4 Idle Hands starring Phil Daniels and Ray Burdis

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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I know it is a cliché, yet 4 Idle Hands is a ‘forgotten children’s TV gem’ from 1976. Made by Associated Television otherwise known as ATV,
written by seasoned TV writer John Kane (The Adventures of Black Beauty, Never the Twain, Terry and June) starring a very youthful Phil Daniels (Scum, Time Gentlemen Please, Breaking Glass) and a fresh faced Ray Burdis (The Tomorrow People, Three Up Two Down, Dream Stuffing). Three years later Daniels would land the legendary role of Jimmy Cooper in Quadrophenia and Burdis would go on to forge a highly successful career writing and directing in film and television, Operation Good Guys and The Wee Man. Both 18 at the time of filming and seasoned professionals by then, with many TV appearances under their belt.

Daniels & Burdis both attended the Anna Scher Theatre in Islington, a stage school aiming to develop acting talents within the working class, kick starting the careers of Dexter Fletcher, Gary and Martin Kemp, Gary Beadle and many more.

Set in the fictional suburban town of Wickton ‘jack the lads’ Mike Dudds (Daniels) and Pete Sutton (Burdis) are facing an uncertain future as they are about to leave school. They have no career plans, no qualifications and will not entertain the idea of further education. Instead they decide to throw caution to the wind and take whatever life throws at them. Both intelligent in the street savvy sense, and daring, as they take what any opportunity comes their way, from running a market stall to trying to become deep sea divers, but nothing seems to work out in an amusing sense. Yet in the spirit of youth, they never admit defeat, just dust themselves off and start all over again.

4 Idle Hands was marketed as a light-hearted children’s programme aimed at 13 plus audience. Yet writer Kane uses the show to act as a cautionary tale to school leavers in the mid-seventies. It’s a tough world out there, nothing has changed. Dudds and Sutton with each episode, there were only ever six in total, grow in determination, and with every disappointment makes their bond grow stronger.

Dudds and Sutton mistrust adults, and they have every right to, as most either try to exploit or undermine them in their adventures. Only local Italian café owner Emilio played by George Innes (Dick Turpin, Upstairs, Downstairs, The Italian Job) is the only adult who listens to them and offers them encouragement. Innes puts in a highly stereotype performance as an Italian, hey it was 1976 and is far from offensive, in fact it is more endearing.

4 Idle Hands firmly has it roots in the traditional kitchen sink dramas of the UK, from Saturday Night, Sunday Morning to the BBC’s Play for Today. Social, economic and political issues are covered, from the fear of Communism to the temptation to turn to crime to earn ‘a crust’, yet all presented in an entertaining and engaging way. However, the serious tone of the show is set by the theme tune, which is non-existent just the sounds of a factory, which opens and closes the show.

4 Idle Hands is more than a treat to watch, it is a strong, powerful and warm piece of drama, which would have worked well as an adult drama, due to the strong scripts by Kane and the realistic style of director Jonathan Wright-Miller (The Danedyke Mystery, Fair City, EastEnders). 4 Idle Hands is certainly heightened by the acting skills of Daniels and Burdis, as their performances are raw and authentic, unlike most children’s series made in the seventies, where a lot of the young actors are wooden in their acting.

Burdis’ Sutton is a kind hearted naïve kid, wanting to better himself whilst Daniel’s Dudds is more or less Jimmy from Quadrophenia, just a little bit more levelled headed and less aggressive. I am certain Franc Roddam, the director of Quadrophenia would have watched this, and admired Daniels’ performance. The Quadrophenia connection doesn’t just end there. In the final episode of 4 Idle Hands, Dudds and Sutton do a painting and decorating job for a charity in a house down the Kitchener Road. Just like the party in the Quadrophenia film, you know the road, ‘only twenty minutes on a scooter’. Furthermore, it has been rumoured that Burdis is to direct To Be Someone later this year, the follow-on to the classic film set in present time with Phil Daniels reprising the role of Jimmy Cooper.

Yes, the show is 41 years old, the studio sets and clothes are dated even though Daniels’ wedge style hair cut still looks dapper, but the core content hasn’t, trying to find yourself in the world when you’re a young adult.

Fans of Quadrophenia will love watching Daniels in an early incarnation of Jimmy and fans of Operation Good Guys and The Wee Man will relish 4 Idle Hands, as it indicates dramatic skills of Burdis at an early age, no wonder both have gone on to be successful.

One thing for me is that I am curious to know why only one series was ever made. Was it due to ratings, funding, conflict or was that Kane’s indication to just leave us guessing the outcome, like Quadrophenia, The Italian Job and a few more? But sadly, I doubt I will ever know, anyway it’s too late now.

At least 4 Idle Hands is available on DVD, if you haven’t seen it before you won’t be disappointed. If you haven’t seen it since its only airing, I don’t think it was ever repeated I could be wrong, but it will rekindle fond memories of that decade.

4 Idle Hands starring Phil Daniels and Ray Burdis Available Here

Read 6893 times Last modified on Sunday, 09 July 2017 22:39
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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