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Citizen Smith (1977-80)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Citizen Smith (1977-80)
BBC1, 12/4/1977-31/12/1980
28x30 min episodes in 4 series
plus 1 pilot and 1 special
ProducerPeter Whitmore
 Dennis Main Wilson
 Ray Butt
Written byJohn Sullivan

Cast: Robert Lindsay (Wolfie Smith); Mike Grady (Ken); Cheryl Hall (Shirley); Peter Vaughan (Charlie, Shirley's dad); Hilda Braid (Florence, Shirley's mum); Tony Millan (Tucker); George Sweeney (Speed)

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Wolfie Smith leads two lives - one as the self-styled Che Guevara of Tooting, the other pushing back the tide of domesticity.

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For many, the London suburb of Tooting will forever be associated with Citizen 'Wolfie' Smith and the Tooting Popular Front. The small band of cartoon revolutionaries led by Wolfie (Robert Lindsay) included Ken (Mike Grady), enamoured of a new religion each episode, the married and mournful Tucker (Tony Millan) and the aggressive ex-territorial army Speed (George Sweeney). Wolfie's girlfriend Shirley (Cheryl Hall) was also always on hand to suggest that his revolutionary allure might be enhanced by a steady and meaningful relationship.

From their South London base, the TPF attempt ever-grander schemes to spark the revolution, from protesting at a South African rugby tour to kidnapping an MP. In the third series they accidentally come across a Scorpion tank, and steal it in order to mount an attack on the House of Commons, only to discover that the MPs are absent for the summer recess. Wolfie's sense of outrage and injustice compounded with his confidence in his leadership of the masses was punctured each episode by the mundane realities of everyday life.

For a series about a self-professed 'urban guerrilla' Citizen Smith (BBC, 1977-80) had many of the elements of a traditional sitcom revolving around the middle-class family home. Class and generational conflict are the recurring themes: Shirley's father Charlie (Peter Vaughan) objects not so much to Wolfie's revolutionary politics as to his lifestyle, unemployment and unkempt hair. Tooting is their desirable suburbia rather than ground for the class struggle. Shirley is caught in between: attracted by Wolfie's idealism but also desperate to make him settle down into something more like her parents' lifestyle. Shirley's mother Florence (Hilda Braid), meanwhile, regularly punctures Charlie's suburban pretensions with a combination of malapropisms and faux pas, revealing the family's rather more common origins.

Nevertheless, writer John Sullivan (later to pen Only Fools and Horses, BBC, 1981-) was not so ignorant of the revolutionary politics he was mocking. Wolfie's hatred for the middle-class jumping on the 'bandwagon' of the working-class, and his name checking of left-wing figures like Peter Hain, Paul Foot and Tariq Ali, remind us that even at the end of the 1970s, class politics still had some influence and presence in Britain. The cry of 'Power to the People' which opened every episode may have been funny then, but would be unimaginable, even in a sitcom, today.

Danny Birchall

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Video Clips
1. Shifting sands of class (2:14)
2. Workers united (1:58)
3. Unwanted victory (2:41)
Complete episode: 'Rebel Without A Pause' (27:33)
Title sequence (0:50)
Lindsay, Robert (1949-)
Sullivan, John (1946-2011)
Vaughan, Peter (1923-)
Wilson, Dennis Main (1924-1997)