Lee’s Top 8 Desmond’s Episodes


It’s December again, and the world is just as fucked as ever. Possibly slightly more, possibly slightly less. I guess it’s easy to lose track of these things without an ordered list to tell you what to think. Having been precariously perched on the 2015 bar stool for quite some time now, we’ll soon be staring down the menacing barrel of 2016. So how best to celebrate yet another successful orbit around the Sun?

We thought about publishing an objectively correct ranking of the year’s best records. But sadly we couldn’t get hold of any doof doof scientists to determine what the metrics should be. Instead, we’ve fallen back on our Top 8 Whatevers. You know the score – our trusted team of R$N scribes pitch in with lists of music they’ve enjoyed, petty grievances they want to air, obscure interests they want to highlight. Basically whatever’s on their mind. Let’s do this. Here's Lee's Top 8 of 2015…

The barbershop. An important cultural aspect in many communities. It’s a gathering of friends, family and people that just might get their haircut. When it comes to conversations, no filter is allowed. One can holler about anything (football, the Star Wars film, equality etc.) at the top of their lungs passionately with the only rule being that it never gets too personal or aggressive. You can either sit patiently waiting for your time in the chair and watch in excitement or get involved and say your piece. Imagine a less formal House of Commons with more shape-ups and fades. Which is what makes Channel 4’s longest-running sitcom so unique and memorable as it gave viewers a glimpse into this world, long before Ice Cube decided to pick up a pair of clippers and make his Barbershop franchise films. The 90s Peckham based show follows Desmond Ambrose and the events that take place in his barbershop.  Desmond’s was the UK answer to the Cosby Show, a show that focused on the human element of everyday life and then let race play a part in the humour. Other shows with a predominantly Black British cast (Empire Road, No Problem, and The Fosters) preceded Desmond’s but were not given a chance to fully establish a strong following. The show ended due veteran actor Norman Beaton and his untimely passing. Unlike most other successful sitcoms, it was never repeated and unfairly forgotten for years. However, the first few series were released on DVD in 2007. The first four series were released in America where it was also a big hit. Now you can watch all the episodes on Channel 4’s online streaming service All 4. It is highly recommend and here are 8 episodes you can start with.  

"Series 2, Episode 8+9 Hold De Front Page {Part 1} (29 January 90) 
Hold De Front Page {Part 2} (5 February 90)

Ok so yes this is a top 8 and these are two episodes but they are actually a two part episode, so there!. 

The shop is held up by a young duo armed with guns hold the family hostage. Unwanted attention from press and the law turn the situation into a media frenzy. Everyone does their best to keep themselves safe but also to teach the mislead robbers that what they are doing is wrong. Now this is a two part episode that actually has everything. Between the intensity and seriousness of the situation the cast and makers of Desmond’s manage to keep the laughs coming while insight into the decline of society, race relations and class divide. It’s the most famous episodes of the entire show and remains to this very day at the top of any show. 

Series 2, Episode 18 Auntie Susu (9 April 90)

Susu (played magnificently by Mona Hammond) back and determined to prove everyone she’s capable of responsibility and being mature by getting engaged. Problem is her finance William is a naive 18 year old. Did I mention Susu has a pet name for him, Her Little Willy. The writing in Desmond’s was really at its prime at this point. Whereas the earlier episode focused on her selfishness for laughs, the writers decided to shift that focus on to Susu’s rather delusional but genuine ambition. Susu still remains heartless though, and continues to provide empty promises to barbershop regular Porkpie who goes out of his way to please her.

Series 6, Episode 61 Georgetown Dreaming (10 October 94)

Throughout the series Desmond constantly talks about his personal goal of returning home to Guyana and retiring. In this episode Desmond imagines the highs and lows if he never moved to Peckham and stayed in Guyana. It’s the familiar yet fresh sitcom setup of a character having two opposite accounts of something on their mind. Looking further into this energetic episode however, and one could suggest it is making a slight comment on how the show itself, and other shows with a black cast, end up. In the more light-hearted segment Desmond envisions the characters as successful but ‘safe playing’ and arguably stripped of cultural identity. The other fantasy is rather nightmarish, the characters are criminal minded savages. The writers might have had a similar experience to Desmond when the show was first being made but went with the option they thought was right, reality. 

Series 3, Episode 22 A Day In The Life (11 November 91)

TV personality Leroy Smart decides to do a documentary on the Ambrose family, the only problem is they may not be as perfect as he was hoping, due to a number of cameras being pushed filming everything they do. This episode is rather meta. It’s a send up of how reality TV tries to portray relatable people authentically, which within the constraints of a sitcom, Desmond was being praised for at the time by critics and viewers. However, the Ambrose’s are not so perfect when they are made aware of how perfect they are and everything they do to appear natural comes off unnaturally. Another great highlight of the generational gap too as the most comfortable family member in this situation is the youngest Sean.

Series 5, Episode 54 Kiss of the Spiderman (22 November 93)

Sean’s friend Spider is a bad influence. The Ambrose family would prefer it if Sean find a different best friend, however things get really out of hand when Spider becomes a notorious ragga artist who's homophobic and misogynistic lyrics start to cause controversy. This episode perfectly reflected the controversy that surrounded the dancehall ragga subgenre at the time in the press for its ‘slackness’ lyrics.

Series 1, Episode 4 Hello Auntie Susu (26 January 89)

The show really had a knack for episodes where trouble-making family members would turn up out the blue and all hell broke loose. Desmond’s wife Shirley is the strict, problem solver of the family. Her sister Susu on the other hand is quite the opposite and when she turns up everybody is intrigued to see why Shirley hardly has much to say about her. Shirley however knows that when Susu arrives, so does drama. 

Series 4, Episode 43 Go with the Flo (14 December 92)

Any episode with permanent student Matthew and his over-protective family are a must watch (Look out for Joseph Marcell, Geoffrey from Fresh Prince, in Series 1 as Matthew’s no-nonsense brother). This episode stands-out because Matthew’s hilariously fierce sister Florence arrives and demands he come back with her to Gambia at once to look after the family business. Everyone tries their best to make sure Florence doesn’t get her way.

Series 2, Episode 14 For Love Or Money (12 March 90)

Desmond and his band The Georgetown Dreamers decide to enter a local competition. Problems arise however when they decide to hire Desmond’s son Sean who starts to clash with the band’s more traditional way of making music. This showed the generational gap between Desmond and his son Sean perfectly who bump heads due to sharing similar father-son characteristics, stubborn and impatient.