This Spring will see two brilliant returns to the telly. Not so coincidentally, brilliance will collide when Doug Naylor’s Over to Bill launches as one of three pilots scheduled for the revival of the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse strand. Comedy Playhouse began in 1961 and ran until 1975 as an anthology series which served as the starting point for such classic series as Steptoe and Son, Are You Being Served?, Up Pompeii, Last of the Summer Wine and Till Death Do Us Part, among many others. Steptoe and Son went on to become Sanford and Son in the States and Till Death Do Us Part went on to become the long-running All in the Family starring Carroll O’Connor.
Over to Bill will star Hugh Dennis (Outnumbered as recently-fired TV weatherman Bill Onion, alongside Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Badly, Line of Duty), Helen George (Call the Midwife) and Tracy-Ann Oberman (Eastenders). The pilot and, hopefully, subsequent series will be a a co-production between Baby Cow Productions (Moone Boy, Hebburn, Alan Partridge and millions of others), and Three Feet Productions, headed by Doug and son, Richard Naylor.
While it’s not news of anything related to Red Dwarf XI, it is great to see Doug picking up the pen again. According to reddwarf.co.uk, Over to Bill is a project of Doug’s that he has been kicking around since 2010. Initially rejected by the BBC with one rejection, according to Naylor, actually using the words, “It’s got men in it, and we’ve already got things with men in“, the project was shelved at that point in favor of the return of Red Dwarf X which moved from the back burner to the front burner in 2011. Freshly commissioned in 2013, the BBC insisted that the Over to Bill pilot feature ‘an all-star cast’. We were specifically told we needed ‘>BBC1 names‘”, says Doug. Enter Hugh Dennis.
Thankfully, both Doug and Richard share our thoughts that this needn’t stand in the way of any glimmer of hope for Red Dwarf XI which may be on the immediate horizon. Look for Over to Bill and the return of Comedy Playhouse tentatively in April on BBC.