Bill Maynard is famous for two roles – in the seventies he terrorized the fictional community of Scarsdale as the genial but hapless public nuisance Selwyn Froggit and in the nineties he was planted firmly into a nation of Nana’s hearts as the lovable old rogue Greengrass in “Heartbeat”, Yorkshire Television's light hearted aid to post-Sunday Dinner snoozing. But in between these two gigantic comic creations Maynard mined a much deeper and darker vein of comedy gold in his portrayal of slippery small businessman Fred “The Gaffer” Moffat, boss of the rapidly crumbling empire that was Moffat Engineering.
A character borne of the hard times of 1980’s Britain, Moffat is a radical departure from the gurning thumbs-up buffoonery of Selwyn Froggit and the gentle rural japery of Jeremiah Greengrass. This is a recession hit world of dank and grubby offices buried beneath tottering piles of unpaid bills and final demands, of rusting cars bereft of tax discs, and boss/worker relationships based on mutual distrust and devious dealings. The dourly militant shop steward Harry, played by Russell Hunter, provides Moffat’s nemesis. Pat Ashton plays the glamorously pre-menopausal company secretary Betty who acts as their buffer, the go-between in their never ending tussle for the upper hand. It’s 1980’s style laissez-faire capitalism versus old school seventies trade unionism, with a side order of sarcastic desperation.
Moffat is a man besieged by the unwelcome attention of creditors, taxmen, and bank managers, constantly struggling to keep his head above the water as the sharks are circling. He’s a bit like a tattier version of Arthur Daley, as each scam and dodgy maneuver threatens to bring his precariously stacked house of cards crashing around his ears. It’s a Pinter-esque world of grim desperation and black-hearted pathos, and hugely enjoyable as a result. There is a genuine chemistry in the main character’s performances, and a gleeful joy in the bantering script.
Much about The Gaffer strikes a chord with the present day – the bite of the recession, the uncertainty of work, the day to desperate jugglings required to keep the entire show on the road. Although Fred Moffat is not the role by which Maynard will be most readily associated, The Gaffer is a piece of comedy nostalgia that is well worth remembering.
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