"The Vital Spark"

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AndrewP
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"The Vital Spark"

Post by AndrewP »

Happened to pick up a cheap second hand copy of this DVD put out in 2006 by SBL/John Williams; it contains four shows from the 1970s colour run of this BBC Scotland sitcom based on the tales of Neil Munro, and it's an absolute delight. 'The Vital Spark' is an old 'puffer' cargo vessel which operates out of Glasgow, crewed by the rascally Para Handy and his trio of no-hopers (Dan, Dougie and Sunny Jim). Stylistically, it veers from character sitcom to slapstick with a slightly surreal element thrown in which is vaguely reminiscent of "Father Ted". Julie and I had never seen any of these before, and they've been a wonderful evening's viewing - so I just thought I'd flag them up as possibly worth a look if you chance on a cheap copy as I did.

All the best

Andrew

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Billy Smart
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by Billy Smart »

John Williams DVD are long gone, but The Vital Spark is still in print! From Panamint, the specialist Scottish archive label - https://www.panamint.co.uk/music-and-co ... -spark-dvd

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Billy Smart
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by Billy Smart »

ARCHIVE BONUS for Andrew! The three BBC Audience research reports for that series:
VR/74/538 The Vital Spark (BBC2 3.1% RI 54)

A+ A B C C-
% % % % %
5 31 38 23 2

About a quarter of the sample audience did not care for the antics of Para Handy and his crew. Some said the comedy seemed ‘childish’ or out of key with ’this day and age’ – or perhaps, a handful suggested, specific to the Scottish sense of humour. One dissatisfied viewer described the episode as having ‘as much appeal as a person preaching a one-hour sermon’. The acting, some felt, was too much ‘larger than life’ for television. There were also occasional complaints about ‘annoying’ bursts of audience laughter, and about the scant use of outdoor locations. A small group said they found the dialect too broad for easy listening.

Nevertheless, most viewers were at least tolerably entertained. A substantial minority – over a third of the sample – found the episode very appealing. Some such viewers remembered previous ‘Para Handy’ programmes, and were glad to see the disreputable ‘putter’ and its crew return to the screen. Others found the characters and situation ‘refreshing’ (‘a different side of life’; ‘a pleasant change from politics and violence’). The humour was ‘clean’, and although the plot (McPhail thought he had picked a fight with a little grocer and then found the grocer’s big athletic brother was the one he really had to meet) might be ‘as old as the hills’, it still afforded considerable amusement.

The casting – Roddy McMillan as Para Handy, John Grieve as MacPhail, Walter Carr as Dougie and Alex McAvoy as Sunny Jim – was in some views near-perfect: these four had long since made the characters their own. In this first story it was McPhail’s turn for the limelight, and John Grieve gave a ‘splendid’ performance.

The quality of pictures and sound was generally satisfactory; some said they particularly liked the coastal scenes.
VR/74/567 The Vital Spark (BBC2 2.3% RI 70)

A+ A B C C-
% % % % %
20 47 29 3 1

This had been a very funny episode, in the majority of opinions, some thought it ‘the best yet’. There had been ‘a script worthy of the cast’s talents’, whilst the crew of The Vital Spark had been, as usual, ‘all good fun to see and hear’ – John Grieve and Roddy McMillan standing out – together with pleasing ‘Highland scenery’ (so enjoyable that more outdoor filming was requested). All had been smoothly and realistically presented, shots of the Firth of Clyde being admired in particular. This was ‘just their type of programme’, several declared; even if not put in the first rank, the series was welcomed as light and relaxing family entertainment.

A third of the sample responded overall less warmly. A number regarded the comedy situation as rather stereotyped, sometimes remarking that they had seen similar episodes. A much smaller group was rather less impressed with the players. All the same, even if the style of humour was somewhat unoriginal (‘old-fashioned’, one described it) and the acting ‘unconvincing’, the episode had been reasonably entertaining, only a small audience appearing quite unamused
VR/74/617 The Vital Spark (BBC2 2.7% RI 63)

A+ A B C C-
% % % % %
13 45 28 11 3

There was a generally quite cordial response to this episode, the last in the series. Viewers usually found the characters entertaining, the humour ‘different’ – and, one or two added, not too far removed from the truth (‘having spent some time in the Highlands, I could picture some of these antics really happening’) – and liked the way in which the crew of The Vital Spark (led by Roddy McMillan as Para Handy) were played – ‘a fine bunch of actors’.

Some, however, found the programme only moderately amusing (‘could have been funnier, I think’) and, according to about one in seven, it was juvenile or downright stupid.

Asked how many episodes in the series they had seen, 30% of those reporting said one or two, 34% three or four and 36% five or six. While some thought the series generally rather slow and not very funny, most would have agreed that it provided typically entertaining viewing – basically simple in theme but with its own ‘typically Scots’ humour and some good character-drawing.

AndrewP
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by AndrewP »

Billy Smart wrote:ARCHIVE BONUS for Andrew! The three BBC Audience research reports for that series:
VR/74/538 The Vital Spark (BBC2 3.1% RI 54)

A+ A B C C-
% % % % %
5 31 38 23 2

About a quarter of the sample audience did not care for the antics of Para Handy and his crew. Some said the comedy seemed ‘childish’ or out of key with ’this day and age’ – or perhaps, a handful suggested, specific to the Scottish sense of humour. One dissatisfied viewer described the episode as having ‘as much appeal as a person preaching a one-hour sermon’. The acting, some felt, was too much ‘larger than life’ for television. There were also occasional complaints about ‘annoying’ bursts of audience laughter, and about the scant use of outdoor locations. A small group said they found the dialect too broad for easy listening.

Nevertheless, most viewers were at least tolerably entertained. A substantial minority – over a third of the sample – found the episode very appealing. Some such viewers remembered previous ‘Para Handy’ programmes, and were glad to see the disreputable ‘putter’ and its crew return to the screen. Others found the characters and situation ‘refreshing’ (‘a different side of life’; ‘a pleasant change from politics and violence’). The humour was ‘clean’, and although the plot (McPhail thought he had picked a fight with a little grocer and then found the grocer’s big athletic brother was the one he really had to meet) might be ‘as old as the hills’, it still afforded considerable amusement.

The casting – Roddy McMillan as Para Handy, John Grieve as MacPhail, Walter Carr as Dougie and Alex McAvoy as Sunny Jim – was in some views near-perfect: these four had long since made the characters their own. In this first story it was McPhail’s turn for the limelight, and John Grieve gave a ‘splendid’ performance.

The quality of pictures and sound was generally satisfactory; some said they particularly liked the coastal scenes.
VR/74/567 The Vital Spark (BBC2 2.3% RI 70)

A+ A B C C-
% % % % %
20 47 29 3 1

This had been a very funny episode, in the majority of opinions, some thought it ‘the best yet’. There had been ‘a script worthy of the cast’s talents’, whilst the crew of The Vital Spark had been, as usual, ‘all good fun to see and hear’ – John Grieve and Roddy McMillan standing out – together with pleasing ‘Highland scenery’ (so enjoyable that more outdoor filming was requested). All had been smoothly and realistically presented, shots of the Firth of Clyde being admired in particular. This was ‘just their type of programme’, several declared; even if not put in the first rank, the series was welcomed as light and relaxing family entertainment.

A third of the sample responded overall less warmly. A number regarded the comedy situation as rather stereotyped, sometimes remarking that they had seen similar episodes. A much smaller group was rather less impressed with the players. All the same, even if the style of humour was somewhat unoriginal (‘old-fashioned’, one described it) and the acting ‘unconvincing’, the episode had been reasonably entertaining, only a small audience appearing quite unamused
VR/74/617 The Vital Spark (BBC2 2.7% RI 63)

A+ A B C C-
% % % % %
13 45 28 11 3

There was a generally quite cordial response to this episode, the last in the series. Viewers usually found the characters entertaining, the humour ‘different’ – and, one or two added, not too far removed from the truth (‘having spent some time in the Highlands, I could picture some of these antics really happening’) – and liked the way in which the crew of The Vital Spark (led by Roddy McMillan as Para Handy) were played – ‘a fine bunch of actors’.

Some, however, found the programme only moderately amusing (‘could have been funnier, I think’) and, according to about one in seven, it was juvenile or downright stupid.

Asked how many episodes in the series they had seen, 30% of those reporting said one or two, 34% three or four and 36% five or six. While some thought the series generally rather slow and not very funny, most would have agreed that it provided typically entertaining viewing – basically simple in theme but with its own ‘typically Scots’ humour and some good character-drawing.
Many thanks Billy - much appreciated! Good to see how the show was received at the time! I think that - last night - we possibly enjoyed it more than the original audience samples! :)

All the best

Andrew

TVT_Dave
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by TVT_Dave »

Just for interest - the actual boat - the Vital Spark (of Glasgow) still exists. I saw in 2013 at Inverarary on the way back from a visit to Iona via Oban.
In a writeup for a newsletter about the visit, I mentioned the Vital Spark and added a footnote as follows....

Vital Spark - the last working Clyde Puffer:
The puffer was brought to Inverarary in 2001 having been built as ‘Vic 72’ which stands for Victualing Inshore Craft (Victual meaning Supplies), in
1944 at Hull. It was one of the last VIC class puffers built to have a load-line certificate to carry cargo. It is powered by Diesel Engine. The puffers were
designed to negotiate the Crinan Canal and their maximum length could not exceed 67 ft.
When owned by the Easdale Shipping Company, she was called ‘Eilean Eisdeal’. She was bought by the new owners of the Inverarary Maritime
Experience in 2005, and re-registered in 2006 as the ‘Vital Spark of Glasgow’. In fact there never was an actual ‘Vital Spark’ as depicted in the television
series, which was based on the stories written by the Inverarary writer Neil Munro who wrote about ‘Para Handy’, skipper of the puffer, the ‘Vital Spark’!

Earlier this year, I saw a newspaper report that the boat was up for sale, and any buyer could also purchase the pier to which the boat was moored.

At the beginning of February, my wife and I went to a show in the Theatre Royal in Dumfries to see 'Para Handy: A Radio Play on Stage' where a cast of three plus an accordianist, performed a number of Para Handy stories as though they were in a radio studio. Very funny evening, with audience participation as boards were help up 'asking us' to clap, sound like the wind, and also 'play' the bagpipes!

Dave B.

brigham
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by brigham »

So, what exactly is the historical provenance of this vessel?
Was it used to represent a Clyde Puffer in the TV series?
I remember some scheme to restore 'James Herriot's Austin Seven', many years ago. It turned out to be the car used in the television series, and had no connection with the vet-turned-author other than that.
I declined to get involved.
At least the Austin Seven was the correct type of car, unlike the bogus 'puffer'.
There is a thin line between fiction and reality, and in the case of television, some people are a long way over it.

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Simon Coward
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by Simon Coward »

There are only a few hours left to watch it, but a recent BBC Four documentary on the Clyde Puffer is still available on the iPlayer.
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TVT_Dave
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by TVT_Dave »

In reply to Brigham - yes it was the boat used in at least one of the four series (made over a number of years) of Para Handy.

The boat is a Clyde Puffer (an internet search brings up at least four still in existence, and photos of VIC72 during filming) and would have plied its trade as described in the Para Handy series, chugging between ports delivering various goods.

Dave B.

Mark
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by Mark »

A series I remember, and enjoyed, at the time, got the DVD when it was released but have not seen it for years.

Good cast, always liked John Grieve in all he did, especially "Doctor At Sea", and his infamous New Years Eve performance.

Can't say I enjoyed the revival though, lacked the charm of the original by a few nautical miles.
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Wakey
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by Wakey »

There was a previous BBC Scotland series of Para Handy dramas in 1959/60. One of them gave James MacTaggart one of his earliest drama directing jobs.

Brian F
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by Brian F »

That's the one I remember. I thought it the best.

Mark
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Re: "The Vital Spark"

Post by Mark »

Kal guide says one of the episodes of that original series was a live OB.

Didn't know "The Vital Spark" DVD had been re-released ( as mentioned by Billy) although it seems it doesn't include the colour film promo with Duncan Macrae and cast, for the "Voyage Home" LP, which was on the first release.
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