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TV's Greatest Hits: The BBC's revolutionary sitcom Citizen SmithTV's Greatest Hits: The BBC's revolutionary sitcom Citizen Smith

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Classic TV Revisited: Citizen Smith

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Robert Lindsay is the Afghan coat-wearing, beret sporting Wolfie Smith, the Che Guevara of South London who banged on about “power to the people” while not having much of a clue about how to bring about a revolution.

Why was it so good?
It was the debut comedy from the legendary writer John Sullivan which shook up the previously bland world of sitcom. Like a lot of classics, this parody of the extreme left upset many, including the critics, but was loved by the public.

Who was Wolfie?
A loser who was stuck in a ’60s come-the-revolution time warp. Modelled himself on Che Guevara, but was really a busker who cadged pints and had a rag tag army of six misfits called the Tooting Popular Front.

Not a crack fighting force then?
Dad’s Army could have seen them off. They included weedy Buddhist Ken, father-of-nine Tucker, who had a van but was under the thumb of his formidable wife, and a jailbird hardman called Speed. A sorry bunch.

Any romance?
Wolfie’s heart had been won by Shirley who worked in Sounds Cool record shop. The relationship was much to the despair of her dad.

Unimpressed by the shaggy suitor then?
The irascible, social-climbing security guard at Haydon Electronics called him the “bloody yeti”. But his wife fondly and mistakenly called him Foxy.

Any other characters?
Lurking in the background was the area’s Mr Big, Harry Fenning, who owned Wolfie’s local.

Wolfie’s conception?
Sprung from the mind of John Sullivan who went on to write Only Fools And Horses.

Sullivan’s inspiration?
He grew up in Balham and Tooting and met the real Wolfie in a pub. “Suddenly from the depths of the bar came the strains of geriatric guitar accompanied by a voice that sounded not unlike a cow in labour. The sound came from a gangling hippie. He was a master dreamer, and his outrageous claims became more absurd as each cadged pint was sunk.”

How on earth did this misfit get on to the small screen?
Writer John Sullivan was a scene shifter at the BBC.

What, not a member of the Cambridge footlights?
Afraid not, old boy. One day Sullivan just went up to the veteran comedy producer Dennis Main Wilson in the BBC bar and said they would be working together soon on an idea he had about an urban guerrilla.

The cheek of it.
Wilson was impressed by his gall and asked to see more.

Cast?
Robert Lindsay played Wolfie. Sullivan liked him in ITV sitcom Get Some In.

Any others?
Wolfie’s girlfriend, Shirley, was played by Lindsay’s then wife, Cheryl Hall. Accomplished actor Peter Vaughan (Our Friends In The North) played her snob dad Charlie. Another familiar face was Hilda Braid as Shirley’s dizzy mum, Florence.

A hit?
It ran for four series, ending with a Christmas special in 1980.

High points?
Best remembered episode The Glorious Day when Wolfie and the TPF find an abandoned tank and decide to invade the House Of Commons. They emerge from a prison a year later.

Distinguishing features?
Afghan coat, beret, guitar, long hair, scooter, Tooting, a pub dreamer who never gets beyond the pub door.

Do say?
Power to the people, come the glorious day.

Don’t say?
Get yourself a job, get a haircut, down with the revolution.

Not to be confused with?
Citizen’s arrest, Wolverene, Citizen James (a BBC sitcom), and The Cisco Kid.

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