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Series / Up Pompeii

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1970s British sitcom ostensibly about the humorous misadventures of a Roman slave, Lurcio, before Vesuvius erupted. In reality, it was merely a vehicle for comedian and actor Frankie Howerd, who would frequently drop out of character to speak to the audience and complain about the quality of the scripts, plots, acting and even the audience themselves.

Based on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, itself based on the Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence, which were in turn based on the Greek New Comedy of Menander.

The series got a film adaptation in 1971. The film was followed by two sequels, Up the Chastity Belt and Up the Front, which also starred Howerd and relocated the setting to Medieval England and World War I France respectively.


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This show provides examples of:

  • Acting for Two: One episode centres around an assassination attempt on Caesar - who coincidentally looks exactly like Lurcio, Naturally, Frankie Howerd does not miss a single opportunity to lampshade this and is constantly stepping out of character to comment on his own incredible acting skills in playing two different characters.invoked
  • Ambiguously Gay: Howerd played his usual faintly camp character, though any gayness was quite well buried; Lurcio was not above throwing an admiring glance at a nubile Roman maiden. Nausius, the son of the household, was ragingly camp, but also rather virginal and innocent.
  • Bathing Beauty: Ammonia, mother of the household, thoroughly enjoyed bathing in asses’ milk.
  • Bathtub Scene: Ammonia, mother of the household, had a few of these.
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  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Lurcio/Howerd's asides to the audience.
  • British Brevity: Only 13 regular episodes were ever made (2 series), plus a pilot and two (much) later one-off episodes. Is an unusually concentrated example even for this trope, as all 13 aired within a single year, 1970. The second series was made and broadcast just four months after the first.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Several, most enduringly "Titter ye not", as Lurcio would admonish the audience after another Double Entendre.
    • And "The Prologue" (which he never quite finishes, and sometimes barely starts).
  • Double Entendre: Frankie Howerd’s humour made quite a lot of use of this trope.
  • Fanservice: Basically, all the female characters wore Fanservice Costumes — diaphonous gowns with low necklines. Ammonia, the mother of the household, was as much of a Shameless Fanservice Girl as the show’s tineslot permitted; her daughter Erotica seemed a bit more innocent — although she had a lot of boyfriends, it was eventually confirmed that she wasn’t actually sleeping with any of them.
  • Foregone Conclusion: With the ultimate fate of Pompeii being well-known to most people, and the increased budget afforded by being a theatrical film, there was really no way The Movie was going to end in any way other than Pompeii's destruction, and consequently the death of most, if not all of the characters. Though they did at least add in a Distant Finale, with Frankie Howerd playing a museum curator, to hint at the extreme off-chance that Lurcio may have somehow escaped.
  • Identical Grandson: At least two canonical examples — Sir Lurkalot in Up the Chastity Belt, and Mr. Lurk in Up the Front — and an implied third, namely the museum curator in the present-day epilogue of the Up Pompeii film.
  • The Movie: Which replaced nearly all of the cast, barring Frankie Howerd, with different actors.
  • Punny Name: Ludicrus Sextus, Ammonia, Erotica, Nausius... Though they're barely puns, more just jokes.
  • Running Gag: Lurcio's inability to finish his prologue.
  • Servile Snarker: Lurcio
  • Slave Galley: In The Movie, Frankie has a Have We Met? moment with another slave. He doesn't recognize the other guy at first, and the other guy only realizes when he sees the back of his head. He sat behind him in the galley, so that's all he saw of him for all those years, but he would recognize it anywhere after that.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Nausius's odes.
  • The Other Darrin: The character of Senator Ludicrus Sextus was originally played by Max Adrian in the first series, then by Wallas Eaton in the second. There was no reason offered for the change; Adrian was a red-haired middle aged man whilst Eaton played a grey haired old man. A throw-away line was offered that the Senator had gone for a face-lift, but the lift broke down half way through the procedure.

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