Love Thy Neighbour

Dir: John Robins, 1973



I recently saw a video of comedian, Jim Davidson, being antagonised and urged to apologise for the type of humour he told in the 1970’s; in particular, his impersonation of a West Indian friend called Chalky. Seeing this, reminded me of the classic (and now taboo) ITV comedy series, Love Thy Neighbour.
Very rarely broadcast, today, it’s been confined to the dustbin of time and is thought of as a dirty mark on the history of British television.

But is that fair?

The series consisted of white working class couple, Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) and his wife, Joan (Kate Williams), living next door to black husband and wife, Bill and Barbie Reynolds (Rudolph Walker and Nina Baden-Sempet, respectively)

Joan and Barbie got on enormously and were the best of friends. Eddie and Bill bickered, exchanging racial epithets.

Written by Vince Powell and Harry Driver, Love Thy Neighbour was hugely popular at a time when a high number of black immigrants were entering Britain, reflecting the British public’s attitude.

A lot of focus is placed on Smethurst’s bigoted character, Booth. Employing such terms as “nig-nog” and “sambo”. Booth is, also, intolerant of all races, bar white, calling people “Fu Manchu” or “Gunga Din”. Perpetuating ignorance, he has, on occasion, voiced his beliefs that black people are cannibals and have bones through their noses.

Like Alf Garnett, we are laughing at him and it’s on this basis that film (and series) is funny.

Smethurst’s dry delivery in Booth’s, woefully misguided, beliefs of superiority shows up superbly the actor’s ability for comedy.

But, all through its accusations of racism, nobody picks up on the racist retorts given by Walker’s Reynolds. Slurs like “snowflake” and “honky” flow freely from the mouth of the West Indian neighbour.

Love Thy Neighbour is a victim of selected racism.

Both characters are bigoted and intolerant. Both races are depicted with an “us and them” outlook. A scene set during a tea-break shows black and white workers sat opposite each other rather than with each other.

The intolerance exhibited in the film show the ridiculousness and futality of it all. To reiterate, we laugh AT them, not WITH them.

This film is a prime example of people choosing to see racism or creating bigotry to fit the agenda. It’s an anti-racism movie but nobody looks deep enough and takes everything purely from the face of things.

It’s important too look at the two characters. Booth is an uneducated working class loudmouth. Reynolds is an educated middle classer. The outcome of every episode and this film favours the black character. Reynolds always came out on top. Booth is is left with egg on his face.

Like most big screen adaption of a seventies TV comedy series, the film is relatively short, lasting around a mere eighty to ninety minutes.

However, it also suffers from the same problems as all the others; it simply cannot sustain a feature length running time. What works well on the small screen in thirty minute bursts, doesn’t at longer ones

That’s not to say that it’s not funny, because it is. There’s some cracking lines and it’s very enjoyable but it’s no masterpiece.

One of the better small to big screen adaptions, it will pass time and provide you with a few laughs but quite forgettable.


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