The Smoking Room
Writer Brian Dooley has created a rich pageant of life in the tiny Petri dish of the Smoking Room.
Big on witty dialogue, short on plot, the Smoking Room ran for two series and a Christmas special. It was understated and gentle, but not in a mumsy billowy way – the show definitely had edges. And then sometimes it went beyond them.
The ensemble of characters ensures a constant drip of minor conflicts, though with a begrudging current of affection. Ever-present is Robin (Robert Webb) – sarcastic, smart and 'on to better things' – his homosexuality is his closely guarded secret, though it's likely no one would really care one way or the other.
Keeping him company are the yin and yang of Sally (Nadine Marshall) – defensive to the point of aggressive – and Annie (Debbie Chazen) – a New Age drama queen and serious cadger of fags.
There's also Barry (Jeremy Swift), constantly in the corner with a crossword he is incapable of solving. He is a bit of a loner but he's really ok with that; the pen and the crossword puzzle are real friends.
Heidi (Emma Kennedy) on the other hand seems unbelievably happy with her lot. Few women of 35 are lucky enough to be married to such a great, 58 year-old divorcee like Keith. (Heidi knows this because he told her). But happily divorced Lilian, 53, (Paula Wilcox) is just a girl who wants to have fun… preferably in Honolulu with a lot of attractive straight men.
Keeping everyone on their toes is boss Sharon (Siobhan Redmond). She's an ardent admirer of Margaret Thatcher, not in terms of her hairstyles, but she paved the way for women like Sharon. She also couldn't live without her PA Janet, who is totally dedicated to the job. There may be more to life; I mean, she used to play the clarinet but, really, after a while, what's the point?
Keeping the office ticking over are Clint (Fraser Ayers) the janitor-cum-superstar-DJ, and security guard Len (Leslie Schofield) who has a particular way with words. Well, one particular four-letter word.
Such places may not exist soon, so the programme is romantic in an odd way. The very idea that life could accommodate such leisurely pace that we create a room for nothing but sitting and smoking is almost absurd now. Or it's just a filthy habit. Your call.