Misguided schedule filling attempt to combine wartime nostalgia with nascent video technology which probably doesn’t figure too prominently on GLYNIS BARBER’s CV. The future Makepeace, yet to break out of the ‘bit of fluff’ phase of her career, played the hapless heroine (press kit cliché number one) of the eponymous Daily Mirror cartoon strip, who kept the British end up in its darkest hour (press kit cliché number two) by scampering about for a couple of panels in a frilly negligée, and… er, that was it. Kickstarting the much loved but frankly inexplicable tradition of aimlessly naughty newspaper cartoons, it was Axa without the dense cosmic symbolism, George and Lynne minus the coruscating wit. Nevertheless, in a few short years it became a national institution. Well, there was a war on.
In 1982, there was another war on, and with a wave of jingoistic ‘forty years on’ WWII nostalgia subsequently rippling through the media, it sounded like a bit of a wheeze to run off a little tribute to Jane in the form of a semi-live action recreation of the strip, with captions, panels and on-screen sound effects to boot. So NEIL INNES was hired to pen a wistful crooning paean to “the forces’ favourite”, veteran announcer BOB DANVERS-WALKER provided authentic period narration, and Barber was chosen as a suitably decorative leading lady (press kit cliché number three). The stage was set for a dose of risqué ribaldry with lashings of olde worlde charm (press kit clichés numbers four through six inclusive).
When things got underway, however, it quickly became clear how slight the source material was, even for five ten minute chunks. There’d be a bit of espionage intrigue in a chateau somewhere, Barber would somehow get her clothes torn off and run about a bit in her scanties until the reliable stooge likes of ROBIN BAILEY, MAX WALL or BOB TODD would happen to come through the door, cop an eyeful, and drop their monocles in randy astonishment to the sound of a violin emulating a wolf whistle. It was all good innocent saucy fun!
Or, to put it another way, it was rather dull and vaguely creepy. And not helped by the chosen method of rendering those cartoony backgrounds – or, to be fair, pretty much the only method available at the time – the venerable Colour Separation Overlay. Yep, hairdos buzzed with blueish electricity, rogue shadows fizzled round Glynis’s high heels, and the retinas of the viewing public screamed out for Optrex, or at least ten minutes staring at the wood chip to recover.
At least the background palette was restricted to suitable subdued wartime beiges and browns, leaving the end product slightly more watchable than such eye-watering Day-Glo affairs as CAPTAIN ZEP and JOHN LENNON: A JOURNEY IN THE LIFE. This didn’t mean it was anything other than a sterling technical achievement by the standards of the time. It was highly skilled, painstaking work (from a team led by STEVE ‘TRIPODS’ DREWETT), but never in the history of BBC visual effects had so many laboured for so long to produce something so unimpressive.
Still, it fared reasonably enough in the no man’s land of early evening BBC2 to warrant a sequel, Jane in the Desert, being quietly slipped out with a polite cough two years later, with a more audacious colour palette and a rather more accomplished way of mixing the actors and backgrounds. Then the whole thing was brought to a furtive close, with all concerned agreeing that some nostalgic whimsies are best left as faded sepia-tinted memories. For all of three years, after which JASPER CARROTT and friends turned the damn thing into a feature film, with even more calamitous results. “Oh Colonel, really!”