The Royle Family
On the surface, The Royle Family appeared to be humdrum and low on incident - but such ordinary appearances belie the fact that it was a groundbreaking work of exceptional comedy invention.
Writers Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne's knack of capturing every nuance of character and dialogue made the sitting room of the titular Royles a must-see for an ever-growing audience. Viewers simply dropped in to this Northern family's conversations and watched them channel-hop and discuss various everyday subjects.
Family patriarch Jim Royle is master of his space - unafraid to rearrange his nether regions, pick his nose or fart, regardless of the company. Ricky Tomlinson embraces the part with gusto, making Jim's oft delivered "My arse" a national catchphrase.
Frequently boorish, always laughing at his own jokes, and intent on announcing his lavatorial visits to all and sundry, Tomlinson made Jim impossible to dislike.
Because of Jim's indolence, it is his hard-working wife Barbara (Sue Johnson, reuniting with her former Brookside husband) who is the main breadwinner. She is the only one who sticks up for their oft picked-upon youngest son Anthony who is obliged to do any errand or drudgery without complaint.
Their daughter Denise and her henpecked husband David are ensconced on the family sofa even when they have a house of their own, as is Barbara's morbid, storytelling mother Norma (known as Nana).
All the characters in this show just seemed so right. The laughs appeared to come effortlessly (although, ever the perfectionist, Aherne reportedly agonised over every syllable), and there was no contrivance or slapstick to be found anywhere.
The Royle Family mined comedy from the mundanity of life, and brimmed with affection for its characters. Although infused with occasional moments of sentimentality, it was unflinching - never afraid to portray its characters with all their flaws apparent.
If one scene could sum the show up, it would be that of Denise and Jim on the bathroom floor after her waters have broken. Juxtaposing earthy humour ("Are you sure it's not just a bloody big piss, love?") with heartfelt emotion (Tomlinson breaking down in tears as he describes the unassailable love he felt at Denise’s birth) it is raw, tender, funny and heartbreakingly real.
Semi-regular characters popped in and out of the Royles' living room: yin and yang neighbours Mary and Joe (she cheery, he dreary), Anthony's wayward best mate Darren, Anthony's "posh" (she’s from Altrincham) vegetarian girlfriend Emma, and Denise's plump friend Cheryl.
The final special, some five years after the series had ended, finally escaped the confines of the house - but to hospital, where Nana finally passes away.
Nothing on television had been quite like The Royle Family It eschewed a laughter track and the traditional three-camera set-up, and was shot on 16mm film, the resulting grain adding to the dowdy atmosphere. Not only that, but it seemed to take place in real time.
It is unlikely this bold, unique and brilliant rewriting of what is possible in British comedy will be bettered.
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