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Series / Come Back Mrs. Noah

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Come Back Mrs. Noah is a British sitcom starring Mollie Sugden that aired on BBC1 in 1978. It was written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, who had also written Are You Being Served? which also starred Mollie Sugden. Come Back Mrs. Noah was not a success, with some regarding it as one of the worst British sitcoms ever made.

In 2050, British housewife Gertrude Noah (Sugden) wins a cookery competition, and the prize is a tour of Britannia Seven, the UK's new Space Exploration Vehicle. In the pilot episode, the craft is accidentally sent blasting off into space with Mrs Noah and a small crew on it; said small crew consists of two mathematicians, Carstairs (Donald Hewlett) and Fanshaw (Michael Knowles), and low-level maintenance man Garstang (Joe Black), with roving reporter Clive Cunliffe (Ian Lavender) dragged along for the ride as he was covering Mrs. Noah on her tour for news programme Far and Wide (the 2050 equivalent of Nationwide).

The series then centres on efforts to bring everyone back to Earth. After a failed effort to nudge the spacecraft into the Earth's atmosphere, the series concluded with Mrs. Noah and everyone else on the Britannia Seven careering off uncontrollably to the depths of space.

Come Back Mrs. Noah provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes in the Future:
    • Made in 1978, but set in 2050, the series mostly portrayed its 'futuristic' status via the existence of gadgets such as the instantly boiling atomic kettle.
    • There's a gag about graffiti in the Channel Tunnel, which in The '70s was just another pipe-dream like the fusion reactor and curing cancer.
  • Accidental Astronaut: The show is about a woman who wins a tour of the UK's new space exploratory vehicle. Whilst there, a disastrous set of events occur at mission control, and she and a group of other people are sent orbiting the Earth in said vehicle. Hence, the plot of the show is about trying to get them back. At the end of the show, yet another attempt to rescue them is made, but it leads to them being pushed even further into space.
  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload
    Mish-Con: We have an ETA for RA on TF, which gives a TAT of 72 minus 439. Any questions?
    Carstairs: Yes. What the hell are you talking about?
    Fanshaw: It means our Estimated Time of Arrival for Re-Entry on Terra Firma will be just over 72 hours.
    Carstairs: How do you know all that?
    Fanshaw: I've got a degree in Initials.
    Carstairs: Well in that case: U-P, Y-O-U.
  • Auto-Kitchen: A "nutrition pill" is inserted into a robot chicken, which after much clucking produces a string of eggs. There's also the dispenser that squirts out raspberry jam at unpredictable intervals, forcing Mrs. Noah to run back-and-forth trying to catch it.
  • Billions of Buttons: Leading to excessive button-pushing and accompanying sound effects whenever someone tries to operate a piece of equipment (which they inevitably get wrong).
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Our gallant heroes are arguing about who is the most valuable member to society. Hawk says he's needed to pilot the shuttle. Mrs. Noah cites her cooking skills. Carstairs and Fanshaw say they are valuable scientists. Cunliffe says he works for the BBC, and is promptly listed as "No special qualifications."
  • Bridge Bunnies: Mish-con is populated entirely by middle-aged Stuffy Brits wearing ties, and young beautiful women with SciFi Bob Haircuts wearing Space Clothes that show off their legs and cleavage.
  • British Brevity: The show's debut season consisted of just six episodes, and its poor reception ensured that there wouldn't be any further seasons.
  • Butt-Monkey: Garstang, who was only on the spaceship to change the lightbulbs when it took off. Carstairs uses him to fetch the tea yet refuses to invite him to tea, Mrs. Noah regards him as an Abhorrent Admirer even though he's the only man interested in her, and when someone has to be left behind on the space station he's the one selected.
  • The Captain: Carstairs, or rather he's the captain when the luxury quarters are allocated, but points out he's not really the captain when it's suggested he remain behind while the others are rescued.
    Fanshaw: What's more, you are the captain of the space station!
    Carstairs: What's that got to do with it?
    Fanshaw: By tradition the captain goes down with the ship.
    Cunliffe: In your case you can stay up with it.
  • Cassette Futurism: The usual Seventies view of the future with wobbly walls adorned with CRT screens, blinking lights, and cabinet-sized computers with reel-to-reel tape drives.
  • Cliffhanger: At the end of the final episode, "The Last Chance", a mistake by Mission Control has caused Britannia Seven to go shooting out of Earth's orbit. However will the intrepid passengers get back to Earth now? We'll never know; they never got a second series.
  • Cold Equation: In "Who Goes Home?", a rescue shuttle is sent to the space station, but due to damage sustained while docking it can only take a limited cargo so someone has to remain behind. The decision is made on everyone's 'worth' to society, so Garstang the lightbulb-changer Got Volunteered. Then it turns out the damage is worse than they thought, so only the pilot and co-pilot can return.
  • Decontamination Chamber: Played for Fan Disservice when Cunliffe and Mrs. Noah have to undergo the decontamination procedure before the Master Computer will allow them to go to sleep. With some difficulty they zip themselves up in the bulky and unflattering "decontamination bags", which spray their intimate regions causing them to contort and giggle, then vent from the rear of the bag with a loud farting sound. Ah, British '70s comedy...
  • Distracted by the Sexy: At the end of "The Last Chance", Sir Garfield Hawk has only to press a button to fire a laser beam that will nudge Britannia Seven into Earth's atmosphere so that the five passengers can jump out without dying of asphyxiation. Unfortunately, at the critical moment, he is too busy gazing amorously at bridge bunny Scarth Dare, and when he realises the countdown to firing has already finished, he frantically presses the first button he can—which fires a beam that pushes Britannia Seven away from the Earth.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The format of the show meant that any attempt to return the Britannia Seven to Earth was doomed to fail.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • The Britannia Seven is launched from the Pontefract International Space Centre, or PISC, which sounds a bit rude and is therefore used as a joke. Constantly.
    • Likewise with the Flight Escape Re-entry Trainer ("FERT").
  • Future Imperfect: Ringo Starr is misidentified as the inventor of the telephone.
  • I Have a Family: The cast is faced with a Cold Equation where someone has to be left behind on the space station, so they start arguing who has the most worth to society.
    Fanshaw: I have a wife and family!
    Cunliffe: Well then you've done your bit to perpetuate the human race.
  • Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering: In the pilot, Mrs. Noah finds herself adrift in zero gravity and is told that releasing gas will get her moving, which she does by spritzing her perfume sprayer.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Despite their air of authority it's obvious that Carstairs and Fanshaw have little idea of how to run the Britannia Seven. What training they have received is either inadequate or on the wrong model of equipment. The highly-qualified chaps at mish-con don't seem any better at doing their jobs either.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: The characters reassure themselves that the people back home undoubtedly have a plan to get them back down, only to connect to Mission Control as he's saying "I've no idea how we're going to get them back down!" They're then switched to the studio for Cunliffe's employers, Far and Wide, where the presenter is telling their families that they're stranded in space forever, but that they should pretend everything is all right.
  • Last-Name Basis: As is often the case in sitcoms co-written by David Croft, most of the characters only refer to each other by their last names, sometimes without "Mr." in the case of the male characters. We never learn Fanshaw or Garstang's first names (though Garstang's first initial is revealed to be E in "The Last Chance"), and Carstairs' first name (Damon) is only mentioned in a brief conversation with his wife in the episode "In Orbit".
  • Lovely Assistant: Scarth Dare; she's specifically referred to as such and her only function is to look pretty and fawn over Garfield Hawk for no apparent reason.
  • Ludicrous Speed: A face-pinching special effect is used to portray excessive G-forces on blastoff, or when the Britannia Seven's ultradrive is engaged.
  • Malaproper: It wouldn't be a David Croft sitcom without a character who confuses similar-sounding long words. In the first episode, Mrs. Noah, not realising the spacecraft really is about to launch by mistake, thanks the crew for "stimulating" an emergency for her benefit.
  • Mission Control: Or "mish-con" as Carstairs and Fanshaw call them, run by Garfield Hawk and his Lovely Assistant (and mistress) Scarth Dare. Much of the action on Earth (such as it was) centred around mish con attempting to find a way to retrieve Britannia Seven. Or more usually, giving excuses as to why they can't.
  • Monochrome Casting: Despite numerous gags about future Britain being a multicultural society.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: It seems the government of 2050 (which is neither Conservative nor Labour, as those two parties have formed an opposition coalition) is just as uninterested in taking real action as the governments of the 1970s.
    Newsreader: In reply the Prime Minister said he had already set up a Royal Commission to look into the whole matter, and this was the strongest measure any government could take, short of doing anything about it.
  • Rocketless Reentry: In "The Last Chance", The Plan is to lower the orbit of the Britannia Seven into the atmosphere so the crew can jump out wearing a heli-glidette. This leads to Mrs. Noah training how to use the device by jumping up and down on a trampoline in a wind tunnel, while wearing a silly silver costume and pulling the starter cord between her legs to start the engine. On live television.
  • Rotten Robotic Replacement: A robot copy of Mrs. Noah is created to test the teleporter. As usual something goes wrong during the replication process, resulting in a three-legged Noah with Gag Nose that tries to force her affections on Carstairs until the real Noah knocks its head off with her handbag.
  • Running Gag: Any miracle of future technology will either malfunction, molest Mrs. Noah, or produce rude noises while operating (usually all three).
  • Space Clothes:
    • Piloting the rescue shuttle somehow requires Scarth Dare and Garfield Hawk to dress up in gold lame.
    • When our heroes decide to try a Rocketless Reentry, they dress up in silver thermal suits with a pointy radio beacon hat.
  • Space Station: Actually the Britannia Seven was meant to be a Starship Luxurious sent to explore the galaxy, but it becomes an improvised space station after being launched too early and placed into a parking orbit while mish-con tries to sort the problem out. It looks like a classic Big Wheel station anyway.
  • Space Suits Are SCUBA Gear: The spacesuits consist of a mask with corrugated breathing tube, and a bicycle helmet topped by a couple of plastic tubes with ping pong balls that move up and down to show you're breathing correctly. Averted in the Title Sequence where the characters are dancing to the theme tune in "Michelin Man" type suits.
  • Teleporter Accident: The characters decide to try an experimental teleporter to escape the space station they're trapped on. Fortunately they test it first by sending down a robot Mrs. Noah, whilst simultaneously sending up a parrot and a cat, resulting in the inevitable parrot-cat creature (maybe the cat tried to eat the bird mid-transport?) It's not clear what happens to the robot.
  • Technobabble
    Carstairs: It's probably a fusion interruption.
    Cunliffe: What's a fusion interruption?
    Carstairs: Well, it's a...I don't know; we've never had one before.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: Carstairs and Hawk, as shown when they have to Repeat to Confirm the word "rrrroute".
  • Tube Travel
    • When the Britannia Seven is about to accidentally launch into space, the crew tries to evacuate using the emergency suction tube; but because Mrs. Noah is sent first she just gets stuck in the tube preventing everyone else from leaving.
    • Later they use the suction tubes to travel around the space station because the lift still isn't working. Unfortunately being in the tube when another item is shooting up behind you is a bad idea.
  • Video Call Fail:
    • Carstairs tells the others to hide when Garstang calls on the phone to conceal the fact that he invited the others to tea and not him, but Garstang can see the cups set out on the table, not to mention Mrs. Noah's big bottom sticking out from behind the sofa.
    • Mish-con call up the rescue shuttle and bust Hawk and Dare making out.
  • Women Drivers: Scarth Dare pilots the rescue rocket only to miss their launch window because she floods the engine.