Never the Twain

ITV (ended 1991)


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Never the Twain

Show Summary

Welcome to the Never the Twain guide at Simon Peel and Oliver Smallbridge contest a bitter rivalry in all that they do. Not only are they next-door neighbours, they are also rivals in the antiques market (formerly business partners, they are now pursuing trade individually). Typifying his character, Peel believes that he deals in the best end of the business, Smallbridge the tatty end. Like all people in sitcoms who cannot stand the sight of each other, this loathing is manifested in the form of wisecracks rather than undiluted vitriol. Common sense would dictate that the men go their separate ways and never again darken each other's doorstep; a sitcom, however, requires them to remain together and maintain the festering relationship. In the early days of Never The Twain, up to series three, this was done by uniting the children of the warring men. Peel is divorced from his wife Stephanie and raising his son David as a single parent. Smallbridge is a widower raising his daughter Lyn. In the opening episode the children astound their respective fathers by revealing that they're having a relationship and intend to marry. (This they did in the last episode of the first series.) When the newlyweds emigrated to Canada (after series three) the writers contrived to have Peel and Smallbridge renew their business partnership, which lasted for three more series. David and Lyn returned from Canada in series seven (with different actors in the roles) having produced a grandson, Martin. The baby, of course, introduced yet another feuding topic: who is the better and more doting grandparent? Hereafter it was left to tried and trusted sitcom diversions to keep the kettle boiling - battles for the attention of women, burglaries in the antique shops, and so on - and the introduction of new characters, like Simon's Aunt Eleanor, who came to live among the men in the town of Deveraux Dale. This, then, was the nub of Never The Twain, each man scoring petty victories over the other, tossing verbal brickbats around if no real bricks were to hand. Ex-public-schoolboy Peel assumed the intellectual high ground, the state-educated Smallbridge, proud of his working-class roots, aimed lower. And yet, there was something special about the series, something that sustained its interest for fully ten years. It may have been the scripts - it is remarkable how the writers (Johnnie Mortimer wrote all of the first two series and most of the eighth, Vince Powell wrote all of the last three series) could invent so many witty put-downs and so many ways for one man to score points over the other, like an infinite version of Stephen Potter's One-upmanship. More likely, though, the strength of the series owed to the chemistry between the two leading players. Windsor Davies was building upon the success that came relatively late in his career via his part in It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Donald Sinden, the theatrical 'actorrrr' whose plummy voice seemed to increase in 'rrrrichness' and 'rrrresonance' in latter years, had been a hit as the very English butler in Two's Company. Indeed, Never The Twain was a hit with all the Sinden family: Donald's sons Marc and Jeremy appeared in the final programme of the tenth series and his wife Diana had a role in the last episode of all.


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