Mind Your Language was the creation of veteran comedy writer Vince Powell, who had been responsible for such successes as 'Nearest And Dearest' and 'Love Thy Neighbour', as well writing for dramatic series like "Coronation Street' and 'Adam Adamant Lives!'.
Set in a adult education language class for foreigners to learn English, it proved immensely popular at the time, even though modern political correctness frowns on its - admittedly - basic racial stereotyping. However, the series has a quite wide international following, showing that other countries got the joke - and point of the series - where some humourless English PC types obviously did not!
New probationary teacher Jeremy Brown (the late Barry Evans), under the watchful eye of strict matronly Miss Courtney (Zara Nutley), takes on the class of mixed race students, each seemingly crafted from the Ladybird Book of Foreign Culture:
- French Danielle Favre (or Faure in the strip) played by Francoise Pascal, curvy dark-haired au pair and object of most of the male students' lust. - German Anna Schmidt (Jacki Harding), another au pair but of the stern, efficient type. - Italian Giovanni Cupello (George Camiller), tall, dark, handsome, and impromptu 'leader' of the foreign students' sometimes bizarre escapades. - Spanish Jaun Cervantes (Ricardo Montez), happy-go-lucky bartender whose catchphrase is 'Por Favor?' (please?) when he doesn't understand. Which is frequently. - Greek Maxamillian A.A. Papandrios (Kevork Malikyan), often paired with Giovanni, forming a comedic brotherly double-act - Pakistani Ali Nadim (Dino Shafeek), overly polite but linguistically challenged Muslim, often at loggerheads with... - Indian Ranjeet Singh (Albert Moses), a devout, turban-wearing Sikh of the Punjab region. - Also from India is Jamila Ranjha (Jamila Massey), the perpetually knitting and barely English-speaking housewife. - Chinese Chung Su-Lee (Pik-Sen Lim), secretary at their Embassy, and vocalist of the thoughts of Chairman Mao. - Japanese Taro Nagazumi (Robert Lee), never without his camera, and at occasional odds with Su-Lee over their countries' respective differences.
Thus was the cast of characters for the first season, starting from the end of December 1977. With the start of the second season in October 1978, they were joined by:
- Swedish Ingrid Svensen (Anna Bergman), another sexy au-pair who immediately forms a catty rivalry with Danielle. - Hungarian Zoltan Szabo (Gabor Vernon), who has to translate by means of a phrase book. - and it is this line-up that the strip, starting the week after the new season aired in its new Saturday evening slot, was based. This period, according to editor Colin Shelbourn, was one of the most popular to readers, and anything scheduled at that time would come under close scrutiny for a potential tie-in.
For such a large ensemble cast (fourteen by the second season), excluding semi-regulars Sid the caretaker, and Gladys the tea lady, (the most for a single 'Look-In' tie-in ever attempted), the strip actually fairs quite admirably, delighting in the same kind of linguistic misunderstandings and intercultural cross-wiring. Whereas the series was confined mainly to the college and classroom, the strip allowed a greater scope for the students' misadventures. Even Vince Powell, who as creator and writer received a fee for the rights, was impressed by the 'Look-In' version, recalling recently, 'I found the strip to be faithful to the basic premise of the programme and enjoyed it immensely'. Curiously, one story (the fourth) appears to end uncompleted when - owing to paper shortages - some 1979 issues were 'doubled' up, resulting in the conclusion remaining unpublished and possibly lost forever.
Artist Bill Titcombe, who did his own lettering as part of the artwork, was still scratching away on the adventures of the saucy The Benny Hill Page, but managed a visual tour-de-force in capturing all the likenesses - not perfect but there was never any doubt who was who with his inimitable sketchy style.
Even though Zoltan and Ingrid left after the second season, their characters remained in the strip as the third - and final - season aired in late 1979. The series was cancelled by Michael Grade - then LWT's Deputy Controller of Entertainment - who reputedly found the racial stereotyping offensive, regardless of good ratings.
Mind Your Language was resurrected briefly in 1986, with some of the original cast, for international sales but the series ironically found less favour in its native UK, with some local regions not buying the new 13-part season.
(Article by Shaqui Le Vesconte - with thanks to Vince Powell)