TV Cream

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Bilko/The Phil Silvers Show/You’ll Never Get Rich

“PLAAA-TOOOON, HIYAAAAH-HA!!” UPA-style cartoons introduced one of the very very best sitcoms in the world…ever, the tales of a scheming motor pool master sargeant in an isolated US army post. PHIL SILVERS created a legend as the scheming, fast-talking, womanising, gambling Ernest Bilko, ever with the eye on a get-rich-quick ploy. The scripts, though often predictable in form, were packed with enough one liners (part scripted, part improvised) to blast along at a pace miles faster than any other comedy of the same era. The plots were formulaic, all right: Bilko, aided by corporals Henshaw and Barbella, and usually enlisting the ramshackle motor pool platoon (including loverboy Paparelli and legendary doughy feeb Dwayne Doberman) would alight on a scheme to either a) con wodges of cash out of fellow sergeants Grover, Pendleton and Zowici (and later Ritzig, played by Hanna-Barbera cartoon fave JOE E “Ooh! Ooh!” ROSS) via some suitably nutzoid scheme; b) impress/woo/get back in the good books of his sweetheart, typing pool sergeant Joan Hogan; c) con, avoid, rip off and generally pull the wool over the eyes of Colonel John T Hall (the excellently bumbling and gullible PAUL FORD). Ensemble playing was brilliant, the scripts tight enough to paper over the odd cock-up, but the star was Silvers, managing to make a workshy, disreputable, manipulative soldier a sympathetic figure. NAT HIKEN created and wrote most of the show’s 70-plus episodes, working more or less continuosly for years on end to incredibly high comedic standard. Still props up BBC2 daytimes today, in both this and alter ego guise of BOSS CAT, with MAURICE “Doberman” GOSFIELD as Benny the Ball.

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  1. Mick

    September 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Only now Season One in DVD shops. No sign of the others even after five years. Makes you chew your own foot off to then see constant re-releases of always-on Dad’s Army, etc.

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