Spare a thought for David Jason this Christmas. A national treasure to generations of Brits, he's only really had occasional Only Fools & Horses specials and A Touch Of Frost to keep his light shining over the past 15 years. Now 71 years old, following the mutually-agreed decision to end Frost, and the untimely death of Only Fools writer John Sullivan making a reprise of Del Boy very unlikely, what does he do next? I certainly wasn't expecting a physical comedy in the tradition of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau and Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean, but that's what we got with The Royal Bodyguard. It sounds like fun on paper, but with a flat script and poor direction, together with the silliness of expecting a septuagenarian to bounce around the screen like a man half his age, this was a really painful experience.
Guy Hubbel (David Jason) is the well-meaning but incompetent bodyguard in question, appointed by Her Majesty The Queen after saving her from a runaway horse-drawn carriage fiasco he caused by popping an empty crisp packet. In this pilot he's assigned to protect the monarch during her appearance at a Commonwealth Conference in Scotland, where an assassination is expected by the intelligence services. Cue lots of farcical sequences, with Hubbel attacking empty suits of armour (looking for snipers), crashing through ceilings, hanging off a balcony, accidentally scaring an ambassador's wife, trying to eat a lobster, and being the unwitting target of a beautiful Slav thief who aims to steal his security pass.
Hubbel blunders through everything he does (while trying to maintain an air of cool authority), making everyone he comes into contact with doubt his skills, particularly despairing boss Colonel Whittington (Geoffrey Whitehead), until he accidentally saves The Queen from an assassin's bullet and becomes the hero yet again. It's safe, comfortable, predictable, silly entertainment that all the family can sit down and watch together. I don't have a problem with the basic intentions of this comedy, nor have any axe to grind about why David Jason would want to get back to amusing families, but so much of The Royal Bodyguard felt so outdated and daft it became insufferable to me. The idea has merit, but why is a 71-year-old playing a high-profile bodyguard, when it makes more sense to employ someone in their thirties of forties? Jason dyes his hair once again, but that's not really enough to make this feel plausible. The show needs someone like Lee Evans for this kind of grand physicality. Jason's reached the age where it's not funny to see him in a vest and sock suspenders trying to woo a woman in her twenties, it's instead slightly uncomfortable.
But that's from my perspective. It's very possible the under-10s will find an accident-prone "granddad" figure very amusing, and people over-60 may appreciate a comedy starring an older person that doesn't contain swearing or risqué gags. It's old-fashioned slapstick with a famous actor, clearly enjoying a return to knockabout comedy. I just don't think David Jason's the next Norman Wisdom (even if he did star in one of the greatest TV slapstick moments ever), and I have my doubts about how long a sitcom with this narrow premise can last. If every episode is essentially Hubbel protecting various royals from assassinations, in different locations and situations, won't that get old very quickly? After just one episode, I've seen enough, making me think The Royal Bodyguard should probably have been a 90-minute special instead of the opening salvo of a six-part series.
Overall, The Royal Bodyguard will likely appeal to people I don't have anything in common with, in the same way The Last Of The Summer Wine entertained a certain demographic for years after it stopped being funny to most people. Maybe this sitcom will improve if the stories become more interesting and original, but I can't see it happening. If you're one of those people with a rose-tinted view of how great comedy was back when Michael Crawford was flailing around our screens as Frank Spencer, you may laugh at this. But speaking as someone who's a big fan of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, A Shot In The Dark, and early Mr Bean's, this came across as a bland version of a concept that could have worked with sharper writing and directing.
written & directed by Mark Bussell & Justin Sbresni / 26 December 2011 / BBC One