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Lipstick On Your Collar (1993)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Lipstick On Your Collar (1993)
Channel 4, tx. 21/2 - 28/3/1993, 6 x 70-80 min episodes, colour
DirectorRenny Rye
Production CompaniesWhistling Gypsy Production, Channel Four
ProducerDennis Potter
ScriptDennis Potter

Cast: Giles Thomas (Private Francis Francis); Louise Germaine (Sylvia Berry); Ewan McGregor (Private Mick Hopper); Peter Jeffrey (Colonel Bernwood); Clive Francis (Major Hedges); Douglas Henshall (Corporal Pete Berry)

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Two language clerks at the War Office find the girls of their dreams during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis.

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Following the disappointing reaction to his two ambitious directorial efforts Blackeyes (BBC, 1989) and Secret Friends (1992), Dennis Potter returned to the 'serials with music', in which characters lip-synch to popular period songs, that had helped make his name. Pennies From Heaven (BBC, 1978) was set in the 1930s and shot in the soft, gauzy style of the movies of the period, while The Singing Detective (BBC, 1987) incorporated the film noir aesthetic of its 1940s ambience. Lipstick on Your Collar continued the pattern by being set in the following decade and adopting the over-saturated colour scheme of 1950s musicals.

The critical reception to the new serial was generally muted and it was seen by most as a pale imitation of his earlier works. It is occasionally slow, and at six hours clearly over-long.While the narrative is much more linear and accessible than that of the two serials that preceded it, the elaborate and otherwise well-staged musical numbers rarely seem to grow organically from the story. The plot, about a young soldier working as a Russian language clerk at the War Office during the1956 Suez crisis, is also a little familiar and was in fact derived from Potter's Lay Down Your Arms (ITV, tx. 23/5/1970), a 75-minute play largely unseen since its initial screening. The gauche and inept Francis Francis, technically the leading character, is a ridiculous and unconvincing caricature, and his presence tends to heighten the sense of artificiality which is particularly noticeable in the office scenes.

However, the series expands considerably on its predecessor by juxtaposing the changes in British society after the austerity years with the increasing role that the United States would play in its development, symbolised by the introduction of Rock 'n' Roll music and the unsuccessful attempt to reclaim Suez without American support. On its own merits, Lipstick on Your Collar has much to recommend it for its fine if occasionally erratically chosen soundtrack (the title song was actually released in 1959) and an excellent performance from Louise Germaine as the Diana Dors-styled cinema usherette who dreams of wealth and glamour but is a tough realist at heart. The mental disintegration of the senior War Office staff is surprisingly low key and fits in very well in what is an uncharacteristically comedic and even sunny work that sees the often nostalgic Potter clearly coming down on the side of youth and renewal.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. 'Blue Suede Shoes' (4:23)
2. Crisis (2:58)
3. Car ride (2:03)
4. 'Raining In My Heart' (2:30)
Complete episode - Part 1 (25:56)
Part 2 (16:54)
Part 3 (16:10)
Henshall, Douglas (1967-)
Hill, Bernard (1944-)
Jeffrey, Peter (1929-1999)
McGregor, Ewan (1971-)
Potter, Dennis (1935-1994)
Trodd, Kenith (1936-)
Channel 4 Drama