Citizen Smith is a British television sitcom written by John Sullivan, first broadcast from 1977 to 1980.
|Created by||John Sullivan|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||4|
|No. of episodes||30 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original network||BBC One|
|Original release||12 April 1977 –|
31 December 1980
It starred Robert Lindsay as "Wolfie" Smith, a young Marxist "urban guerrilla" in Tooting, south London, who is attempting to emulate his hero Che Guevara. Wolfie is a reference to the Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone, who used the pseudonym Citizen Smith in order to evade capture by the British. Wolfie is the self-proclaimed leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front (the TPF, merely a small bunch of his friends), the goals of which are "Power to the People" and "Freedom for Tooting". In reality, he is an unemployed slacker and petty criminal whose plans fail through his apathy, ineptitude and inexperience.
- Robert Lindsay as Walter Henry "Wolfie" Smith
- Mike Grady as Ken Mills
- George Sweeney as Speed (Anthony "Speed" King)
- Tony Millan as Tucker
- Cheryl Hall as Shirley Johnson (series 1–2)
- Hilda Braid as Florence Johnson, Shirley's mother
- Artro Morris as Charles Johnson, Shirley's father (pilot episode)
- Peter Vaughan as Charlie Johnson, Shirley's father (series 1–2)
- Tony Steedman as Charlie Johnson, Shirley's father (series 3–4; 1980 Christmas special)
- Stephen Greif as Harry Fenning (series 1–3)
- David Garfield as Ronnie Lynch (series 4; 1980 Christmas special)
- Susie Baker as Mandy Lynch (series 4; 1980 Christmas special)
- Anna Nygh as Desiree, Speed's girlfriend (series 1–2)
John Sullivan became a scenery shifter at the BBC in 1974 because of his desire to write a sitcom outline he had called Citizen Smith; fearing rejection if he sent the idea in, he decided it would be better to get a job, any job, at the BBC, learn more about the business and then meet someone who would actually take notice of his as yet unwritten script. After he approached producer Dennis Main Wilson, the first Citizen Smith script was written. Main Wilson loved the script, and saw the potential for a series; it was put into production almost immediately as a pilot for Comedy Special—a showcase for new talent, which had succeeded Comedy Playhouse—under the title Citizen Smith. The pilot was a success, and four series and a Christmas special were produced between 1977 and 1980.
It has been claimed that the "Tooting Popular Front"—fictionally based near to writer John Sullivan's childhood home of Balham—was partly inspired by a real-life fellow-South London far-left group, the Brixton-based Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, activities of which were reported in The Times' diary of April 1977, the same month the pilot episode of Citizen Smith was broadcast. However, this seems to be contradicted by claims that Sullivan already had the idea for his series before starting working at the BBC in 1974, and therefore before the Workers Institute was formed.
The opening titles of each episode of series 1 and 2 always began in the same way with Wolfie emerging from Tooting Broadway Underground station, then with a shot of Wolfie kicking a can across a bridge until he is in close up, accompanied by a background rendition of the socialist anthem The Red Flag. They always ended with him shouting "Power to the People" resulting in awkward consequences, for example, waking a sleeping baby or causing a vehicle to crash. From Series 3, this was altered: in place of the shots of Wolfie on the bridge, the other cast members were now credited individually; their names were accompanied with an on-screen clip of them, rather than just the list of names that had been used before, and the reactions to Wolfie's shout were dropped entirely. Series 4 had a new title sequence, which began with Tucker's van driving past Tooting Broadway tube station with 'The Revolution is Back' painted on it. The rest of the credits were backed by clips from the last episode of series three, "The Glorious Day", and Wolfie's shout is heard but not seen.
From episode three, "Abide with Me", Wolfie Smith (Robert Lindsay) lives, with his religious, teetotal friend Ken Mills (Mike Grady), in a flat in the house of his girlfriend's family—Shirley Johnson (Cheryl Hall, at the time Lindsay's wife); her affable but naïve mother, Florence, who mistakenly calls Wolfie "Foxy"; and her strict, right-wing father, Charlie, who disapproves of Smith's lifestyle and refers to him as a "flaming yeti" or "Chairman Mao". Shirley considers herself engaged to Wolfie, on account of a fake crocodile tooth necklace he gave her after she was asked when they would get engaged.
Other regular characters in the series are the other 'urban guerrillas': Tucker (married to the ever-pregnant but never-seen June); Speed, the TPF's Warlord, and his girlfriend Desiree; and local gangster publican Harry Fenning (played by Stephen Greif), who refers to Wolfie as "Trotsky". Wolfie and the TPF frequent Harry's pub, 'The Vigilante', and are at times menaced by Harry's hired muscle Floyd and Cyril (played by Dana Michie and Barry Hayes), who are referred to by Florence as "Mr Fenning's foster children".
The nearest Wolfie comes to legitimate political office is contesting the Tooting North constituency as the TPF candidate at a televised by-election; however, he gains only six votes, losing to Conservative candidate David West. He and the gang attempt to kidnap the new MP from a victory celebration, only to mistakenly capture Harry Fenning (who was leaving the Conservative Club during the occasion) instead (Episode 6 - "The Hostage").
Series two consists of six episodes; however, owing to industrial action at the BBC on 22 December 1978, one episode ("Spanish Fly") had to be rescheduled as a special in August 1979.
"The Glorious Day", which Wolfie had always been plotting, comes at the end of the third series, in an episode of the same name, in which the Tooting Popular Front 'liberate' a Scorpion tank and use it to invade the Houses of Parliament, only to find the place empty, owing to a parliamentary recess. During the TPF's 'annual manoeuvres' on Salisbury Plain, Wolfie, Ken, Tucker and Speed decide to camp down after an evening of heavy drinking; unbeknownst to them, they are in the middle of a military live firing area. During the night, the British Army hold an exercise, and the Scorpion is 'abandoned' by its crew after being declared "knocked out" by a "landmine" during a training exercise. When Wolfie and his comrades discover this, Wolfie comes up with his revolutionary plan. Speed states that he learned to drive a Scorpion during his time in the Territorial Army, at which point the lads steal it and drive it back to London.
On returning, they hide it in Charlie Johnson's garage. Charlie comes home from work and opens the garage door to park his car. Curious as to the purpose of the Scorpion parked amongst the garden tools, he climbs down inside and accidentally steps on the machine-gun fire button. The result is that their neat garden is raked with heavy machine-gun fire, narrowly missing his wife Florence who is hanging out the washing, and annihilating their garden gnomes. This episode also includes a new song from John Sullivan and sung by Robert Lindsay—"We are the TPF. We are the People."
Series three consists of seven episodes.
The series began with Wolfie and company being paroled, a brief flirtation at being pop stars on the back of their 'fame' ended in disaster. While the TPF have been away, a new gangster, Ronnie Lynch, has usurped Fenning's position in Tooting, including his old pub. Wolfie hates him more than he did Fenning, and after various run-ins with Lynch (who constantly refers to Wolfie as "Wally"), the series was concluded in the penultimate episode, with Wolfie fleeing Tooting to escape a £6,000 contract put on his head by Ronnie Lynch after Lynch had caught Wolfie in his wife Mandy's bedroom. Closing with a shot mirroring the opening credits, we see Wolfie entering Tooting Broadway tube station. Series four consisted of seven episodes and a Christmas special, "Buon Natale", in which Wolfie and Ken ride to Rimini on Wolfie's Lambretta to visit Shirley for the festive period, only to find that she has become romantically involved with an Italian named Paolo. This episode was shown after the series officially ended, but is set before the events of the last episode.
- Some sources erroneously name the pilot as "A Roof Over My Head", which was actually the title of the previous week's Comedy Special, written by Barry Took (which also led to a series).
- In the penultimate episode, Wolfie's full name was revealed as Walter Henry Smith - W H Smith.
- Wolfie is a Fulham F.C. supporter, He is often seen wearing a Fulham (black and white) scarf. Robert Lindsay is in fact a fan of Derby County (who wear the same colours).
- In the 1977 Christmas special, during a scene with Wolfie and Shirl standing next to a Christmas tree on location, a short section of "O Tannenbaum" ("Oh Christmas Tree") is heard, which uses the same tune as "The Red Flag".
- In the 1980 Christmas special, the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales stood in for Rimini, with other locations in the vicinity used for other parts of their journey across Europe.
- In later episodes, Wolfie rides a battered pale blue 1971 model Lambretta GP motor scooter (in earlier episodes, it is seen to be a blue and white Li or TV series model). The registration (as seen in the 1980 Christmas special) is EEA 930J.
- The 1980 Christmas special featured the Beatles' song "Here Comes the Sun", which has been replaced on subsequent DVD releases, owing to licensing issues.
In the original television broadcast of the episode, "Working Class Hero" the music that accompanies Wolfie's commute on his first day at work is "Carry That Weight" from the Beatles' Abbey Road album. This too was substituted on the DVD issue, with a nondescript jazz tune.
The first episode aired on 12 April 1977. This episode was a pilot. Over the next four years, a further four series and a Christmas special would be aired, totalling thirty episodes. The last episode aired on 31 December 1980. There is a mythical episode called "Right to Work" which appears in some inaccurate episode guides; the confusion may arise from the episode "Working Class Hero", which opens with Wolfie involved in a 'Right to Work' protest.
The entire series was repeated on BBC One in 1992/1993. The series has also been re-run on satellite channels UKGold/UKTV Drama and on Gold, though one episode has never been repeated - "A Story For Christmas" from 1977. All the episodes have been released on DVD in either the first or second boxset. John Sullivan wrote all of the episodes and all episodes starred Robert Lindsay as Wolfie.
Citizen Smith, a novelisation of the first series written by Christopher Kenworthy, was published by Universal books, London in 1978. (192 pages for 75p).
In 2015, Robert Lindsay was reported as saying he was very keen to reprise the role of Wolfie Smith, particularly with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. However it was also reported that the family of John Sullivan, who own the rights, did not want to bring it back.
Playback released two DVD volumes of Citizen Smith, each with two series. Series one and two (including the pilot) were released in 2003, followed by series three and four later that year.
Only two episodes have actually been cut: "Changes" - where Tucker & Wolfie miming to the Beatles tracks "Till There Was You" (and Tucker's line "I think they like us.") and "Help!" have been cut from the scene where Tucker serenades June; and "Prisoners" - where a short scene of Wolfie singing along to the Beatles track "She Loves You", which comes in between the shot of Speed throwing stones at Wolfie's window and the shot of the window breaking, has also been cut.
Cinema Club bought the rights to the series, and later released all four series in a complete series set on 17 July 2017.
|The Complete Series 1 & 2 (3 discs)||3 March 2003|
|The Complete Series 3 & 4 (3 discs)||2 June 2003|
|The Complete Series 1 to 4 (6 discs)||17 July 2017|
- Steve Clark The Only Fools and Horses Story, pp26–28, ISBN 0-563-38445-X, first published 1998,
- Mark Lewisohn Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy, (A Roof Over My Head, p172, 658.) ISBN 0-563-48755-0, reprinted 2003.
- Universal/Playback DVD Series 1/2 and Series 3/4. 2003.
- Satellite TV channel Gold.2009.
- Radio Times (1977–1980 and 1992/93)
- Trash Fiction website (review of Citizen Smith novel)
- "The British Comedy Guide". The British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
- "Classic 1970s BBC comedy Citizen Smith set to return". 11 September 2015.
- "Citizen Smith won't be coming back". 11 September 2015.