was applied to films which were available on video but had dubious content (e.g. excessive violence).
In 1987, this same section of society came down hard on what could perhaps be dubbed a “television nasty”, although in truth this is really quite far from the truth. The show in question was Hardwicke House, an ITV sitcom which caused so many complaints to be made from viewers that it only aired two episodes before being pulled from the TV schedules, and this despite an entire series consisting of an hour long pilot episode and six regular half hour episodes had already been filmed.
Even more surprising is that TV Times magazine, then the only way of finding out what programmes were going to be shown on ITV, had put a lot of emphasis on this show, with it being on the cover and having a feature inside for the week the show went on air.
The show itself was about a rather dysfunctional school, both in terms of the pupils attending it and the staff who taught at it. There was a large cast, the most famous of which was Roy Kinear, one of the UK’s great comic actors. Also featuring as regulars were Pam Ferris (later Ma Larkin in The Darling Buds of May) and Duncan Preston (now on Emmerdale, but who has been in a host of shows including many involving comedienne Victoria Wood). One of the unseen episodes even featured Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as a couple of ex-pupils who had just been released (escaped?) from borstal.
The comedy in Hardwicke House was both black and slapstick, with a lot of the laughs coming from situations that might seem more at home in a copy of the Beano. People were dangled (and dropped) down stairwells, electrocuted and much more besides, but it was generally all done in a cartoon violence way, rather than anything overly graphic.
So why all the fuss? None of this sounds particularly bad? Well, the main reason had to be the time at which ITV decided to show the series. Putting it on at a pre-watershed time of 8.30 meant kids could be well expected to see it, and this was probably the main concern of those who complained. Had it been shown at a later time slot (say 10pm) it would probably have aired without issue.
Cancelled it was though, in a spectacular piece of back-stepping on the part of ITV. A planned second series was immediately canned, and the remaining five unshown episodes have never been aired (or released on video or DVD) to this day, which is surprising given the cult following the programme now has and the number of TV channels there are around these days for which Hardwicke House would be a perfect fit.
If you want to see what all the fuss was about, you can see the two episodes on YouTube courtesy of filmnet (I’ve embedded the first part of the first episode below). Thanks go to my friend Phil for pointing me at the YouTube clips, and also to hardwickehouse.info for being a mine of background information on the show.