Arkwright (Ronnie Barker), a miserly, stuttering Northern corner shopkeeper resplendent in brown coat, struggled against a lack of customers and a deadly, guillotine-like till to earn an honest crust. Assisted by his day-dreaming, tank-topped nephew and delivery boy Granville (David Jason), he was forced to stay open longer and longer hours to persuade his equally tight-fisted customers to part with their pennies and unlike most shopkeepers Arkwright had no truck with vouchers or special offers. And all the while Arkwright lusted after the buxom Nurse Gladys Emmanuel who lived across the street.
When was it on?
From 1976 to 1985 – a total of 25 episodes.
Where was it set?
Arkwright’s shop was converted from a hairdressing salon, Helen’s Beautique, in Lister Avenue, Doncaster. It has since become something of a tourist attraction. But then there’s not much else to see in Doncaster.
Who wrote it?
The prolific Roy Clarke, creator of ‘Last of the Summer Wine‘, Rosie, ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ etc.
Who were the star turns?
Ronnie Barker played Arkwright with David Jason (complete with hairpiece to cover his thinning locks) as Granville and Lynda Baron as Nurse Gladys. Barbara Flynn played the milkwoman (Granville dreamed of secret assignations on her float) and two of Arkwright’s formidable, tight-hatted regular customers were played by Kathy Staff (aka Nora Batty) and Stephanie Cole (Diana in Waiting for God).
Who watched it?
12.5 million people at its peak.
Did the stars get on?
Very much so. Barker says it was his favourite series to make because he and Jason became such good friends. When Barker, affectionately known as The Guvnor, retired, he sent a poem to Jason which ended: ‘I now relinquish the honoured title of The Guvnor to my apprentice the boy Granville who is entitled herewith to call himself The Guvnor.’
Where there any complaints?
A few about Arkwright’s stutter. The BBC said s-s-s-sorry.
Did the locals enjoy filming?
There was a lot of night filming, prompting the odd moans from people who had to be up early for work the next morning. When Granville re-created Singing in the Rain, Jason spent hours getting it right. As well as getting soaked to the skin, he provided free cabaret for the good folk of Doncaster.
Any real life reasonance?
Ronnie Barker once received a letter from someone in Littlehampton insisting that Arkwright was based on a local shopkeeper and asking him to perform the re-opening of said shop. Barker politely declined.
Any distant cousins?
Shopping sit-coms are about as common as days when there isn’t a sale at DFS. There was ‘Are You Being Served?‘, the abysmal Tripper’s Day/Slinger’s Day set in a supermarket with first Leonard Rossiter and then Bruce Forsyth in the title role, and not forgetting (although most people prefer to) High Street Blues, a mercifully short-lived ITV effort from 1989 about a small town high street. If Open All Hours was the Harrods of shopping sit-coms, High Street Blues was the Oxfam shop.
The format is still proving itself, having been revived as Still Open All Hours with David Jason’s Granville taking over the running of the shop.