This often overlooked gem is a 4-season BBC comedy series of the late 1970s.
It follows the daily life of Wolfie Smith, a layabout and self-proclaimed Marxist revolutionary. Robert Lindsay plays Wolfie with a lot of energy and immerses himself fully in the character.
Wolfie Smith is the leader of the Tooting Popular Front, whose impact is limited by the fact that it has only about a handful of members. One of them is Wolfie Smith’s long-suffering friend Ken, a spindly little fellow in constant search of spiritual enlightenment (played by an incredibly young-looking Mike Grady). He is supportive of Wolfie though not enthusiastic in his support. Smith not only exploits his friends, but also his girl-friend Shirley (played by Cheryl Hall, who in those years was also married to Lindsay).
Wolfie and Ken share a room they have rented in the house of Shirley’s parents. Shirley’s father is a small-minded and rather unsympathetic working class right-winger, yet he is the only one who can see through Wolfie’s shallow political rhetoric. Shirley’s mother (played by Hilda Braid), on the other hand, is an incredibly naïve and incredibly sweet-hearted person, who always tries to calm her husband down.
The episodes’ plots make fun of Wolfie’s various attempts at political activism, but also frequently show his need to get hold of some money – by borrowing, scrounging, or through some hair-brained scheme, rarely through honest work.
Like many other shows, Citizen Smith gets slightly weaker in the later seasons, but not by much.
The series has a number of strengths, including the writing (characters and dialogue) and the cast. More importantly, however, it has aged incredibly well. Wolfie’s political activism, in reality a mix of the desire to show off and the refusal to grow up, is alive and well today, though it is less often Marxist these days. The fact that the show treats Wolfie with a mixture of ridicule, lenience, and admiration is a strength of the show and at the same time contributes to the fact that the show is still so “watchable” today (unlike so many other comedies of that era).
While this show can without any doubt be enjoyed by anybody, regardless of their knowledge of the era, or of politics in general, I personally find the show a rather fitting companion piece to shows like Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. So if you have already worn out your Sir Humphrey tapes, give Citizen Smith a try for a change.
Citizen Smith might also be a perfect gift for that (ex-)revolutionary in your life…..
The show has in recent years been released on DVD, but only with Region Code 2.
It is available in two sets, the first one featuring series 1 & 2 and the second one featuring series 3 & 4.