Following the success of Soldier, Soldier, Jerome again teamed up with Robson Green for “Ain’t Misbehavin'” – a musical comedy drama set in the 1940 Blitz of wartime London. It was directed by Norman Stone, whom both Jerome and Robson had worked with previously, and they trusted and admired his skills enough to invest their own money in the project and forego their salaries.
The story follows the exploits of Eddie Wallis (Jerome) and Eric Trapp (Robson) – an unlikely pair. Wallis is a man of principle who dreams of glory and honour. He was discharged from the RAF on medical grounds after his heroic crash-landing in a Blenheim bomber, he was devastated at the rejection by the RAF. He takes a train to London on which he meets the gorgeous Dolly Nightingale, played by Julia Sawalha, and the story’s romantic interest is all set up.
Trapp, however is a “Jack-the-lad” type, a dissolute charmer, whose chief interest is to look after number one. He runs a Private Detective Agency, and plays double-bass in the Ray Smiles Big Band. Eddie and Eric are thrown together through their musical talent. Eddie is forced to try and pay his way in life as an itinerant saxophonist on the Big Band circuit. With Eric on double bass, the unlikely duo join the Ray Smiles troupe of ageing musicians and militaty rejects, with Warren Mitchell – whose great character Alf Garnet is currently enjoying a revival – as the bandleader.
When Eddie auditions for the Band, he and Eric take an instant dislike to each other. They eventually become joint lead singers, and while the story has them dealing with gangsters, bombs and espionage, the songs are memorable and some are included Jerome and Robson’s second album “Take Two”.
The plot thickens when the pair get caught up in a conflict between London gang boss. Instead of fighting in the real War, Eddie and Eric become engaged in a private battle. At the same time, lovelorn Eddie is desperately trying to win the heart of upmarket Mayfair beauty Dolly Nightingale (Julia Sawalha).
The three-part series was filmed in London and Wiltshire where scenes for the interior of the RAF deep earth dump were shot in tunnels used for storage by a wine company. The idea for Ain’t Misbehavin’ grew from seeds sonw by Robson and Jerome’s No.1 smash hit Unchained Melody. Director Norman Stone was gripped by the style and atmosphere of the period and thought it would make an ideal setting for the TV show featuring the boys. The result was the creation of Clapp Trapp Productions Lts, formed by Robson and Jerome with Norman Stone and his business partner Peter Bigg.
The most dramatic moment in the film was when Eddie and Eric were pursued by armed guards, which turned into a real-drama for Jerome and Robson. Towards the end of the chase they leapt into their motor-bike & sidecar, but find that their only means of escape is through a field, across a river and over a hedge. The light was fading at the end of another busy day on location and Robson made it quite clear that he had no intention of climbing into a sidecar next to Jerome for such a risky sequence – no way! What were the stuntmen paid for, after all? Jerome, however had other idea’s, he was so hyped up and well into his character, and persuaded Robson that it would be far more authentic if the stuntmen only took over for the actual leap. He would stop well before the river and Norman Stone, the Director, who was positioned with the cameraman below the bank of the river, would signal when to break.
With no time for rehearsal, Robson reluctantly clambered into the sidecar and Jerome drove off across the field. The petrified passenger needed no encouragement to hang on as Jerome gathered speed to prepare for the leap. He closed his eye’s and waited desperately for the end of the ordeal. At last came Norman’s signal but nobody had allowed for the rain of the previous night which had left the grass drenched. Jerome applied the brakes but there was no response. The wheels had locked and the bike careered at speed towards the 6 foot bank and raging river below. The cameraman continued to shoot, recording genuine terror now on Jerome’s face. Time seemed to stand still…was he about to film a genuine tragedy? The motor-bike finally came to a halt with one wheel actually teetering over the edge. Jerome stared into the chasm below as the camera crew came charging towards the terrified actors. By the time they arrived Robson was already out and running round the field screaming. No one was about to persuade him to do another take and so the whole of that near-fatal sequence appears un-edited in the series. “At that moment we were definitely not acting”, recalled Jerome, “and everyone who watches “Ain’t Misbehavin’ will realise that.”
Jerome admits that something about the characters he and co-star Robson Green play Ain’t Misbehavin’ might ring bells with fans of squaddies. Tucker and Garvey from Soldier Soldier. Plans to give Eddie Wallis and Eric Trapp radical regional accents backfired when the actor pals found they couldn’t communicate properly. Explains Jerome: “When we first talked about Eddie and Eric we experimented with completely different voices – I think I was northern Irish and Robson was cockney. But we found the chemistry had gone so we decided not to change what works naturally between us, or stray too far from the characters we had as Dave Tucker and Paddy Garvey in Soldier Soldier. Perhaps the time to do that is when we’re working on seperate projects.” Jerome adds, “My character Eddie has a passion to be an RAF pilot and fight for his country but he never gets the chance because he gets injured landing a plane. His other passion is big band music and he sings a bit, so after the accident he goes down to London to try and build a new career. He ends up joining the Ray Smiles Orchestra, forming an unlikely friendship with Eric Trapp and getting into all kinds of trouble.”
Like Robson, Jerome had to take up an instrument to look the part of a big band player and chose the saxophone. “I took some lessons so that I wouldn’t look completely out of place but it would take years to play the sort of stuff I play in the show. It’s a beautiful instrument, though, and I’d love to learn it properly one day.” The series finds Eddie trying to woo beautiful Red Cross nurse Dolly Nightingale, played by Julia Sawalha, away from the clutches of her family – and her fiance. But as well as romance, the series also has its dramatic moments, notably when Jerome took the wheels off an antique motorbike for a stunt sequence and ended up hanging over the edge of a steep riverbank with terrified Robson in the sidecar. “I’ve always liked to do my own stunts when I can, but Robson didn’t trust my driving and he was totally right,” laughs Jerome. “In the past I’ve fallen out of trees and changed the shape of my nose a few times playing rugby and football, but apart from that I’m not accident prone at all!”