Uncle Max Looks After the Baby
There is a long tradition of British televison comedians honouring the silent comedians of the past. As documented on an earlier post, one strand of this began in the 1960s with Bob Monkhouse and Michael Bentine presenting silent comedy films to new audiences. Another strand that began at the same time was televison comedians producing their own silent, or near-silent comedies, among them Ronnie Barker (A Home of Your Own, Futtock’s End, The Picnic, By the Sea), Eric Sykes (The Plank, Rhubarb, It’s Your Move) and Benny Hill (The Waiters, Eddie in August). In recent times, Paul Merton has taken on the Monkhouse/Bentine mantle by inculcating a new generation attracted by his verbal humour into the purely visual humour of his heroes; while following the line set by Barker, Sykes and Hill, Rowan Atkinson has given us Mr Bean, for which we may or may not be grateful.
Now (and for the past couple of years) children in the UK are enjoying silent comedy courtesy of David Schneider, and the television series Uncle Max. This series, produced by Irish company Little Bird Pictures, started out on ITV in 2006 and then transferred to the BBC’s children’s channel, CBBC. It stars Schneider (best known as Steve Coogan’s unhappy sidekick in Knowing Me Knowing You) as the cheerfully accident-prone Uncle Max, a sort of cross between Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and Mr Bean (without the undercurrent of malice). Episode titles such as Uncle Max Goes to the Dentist, Uncle Max Walks the Dog and Uncle Max Buys some Shoes give you a rough idea what to expect, and in presentation as well as spirit it has real echoes with the minor comedy series of the silent era. It’s obvious humour, but well enough composed for its target audience. And the nephew who endures Uncle Max’s chaotic approach to life is called Luke, something I heartily approve of.
Uncle Max episodes (10 minutes each) turn up on iPlayer when available, and there are trailers on YouTube. Curiously, for reasons of economy the whole series, while set in England, was filmed in South Africa.
I saw five minutes and the main character reminded me of Charley Chase. The section that I saw had some ingenious touches, the script took sufficient time to develop each gag properly without stretching it too much, and our six-year-old viewer was laughing in all the right places. Maybe it will act as a bridge towards watching ‘real’ silents, for that age group – if they can stay engaged without colour.
I know of a tame six-year-old (well, fairly tame) – I will test them on him. Just watched Uncle Max Goes to the Museum and laughed several times. Gets more gags out of a revolving door that you might have thought possible. And an almost unrecognisable Frank Skinner does a turn as a museum guard. As you say, it generally pitches things just right.