Casanova ’73 is a bit of a footnote in British comedy history. It only ran for seven episodes, but managed to get Mary Whitehouse in a tizzy with its risqué bedroom farce antics, and caused the BBC to get cold feet partway through its run and move it from mid-evening to a late night slot. As a result, Mastermind got Casanova’s primetime slot and became a surprise hit.
Written by Galton and Simpson, of Hancock and Steptoe & Son fame, the series sees Leslie Phillips as Henry Newhouse, a married man in his mid-40s who spends most of his life philandering. In each episode his wayward ways cause some sort of trouble, whether it’s trying to keep his wife from finding a series of letters from an overeager one night stand to having to hide in a closet from a strapping husband who came home early.
Despite its age and cheesiness, Casanova ’73 is oddly watchable, largely thanks to Leslie Phillips. Admittedly you do have to constantly remind yourself that it’s a product of it time, as it has little qualms about objectifying women, making racist joke and engaging in borderline homophobic humour (it doesn’t hate gay, but it’s certain they’re not ‘normal’). But then, this was a time when the Black & White Minstrel Show was the biggest thing on TV and no evening’s entertainment was complete without a comedian making racist jokes. If you can put all that to one side (all at least view it through the gauze of cultural change), there is amusement here, especially when the series gives up on the idea that Henry’s wife is utterly oblivious to her husband’s ways and assures us she’s well aware of quite who she’s married too.
Even the premise of presenting a man who’s constantly cheating on his wife as a kind of lovable rogue seems oddly 1970s, but even at the time it proved a bit too much – although oddly the problem wasn’t so much the philandering itself, but the fact the show constantly admitted people actually like to have sex.
Casanova ’73 is nothing amazing but it does manage a nostalgic charm that ranges from amusement to incredulity that someone thought that some of the plots and jokes were perfectly harmless entertainment.
Overall Verdict: If you fancy a blast from the past, this makes for a surprisingly passable few hours, even if you constantly have to remember that this comes from a very, very different time than today.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac