A return to comedy of everyday life

circa 1992/1993

By Raymond Gil

Credit to @jonesy45376 on instagram for article

Creator of The Comedy Company, Ian McFadyen, says his new sitcom Bingles (Ten, Saturday 8pm) - set in a panel beaters' workshop - is, once again, the comedy of "everyday life".

"Like the Comedy Company, this is an ensemble cast, playing slightly real characters in domestic, suburban life. Anybody who works (in a workplace) should relate to Bingles - it's not crude or ocker," he says.

First conceived by McFadyen in 1989, Bingles was intended to be a vehicle for the male members of the Comedy Company. Channel 10 agreed to pre-buy the show last year and it went into production in August 1991, thought with a vastly different cast to the one originally envisaged.

McFadyen's company, Media Arts, completed filming 23 episodes of the show in August this year.

Now the show will finally reach an audience, albeit in the summertime non-ratings period and in the awful timeslot of 8pm Saturdays, one that does not inspire confidence in the program. If the diabolical Late for School was promoted by Ten in the primest time - 7:30pm Sundays in the official ratings period - just how bad could Bingles be?

Compared to Late for School, Bingles is Cheers, Barney Miller or Taxi - the sitcoms McFadyen most admires. "I like the idea of an ensemble cast set in the workplace, and over a period of time you get to know them all through various episodes that, from time to time, focus on one character."

Bingles falls a long way short of those American sitcoms McFadyen admires, but then it's hard to think of any Australian sitcom that has ever come close to them. However, judging from the first episode only, Bingles, despite its many flaws, already offers more promise than some more heavily hyped local sitcoms that have aired this year.

Set in a workshop that McFadyen imagines is "in a lane somewhere in Fottscray" it is owned by cranky Ron Bignell (played by the fine theatre actor Cliff Ellen) who attempts to supervise a no-hoper staff. These include the wise-cracking, practical joker Barry (Shane Bourne), the would-be Italian stallion mechanic Tony (Nicholas Nufalo - A D-Generation original and former 'A Country Practice' actor), a slobby receptionist Dierdre (Sally-Anne Upton) and Clive, a crazed spray painter (comic Tim Scally). The only employee who does not conform to the Aussie bludger stereotype is the proud German mechanic, Oscar (Dalibor Stalic).

In later episodes Russell Gilbert, (The Comedy Company) plays a tow truck driver and Andrew Maj is an insurance assessor. Tammy MacIntosh (The Flying Doctors) plays Stacy, Bignell's daughter who works as a mechanic and fends off Tony's advances.

"Most of the series is about Cliff getting the others to work," McFadyen says. "People have said this doesn't give a good impression of the Australian worker - but let's be honest - we don't really believe things have changed that much and we've all become productive. And this workshop is a backwater, untouched by modern times where there's no modern equipment - the 1980s has passed these people by."

The first episode introduces the various characters but never actually establishes what kind of style the series will settle into. While Shane Bourne carries the comedy in the first episode with the help of Nicholas Bufalo and a few good comic lines, the Ron and Stacy Bignell characters appear to be from another show; playing their roles dead straight without a trace of a smile. Tim Scally's "Clive", meanwhile, is so manic and over the top he seems to have come straight out of one of McFadyen's other sitcoms - Let the Blood Run Free. The plot, too, swings unexpectedly from Neighbours style naturalism to pantomime.

Shane Bourne whose only other sitcom role was in a local version of Are You Being Served? for Ten in 1979 says this multiplicity of styles is ironed out within the first few episodes.

"We were totally aware of this (multiplicity in episode one) and discussed it but decided to follow our instincts and not do a pre-fab job," Bourne says. "After a couple of episodes it all starts to gel and that Neighbours acting and naturalistic underplay - the 'How do you have your coffee? White with one' - phases out."

Bourne's character Barry, however, hits his straps from his first line. Bourne's smooth comedic delivery (familiar from his Hey Hey It's Saturday and theatre performances) breathes life into the Barry the joker role.

"The thing I like about Barry is that, besides being a joker, he's a practical joker and that's a very common thin in the workplace. We went out and spoke to a few panel beaters when we were preparing. They're always sending the apprentices out to buy striped paint - some of them have bizarre sense of humour."

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