If, wiv a little bit of bleedin’ luck, you feel comfortable with the cockernee chirpiness of this new comedy based on Danny Baker’s early life in 1970s south London, there’s much to enjoy.
The opening episode of Cradle to Grave introduces us to young Danny (Laurie Kynaston, below), his docker Dad Spud (Peter Kay) and Mum Bet (Lucy Speed) for whom the oft-used term “long suffering” is not out of place.
“This is Bermondsey South London where I’m from,” says Danny, opening up a world that essentially takes the cream of Baker’s stories from his book Going to Sea in a Sieve and fashions a likeable, laugh-inducing, life-affirming comedy that I suspect people will probably love or loathe in equal measure.
Baker is a one-off. An extremely optimistic and smart guy, ideas teem from him like lava out of a volcano. No wonder he makes such a great radio presenter and, with the help of experienced TV writer Jeff Pope, he has harnessed his early life into a roller coaster show packed with incident and cheer.
And boy is it cheery. This is a world saturated with so much sunniness and joie-de-vivre it can feel a little cloying at times. Even if he does say that all the events happened (pretty much), I wouldn’t take this seriously as a straight-up biography – instead get swept along with the machine-gun action and drown yourself in the infectious fun of all Baker’s romp-filled stories.
Hearing Peter Kay talk in some kind of cockney accent may take some getting used to (I’d say give it two scenes). But once you’re in the saddle it’s a heady ride, with Kay’s Spud engaging in various scams at home (selling knock off gear, fiddling the electric meter) and at work. We also discover his love for his tortoise – and his hatred of bluebottle flies (Go on, land on me f*****g legs, see what you get”).
Danny’s desperate bid to land a girlfriend and a pair of plum coloured two-tone trousers (the two are connected) assumes epic proportions – and a really funny climax. (Actor Laurie Kynaston is a real find).
However, probably the funniest scene is the one that takes place in a theatre when Danny, his sister Sharon (Alice Sykes) and her boyfriend Colin (Theo Barklem-Biggs) watch a naked hippy-dippy 1970s musical and Danny gets far more than he bargained for…
But despite all this jollity, Baker (and his co-writer and friend Pope) also lace their comedy with another much darker yarn involving a surprise and tragic death. I won’t say much more but, even here, comic fun is wrung from a story once again based on real events (well, two events from Baker’s life spliced into one).
“It’s Danny’s head and I don’t think Danny’s head has ever been dark,” Lucy Speed told me about the show. And she’s not wrong. That sort of thing may not be for you but I was quite taken with it all.
Cradle to Grave begins on BBC2 on Thursday September 3 at 9pm