Review: Please Sir! – The Official History by David Barry

Andy Howells reviews actor, David Barry’s memoir about working on the classic TV situation comedies Please Sir! and The Fenn Street Gang.

Over the last few decades, several television comedy classics have become the subject of books as reruns of popular series have gained new generations of fans on terrestrial and satellite tv channels. Some books have provided meticulous insights by those actively involved with such series, while others have provided overviews with little more information than a quick Google can achieve.

The former is thankfully the case for Please Sir! – The Official History, an entertaining, intimate look at the classic 1960s schoolroom sit-com which followed the comedic mishaps of a young school-teacher and the pupils of class 5C at an English Secondary Modern School in London.

Please Sir! – The Official History by David Barry, published in hardback by Acorn Books, an imprint of AUK Ltd

David Barry Recalls Behind-The-Scenes Stories From Please Sir!

Please Sir! – The Official History is a personal memoir by one of the shows stars, David Barry (aka the comical mummy’s boy and fantasist, Frankie Abbott) who relates his personal experiences of working on the series with clarity from auditions to behind-the-scenes stories. A strength that matches the personality of the late Bill Pertwee’s book, Dad’s Army – The Making of a Television Legend, immediately pulling the reader into the ongoing narrative, keeping the show and its stars the primary focus.

Much loved stars such as Noel Howlett (The Headmaster), Deryck Guyler (School Caretaker, Potter) and Richard Davies (School master, Mr Price) are recalled alongside top-billing actor, John Alderton’s (School master, Bernard Hedges) professionalism and generosity to the show’s younger stars. The events are beautifully recalled with meticulous and historically placed anecdotes such as the cast watching the first moon-landing at Alderton’s home in 1969 during recording an episode of the first colour series.

The cast of Please Sir! recalled in Please Sir! – The Official History by David Barry published in hardback by Acorn Books, an imprint of AUK Ltd

Family Atmosphere and Friendships Prominent In Please Sir! Memoir

As the show’s producer Mark Stuart takes a firm hand on the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Barry and his class 5C cohorts, what particularly comes through is the family atmosphere on the series that helped make it a top-rated show and spawn a feature length film and spin-off tv series, The Fenn Street Gang.

Barry reveals his friendships with co-stars Malcolm McFee (Craven) and Peter Cleall (Duffy) spilled over into theatre work during and after the series ended, including a revue tour directed by Christopher Timothy, The Lads from Fenn Street.  It is during such stage and screen engagements we learn of some of Barry’s extraordinary encounters with other stars from the past (including Yootha Joyce, James Beck and Charles Hawtrey).

There is much to enjoy in Please Sir! – The Official History –a long overdue memoir of one of televisions best-loved sit-coms. I’m so glad David Barry has taken the time to write it and open the gates to the world of Fenn Street once again.

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