Inside No. 9: Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room. Television Review.

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * *

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Sian Gibson.

All you need is laughter, all you need is a song and dance routine done with a cheeky smile and the television viewing public will take you to their hearts; but when tensions arise and the laughter isn’t there on screen anymore, where do old double acts go from there.

Whilst Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room doesn’t touch the absolute highs that the previous episode of the series, Zanzibar, reached, it nonetheless digs into the viewer’s soul for different reasons, for perhaps more personal ones, for as the viewer remembers what made them laugh in a different era, so too does the fondness for the two characters Tommy and Len grow.

Reunions are never easy, arguably for comedy double acts it is the hardest thing of all, unlike musical duos who have a duty of care of the words, the harmony almost always bringing them together, even after time, for comedians the laughter they chase is not always split 50-50; for every Hancock hang dog expression there is a Sid James cackle and the audience will always be at odds on which is their favourite.

It is the same for Tommy and Len, the comedy, now dated, is one that is scored by underlying tensions between them, a small grasp of fame for Cheese ‘N Crackers, one series, working with the names of the day and then life catches up with them. Comedy is almost always a reflection of the real life relationship between the performers, the nation loved Morecambe and Wise because their love was brotherly, the country adored Hancock and James because they were comrades with an edge of mutual distrust of being seen as a double act, when a third partner, namely alcohol or drugs, becomes part of the scene, then the laughter dies, the relationship is based on loathing, self or mutual, it doesn’t matter.

To show this, both Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton would have had to dig deep and come up somewhere between the two states of comedic affection, the love of the old fashioned light entertainment, suitable for kids, the training of Vaudeville and the love of performance, stacked up against the snapping and one up man-ship for the best laughs. In that middle ground lays anger, unresolved bitterness and whilst the love of the partner is there, it is one born out of frustration and growing hostility. It is one captured with generosity by both writers and performers of Inside No 9.

Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room is put together with a vision of clarity, of understanding that what makes a nation laugh isn’t always what keeps two comedians together; staunch, rueful and insightful, sometimes even in Bernie Clifton’s dressing room comes the singular truth that love conquers comedy and regret trumps happiness in the end.

Ian D. Hall