A look at five decades of the father in British sitcoms. Dad may be the head of the family and an authority symbol, but he has always been the butt of some of our biggest laughs.
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Fatherhood - what all men are destined for.
Protector, provider, role-model.
But not in comedy.
Up your pipe!
Fathers may be the head of the family,
a potent symbol of authority,
but they've always been the butt of some of our biggest laughs in British sitcom.
With very few exceptions,
the father character in all sitcoms tends to be the kind of hapless adult.
-Have a good day at the office.
Over the last five decades, some of our most iconic comedy dads
have been left bewildered by a changing world.
It's a boy! I've got a boy!
It's a girl, Mr Spencer!
He's gone back to childhood, here.
He's a child in a world of adults.
They have struggled with the work-life balance.
He doesn't just hate his job or his mother-in-law,
he ends up hating the whole of humanity, pretty much.
Grapefruit, my arse.
They may be of low status in the modern home
but still they struggle to stay in charge.
Where does he get his authority from?
He gets it from holding the remote!
These dads have coped with every curve ball the writers threw at them.
There must be something wrong with me.
-I'm living in a world I don't understand.
-And in the process,
changed the course of British comedy.
-They remain our most enduring men about the house.
'A country has never been so prosperous.
'As the Prime Minister has said, the standard of living has gone up,
'more people have motorcars, television and a host of other things,
'which only a few years ago, were the luxuries of the few.'
The '60s consumer boom
gave Britain more mod cons than ever before.
But beyond the financial tonic, there were also big cultural changes.
A new generation of writers were giving an authentic and unfettered voice to the working class.
Two very different sitcoms featured family conflict
with the father at the very heart of the chaos.
In 1962, after penning the sublime Hancock's Half Hour,
writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson
turned their attention to rag and bone.
STEPTOE AND SON THEME TUNE
This sitcom rarely touched on the business of junk
but concentrated solely on family wreckage
and the extremes of love and hate between a father and son.
Originally, when the writers were putting the programme together,
they wanted to make a programme about rag-and-bone men
and it was only once they hit on the idea of father and son,
that you set up that tension
whereby you have Harold who wants to leave,
who has his class aspirations,
who doesn't like the life that his father has lived,
and actually doesn't seem to like his father as a person.
Oh, you dirty old man!
What are you doing?
I'm having me bath and I'm having me dinner.
Steptoe and Son bickered incessantly
but it was the inescapable family bond
that glued these two characters together.
He needed Harold's guilt to keep him there -
without the guilt, he would just go.
He would rather go and live in a cardboard box than stay there.
It probably wouldn't have worked even as a father figure,
it had to be that close bond to work
and to get the comedy and get all the pathos from it.
You are beginning to annoy me, Father.
You're casting aspersions on my ability.
-I'm not, Harold, really.
-Oh, yes you are.
I have sympathy for Harold and I think the programme does as well.
You can understand why he would want to leave that.
We also have sympathy towards him because we can understand his dignity in not leaving
because of the emotional relationship he's got towards his dad.
Yeah, up your pipe!
It's perfect for the sitcom because it means you can have
really extreme ideas of conflict that these characters can say,
really horrifically but funny things to each other
which colleagues or friends would never put up with.
It's a laugh, you're always the same, taking things up,
buying all the gear, wasting your money and then you're a scrub out.
If you don't shut up, I shall ram this shuttlecock straight up your Khyber and set fire to the feathers!
The success of the show not only centred on Albert's failure to escape from his father
but also his fruitless attempts to improve his lot.
Steptoe And Son is a classic illustration of the British obsession with class.
These two characters, the dad and the son,
and the son is desperate to move out of his class,
as so many people were at the time.
-Oh, Mother, isn't it absolutely super?
The younger Steptoe wants to get away from this kind of rag-and-bone world,
he wants to get away from the working-class environment that,
as he sees it, is suffocating him and dragging him down.
Pater, show Mrs Kennington-Stroud a chair.
That's a chair.
Of course, the comedy lies in the fact that his father keeps
dragging him back in and he never manages to escape this environment.
It's such a common theme of sitcoms.
Look, missus, if there's any fleas in here, you brought them in in that thing.
How dare you! Ahh!
Sitcoms delight in puncturing people's pretensions
and they delight in showing how they are brought back down to earth, how you can't escape your background.
SHE CONTINUES SCREAMING
Mrs Stroud, come back!
Bunty, please. Hang on a minute.
How dare you!
I must have been mad!
But, Bunty, I wasn't walloping you!
Like all sitcoms, the conflict never ended.
Steptoe And Son remained locked in a timeless struggle between generations.
There were also clashes on the political stage throughout the '60s
as our old patricians recognised that change was going to come.
The wind of change is blowing through this country.
Whether we like it or not, growth, national consciousness is a political fact.
It was this war of ideas between generations
that was the focus of the 1960s' other iconic sitcom.
Till Death Us Do Part began life as a one-off play
but there were immediate doubts from its star as to the show's long-term prospects.
My first impression was,
you couldn't make a series out of this - a family arguing.
I couldn't see how it could be a success
because we had had the pattern of nice comedy shows,
everything was nice, particularly the American ones - it was all chocolate box.
I remember saying at the time, you can't make a series out of this - just arguments.
But I was wrong.
What are you bloody doing, you bloody fool?
Go to sleep!
I don't want to go to sleep.
In terms of fatherhood, the interesting thing about Alf is, he's so powerless.
He's constantly in this huge rage
because he lacks all authority over his own household.
His wife doesn't listen to him and she puts him down whenever she can.
You wait till you're bloody ill! >
I can't afford to be ill and lay in bed.
If I'm ill, you still expect your dinners, your clean washing.
He is mortified by the presence of his son-in-law,
the Tony Booth character,
who despises him and mocks him at every turn.
His own daughter always sides with Tony Booth, she never sides with Alf.
Did you say "prince" or "princess"?
It looks more like a bird than a fella.
All right, laugh, very funny.
Don't be so bloody facetious, the pair of you.
Adding to this constant bickering as well as the comedy
was a very claustrophobic aspect of family life in the '60s.
At that time, a lot of young people, because of the economic situation,
could not afford a home of their own, so they stayed with their in-laws
and that led to the difficulty that happened -
the clash between the younger generation and the older generation and the clash of ideas and ideals.
That was an ideal setting for it.
From the outset, Alf Garnett was offensive and confrontational
because the character was an attempt to satirise the entrenched racism in British culture.
What's the coon doing here?
He's giving blood, the same as us.
Alf Garnett was very typical of a lot of men at that time.
he spoke about things that were taboo.
We need to speak about things that are taboo.
Are they going to bung his blood into anybody?
Yeah, why not?
How do you do?
The battle that's going on with Alf Garnett
is this idea that the next generation have a completely different set of political views,
a completely different understanding of the world
and Alf Garnett is so angry, so full of rage, so confused about the world
because everything that's coming after him
is disagreeing with what he's done, it's undermining the way in which he thinks about the world.
We will rise again, don't you worry about that.
We will rise like lions and get our empire back.
The bloody great British Empire that your bloody Labour rubbish gave away to...
To the people it belonged to.
To a load of bloody coons and wogs!
Alf's generation, I felt very sorry for them because they were a lost generation.
They were taught that we were a superior people
and that gave them great expectations when there was nothing to give to them.
People were laughing at Alf Garnett, not with Alf Garnett.
God, here we go, Paki-bashing again.
Don't start him off.
-You know you don't like them.
-I don't like them?
-don't like them?
-Well, you don't.
They don't bloody like each other!
Bringing life to a character is the actor's trade
but playing Alf Garnett called for courage as well as craft.
The beautiful thing about Warren's performance is that he pulled no punches.
I admire him for that. He played it straight down the middle.
Well, I think if you're playing a character it's difficult to hate him.
I mean, if I had to play Adolf Hitler
I would have to play him as though I believed what he was saying,
and I'm Jewish, so it would be very difficult, but I would have had to do it.
And so the same was true, I had to believe what I was saying as Alf.
Both Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe And Son struck a chord with the public
in ridiculing two dysfunctional dads.
It may often be a decade noted for cultural change and progress,
but its two most successful sitcoms saw the dark side of family.
But of course the highpoints of comedy will be dark,
because comedy by its very nature, is dark.
It's always frustrated ambitions, it's failure, it's disaster,
it's the sort of Sword of Damocles, of catastrophe,
that's about to descend on the protagonist's head.
That's ALWAYS what we find funny.
Aside from loon pants and disco, the 1970s were marked by Britain's spiral into economic chaos.
It was also a unique period in British sitcom,
with hugely successful shows dominating every channel.
Within these shows was writing of real originality and insight,
that milked fatherhood for very different belly laughs.
But our first father from the '70s defies classification.
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
featured one family guy's endless struggle with life's simplest tasks.
In a sense, you know, you could argue he's an incompetent father,
you know, this is an incompetent husband, incompetent father, incompetent man,
and you could root it in the '70s when men are kind of being challenged.
I think it makes more sense actually to see it as going back to
this kind of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin style.
I think it's more about this kind of venerable comic tradition
than it is about what's going on in 1974 or whatever.
It's almost as if he's lost the plot.
He's gone back to childhood here, he's a child in a world of adults.
Could you come and sit down a minute, Frank.
And he's married! That is what I couldn't understand.
There's going to be...
a little addition to our family.
When writer Raymond Allen employed a well-worn plot device in the second series,
Frank Spencer could now labour with a whole new set of challenges.
How do you mean?
We're going to hear the patter of tiny little feet.
Oh, no, no, no, no, Betty.
I'm not having another cat in this house.
When you find out in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em that his wife's pregnant,
you kind of worry for the child.
In reality, Social Services would be there in about five minutes of the birth to take the baby away.
That's right. Push down.
Push down, Betty. Push down!
Because you think, "How did that happen?"
There was absolutely no intimacy between them.
He was consistently doing weird things, she was totally the boss
and yet he did become a father and a lovable father.
It's a boy! I've got a boy.
It's a girl, Mr Spencer!
Well, what's that then?
That is the umbilical cord.
Ooh, I say! It was going on and on.
What's going on in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is you have a character who's completely incompetent
in terms of being a father, completely incompetent in terms of being a member of the work force,
but who completely understands as a father and as a husband, there are roles he is required to play,
and pretty much every episode is him trying to play those roles.
He wants to be a good dad. He wants to provide for his wife and for his child.
I'm a success.
I suppose the viewer...
had a certain level of generosity towards him,
and a real wish that he would get it right.
I suppose that is what's around now with parents
who are really struggling with their children.
But Frank Spencer probably makes people like me get grey hairs!
Beyond Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em,
another '70s sitcom, was very much of its time.
The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin featured a suburban dad
trying to maintain some presence in the family home,
whilst coping with the relentless pressures at work.
The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin is an absolutely key programme
for understanding what happened to Britain in the '70s and has continued to happen afterwards.
People start complaining in the mid-'70s that they don't have as much time for family life,
for leisure, they don't have as much time to spend with their wives and children.
Thank you, no, that'll do me for the moment.
They work longer hours, they're in danger of getting the sack. They don't have a job for life.
Their job might disappear because it might be outsourced, it might be replaced by a computer.
So, of course, there is an impact on family life.
Suddenly the corporate world meant that men had to leave at 7 o'clock,
6 o'clock in the morning, came back at 8 o'clock.
The kids were in bed or gone, so he was becoming the absent father.
-Back at the usual time?
Oh, wait. There's a piece of white cotton on your coat.
A narrow escape. London businessman saved from white cotton terror.
-Have a good day at the office.
Again, it's notable, loads of episodes of Reggie Perrin begin with him leaving home
and end with him coming home,
and so the programme is very clearly saying "OK, the home matters, but what's taking up most of his time
"is going to work."
Well, actually what's taking up most of his time is getting to work and getting home.
And you look back at it and you do kind of think, you can see that this man is falling apart at the seams,
but it doesn't blame the domestic for that, it blames work for that.
-Are you losing your drive?
-No, CJ, I'm not losing my drive.
Good. We're not one of those firms that thinks a chap is no good after he's 46.
He doesn't just hate his job or his mother-in-law, he ends up hating the whole of humanity pretty much.
Out of all humanity, Reggie Perrin still managed to retain his special hatred,
like so many fathers before him, for his son-in-law.
-Why am I a bearded prick?
-You really want to know?
Cos you have a bright red open-plan Finnish playpen,
you put supposedly witty adverts in the Cookham and Thames Ditton Chronicle,
you brew your own parsnip and nettle wine,
you smoke revolting briar pipes, built a gothic stone folly in your garden,
and you called your children Adam and Jocasta
and made them eat garlic bread the moment they were off the breast.
I see. Thank you.
It is a very funny show, but it is an incredibly dark one.
It's a man who is basically going through a nervous breakdown.
It's David Nobb's genius that he makes all of that very funny
and addictive and compelling viewing,
and we never really succumb to the darkness, as in all great sitcoms,
because that's kept at bay by the jokes.
So tonight in Line-Up Review we'll be talking about television comedy.
TV sitcom was traditionally the domain of white males,
who, aided with some free booze, occasionally did their best
to unravel the mysteries of comedy for the viewers,
and the result was chaos.
It doesn't work...
Look, 20 years ago...
Yes, Lucille Ball, Dick van Dyke.
-20 years ago comedy writers wrote jokes.
-It didn't start with you, comedy, or me.
If Dickens had been writing for TV, he'd be writing Coronation Street.
By the way, look, we're having a spot of bother hearing what exactly
is being said, because it's a splendidly lively discussion,
marvellously lively but just a bit too loud so nobody can hear...
Male dominance in comedy would continue,
but outside of television, women were fighting for emancipation and equality.
Like any other industry, television would slowly begin to concede to this challenge to the status quo.
A sitcom written by a woman was a rare commodity, but there were exceptions.
Carla Lane had already penned a hit sitcom, The Liver Birds, by the time she created Butterflies.
Apparently a gentle sitcom about suburban family life, this show was about so much more.
Again, a family domestic unit, but a mother, Ria,
who is thinking about having an affair, and what is very,
at the time, was controversial about the programme,
was that the programme is sympathetic towards her thinking about having an affair.
You know it all, don't you?
'I'm in some sort of trouble here.
'I can feel it.
'It's not the ordinary kind.
'The kind one cures with a box of chocolates and a theatre ticket.
'It's something tucked away in her mind.
'Brooding and fermenting.
'Oh, God. I can see hope running towards the horizon with its arse on fire.'
In Butterflies, the whole angle was towards Wendy Craig,
and she was the one that was the butt of a lot of material, the jokes about the food,
the father and two sons would gang up on her, albeit in a pretty light-hearted way,
but that was one of those very few sitcoms where the mother took the brunt of the stick,
rather than the dad.
What I think is really interesting about Butterflies is the portrayal of Ben, the father.
It could have been very easy for the programme to portray him as a husband who is very uncaring
or is brutal in some kind of way, and actually you have a portrayal that is very sympathetic.
In fact, I would go so far as to say this is absolutely...
It's quite a traditional dad, going out - the dentist -
coming back, you know, sitting down, awful meal in front of him,
but I felt there was something quite generous in the way he would be still quite OK
about the meal in front of him, tried to keep the boys under control.
We do not communicate.
There's a great, awesome chasm between us. I work, he doesn't.
-I pay tax, he doesn't. I believe in respectability and self-sufficiency, he doesn't.
-I have fun, he doesn't.
When your children hit their teenage years, you know,
there's a bit of jealousy that creeps in there, so the generosity that would flow
between fathers and their children, particularly fathers and their sons, perhaps isn't there.
-You're not jealous of your sons, are you?
-Of course I'm jealous!
Not the green-eyed, evil jealous, just the gentle,
"wish I'd been born later, why did I miss it all?" jealous.
It was an odd thing because you kind of felt you should have much more sympathy for him as the dad,
but again, there was a touch of the doltish about him
not recognising there was something going on in his wife's life -
that she wanted something more, and you know, he couldn't fulfil it and he wasn't noticing it.
I want to pretend that we're meeting...in secret.
You go up to bed, and I'll go out into the garden and swarm up the drain pipe.
In the latter series, there's sequences where Ben starts to realise that Ria might be thinking about
leaving him and having an affair, and those scenes are portrayed very sympathetically towards him.
'It might be nothing.
'It might be a stage she's going through.
'Children are always going through stages.
'It might be something.'
He's very upset. He's very scared.
He's worried about that.
And you can see that they kind of love each other,
but at the same time, marriage isn't working for them, in some way.
And so, yeah, we get to see him as a victim of the institution of marriage as much as you see her.
Where are you?
I'm on my way home.
Good morning, Mrs Thatcher!
We all know what shaped the '80s.
Our first woman prime minister may have been a victory for equality,
but on gaining the keys to Number 10,
she gave thanks to one person.
Well, of course, I just owe almost everything to my own father, I really do. He brought me up
to believe all the things that I do believe, and they're just the values on which I fought the election.
Margaret Thatcher's landslide victory signalled radical social change
that some welcomed, but others took to the streets, resulting in huge civil unrest across Britain.
# I ran so far away... #
It was this social change that would come to define so much of modern Britain.
# I ran so far away... #
Three '80s sitcoms addressed the issue of fatherhood
in their own unique and timely way and could be seen as a response to this new political age.
# Stick a pony in me pocket... #
In what was to become Britain's most successful sitcom,
fatherhood was very much to the fore in this irresistible comedy
about two struggling brothers in south London.
# I'm your man... #
I would be very proud to have written
Only Fools and Horses, which is about as domestic and family-oriented
as you can get, but it's brilliant.
# Why do only fools and horses work...? #
Del Boy's a really interesting character, because on the one hand
he is your classic sitcom figure of the working-class protagonist with delusions of grandeur.
I always thought if we could make a success of it, that eventually we would go legit.
You know, we would register the name "Trotters Independent Traders" as a proper, McCoy company.
At the same time, Del is a pure Thatcherite.
He's a London entrepreneur,
a small businessman who doesn't mind cutting a few corners...
My dream starts the way every success starts, with a great big rip-off.
He lives in a council flat, he lives in effectively a broken home, broken family,
he's having to bring up Rodney.
Despite Rodney being 57, Del is having to bring him up.
Rodney, I'm going to whip down the shops and get another packet of Smash and some brew.
In the absence of their dad and their mother, sadly departed,
Del Boy became a father to Rodney,
guiding his younger, more naive brother
through the harsh lessons in life.
So, you want to get a nice tan for the girl then, do you?
I'll give you a nice tan, all right!
But he never lost sight of the joys of sibling rivalry.
Come on, Rodney, Oi, come on, bring your cheese.
I really think Rodney should go to hospital with his face.
Yeah, I know, I've been telling him that for years.
To see a sibling...
being as cruel as he was to Rodney, it doesn't have the same take as a dad, who perhaps has
that sort of sarcasm and the humour that comes into that relationship.
It's a slightly...
I find it quite uneasy to take in terms of them being siblings,
but I think he was trying to replicate being the dad.
ROMANTIC MUSIC PLAYS
Ooh, in't 'alf dark in here, innit?
Oh, put him down, Janice, put him down.
You don't know where he's been.
Well now, what we got going on here? I'll have a drop of that.
Thanks. 'Ere, look, we don't want all this rubbish on, do we, eh?
Siblings who have to take on adult relationships have a very hard time,
because, really, they don't have the authority to do this.
The younger sibling will often object and, really, will be very
aware of the fact that "We're siblings, you're not my dad"!
-You're in, are you, Del?
Yes, yes, I'm in, Rodders.
Really, dads are there, they have the authority,
they have the gravitas, and children expect them to be the way they are.
We don't expect it from our siblings!
-Yeah, by the way, 'scuse me a minute, Janice.
Yeah. Your bondage ropes, they're in the garage, all right?
And Grandad has washed your whip, and he's put it in the airing cupboard.
I don't think it's shrunk.
I'll leave you two lovebirds alone,
-and I shall just say, "Buenos Aires".
Only Fools and Horses was a huge hit.
By the seventh series, the show deployed some trusted plot devices.
Marriage was the first development,
and from John Sullivan's point of view, I'd imagine you think,
"Let's put him in that situation"
and then, ultimately, fatherhood and how he reacts with that.
I don't think Only Fools is alone in that. If we look back through sitcoms,
we'll see fatherhood as a bit of a kind of plot development, a device to give
a sitcom legs, to give it a new life and take it in a different direction.
There's another one.
Push hard, there's a good girl.
-Del, can I hold your hand?
-Of course you can, sweetheart, go on.
Steady on, Raquel. Steady on.
YELLING AND SCREAMING CONTINUES
With the phenomenal success of this mainstream hit,
it's easy to overlook how the character of Del Boy
embraced fatherhood in a way that previous sitcom dads may have balked at.
Giving birth ain't all it's cracked up to be, is it?
I think the really significant bit in Only Fools and Horses is when Damian is born.
It's a baby, Racquel.
You have at the end of the episode Del Boy holding Damian
and looking out of the hospital window up at the stars, and having a very emotional conversation
and the programme ends on that - it doesn't have a punchline,
it doesn't end with a joke, it ends with a very emotional statement about being a parent and being a father.
And you'll have all the things
your daddy couldn't afford.
Because I've been a bit of a dreamer, you know.
Yeah, I have.
I wanted to do things and be someone,
but I never had what it took.
But you, you're different.
You're going to live my dreams for me,
and you're going to do all the things
that I want you to do
and you are going to come back
and tell me about them.
I think it might say something about the ways in which the representation
of men had changed on television, that suddenly you had male characters who were allowed to be emotional,
that it wasn't about being stiff upper-lip,
it wasn't about just demonstrating your authority,
it was also about characters who could express the fact that things
bothered them, that things upset them, and that was not seen as a lack of masculinity at all.
Further north in Liverpool,
Bread was the follow-up hit from Carla Lane after Butterflies.
The show celebrated the ups and downs
of the extended Boswell family.
Fighting every system in the absence of their feckless, philandering father.
-We all work in our different ways, we do what we can for the family.
-How does he work?
You can certainly see Bread as a political statement,
you can see it as the Liverpudlian family embattled from without.
There's no law against having style, sweetheart.
We may be lying in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.
It actually plays to the kind of Liverpool mythology
and probably is partly responsible for creating
that kind of sense of Liverpool as a city apart, has its own ever so salty and witty culture
that the rest of us can never possibly aspire to and so on and so forth.
-You'll have to talk to him, Joey, he's overdoing it.
-What do you mean, I'm overdoing it?
I mean that whatever you're doing over there
doesn't leave you with enough strength to do anything over here!
You have a female matriarch
demonstrating her power, running that family, staying in charge of it,
so even though she's got that anger towards her absent husband
she's worked out a way in which to survive.
So she's a very strong woman in that way.
Oh, by the way, I inquired about an allowance for Grandad.
What for? He's getting three allowances already.
-But he's not incontinent.
-That's what I was going to say.
But he might be, one day.
I mean, there's a way in which Joey, the oldest son, ends up playing that
father figure, but it's a slightly different representation,
because there isn't the conflict between the father figure and the mother figure
that we would expect in other programmes, at least partly
because they're not husband and wife, they're mother and son.
The number of jobless goes up to 3,200,000,
the largest July figure ever.
Unemployment in the '80s was a lasting legacy and a direct consequence of government policy.
The social cost was millions dependent on state benefit
and the creation of a new class in British society, the underclass.
Step forward the socially excluded clown prince of this underclass,
Rab C Nesbitt.
Rab C Nesbitt brought guttural Glaswegian patter to British sitcom for the first time.
But writer Ian Pattison was inspired by two famous sitcom dads from the past.
That's me back, Mary, darling!
I can remember in 1962 seeing...
and that was a big change from any TV dad that I'd ever seen portrayed.
Most of them, to people like me from a working-class background,
aliens, all these nice dads who would come home and mix a cocktail and ask the kids how their day had gone.
No, didn't really work that way where people like me came from.
So when Albert came along and then Alf Garnett, you thought, OK, these are not pretty people,
but they're recognisable, and Rab was a continuation of that kind of portrayal.
I am glad I have found you out, wi' your two-timing.
I'm glad I've found you, because I may be scum,
but us scum, us scum have a code,
and that code goes something like this -
get it right...up ye!
Rab is again a grotesque character that you shouldn't feel any real great sympathy for,
but you do, you kind of feel a bit of sympathy for the fact that he is kind of struggling on
and all this kind of mad, homespun philosophy.
At the core of it, you kind of feel there is a decent man, although he's not particularly good at showing it.
it's a family crisis, here.
A son of mine calmly walks in here and announces he's gifted.
-What the hell right have you got to be gifted?
If you wanted to be something different, could you no' have been something less expensive,
like gay or something?
Rab's attitude to children was that they never cramped his style in anyway.
They were just there, and they didn't impinge on his lifestyle - if he wanted to go out, he would go out.
And I...don't really think he was a formative influence on them.
-What was that for?
-Well, I've got to hit something, haven't I?
Aye. And you're bloody well smart noo wi' me, you big swine.
But just wait till you get your heart disease.
Then I'm going to bloody well kill ye!
That's mah boy! That's mah boy!
Unemployed, unwashed and unwanted, Rab was a free spirit.
But this waster of a father was gifted with self-awareness.
Sometimes he confirmed your impressions, and other times
he confounded them, and the way that he would confound them was by being self-aware,
by knowing more about his situation than you thought you knew about it, looking in.
And so that was a very important element.
He wouldn't be the character, he wouldn't have lasted, if he had just been a two-dimensional fellow
who had no inner life.
Some amount o' wanky old pish.
See, your average punter, he doesnae have a Scooby-Doo whether it's any good or not.
They're all too feart to say anything detrimental, for fear of making an arse of themselves.
Whereas I look like an arse anyway, y'know?
So I've got a kind of licence to be fearless.
I think Rab and other sitcoms ask some sort of pretty serious questions
about the state of the nation, the state of fatherhood, the state of a lot of things.
There's nothing wrong with that. it's important that sometimes they can do more
than just kind of wash over you and just be kind of wallpaper.
On the other side of the world, a domestic comedy was taking America by storm.
The Simpsons would soon become a global phenomenon and prove that great comedy recognises no borders.
Featuring the world's most dysfunctional family,
the son was the initial focus,
but audiences would make up their own mind about who the real star of the show was.
When it started out, because it was a cartoon
people thought it's for kids, and people thought because it's for kids
the strongest character in it will be the kid, it will be Bart Simpson.
But I think quite quickly, inevitably the attention was drawn more towards Homer Simpson
as the kind of everyman figure that certainly every father, every adult man, related to.
One thing about The Simpsons is, maybe with the exception of Roseanne,
it was the only show to show what family life really was like,
you know, to show those mixed feelings that parents have.
-Wait a minute, does this mean you like my present?
-Ohhh! Just promise me you won't pay any more practical jokes.
I think all parents suffer from that having a thought in their head about how they could have done something
that wouldn't be totally PC,
and Homer Simpson really sums that up -
you know, he sort of grabs his children and shakes them,
and it isn't necessarily how we'd want parents to be.
But I doubt that most parents haven't thought for a second,
"I could have done that".
Dealing?! How could you?
Haven't you learned anything from that guy who gives those sermons
at church, Captain Whatshisname?
We live in a society of laws.
Why do you think I took in all those Police Academy movies? For fun?
He's almost completely unconsciously funny.
I don't think he ever says anything that he means to be funny. You know?
And that's really attractive to me.
You know? I love that.
# How many roads must a man walk down
# Before you can call him a man...? #
-No, Dad, it's a rhetorical question.
Rhetorical, eh? Eight.
-Dad, do you even know what "rhetorical" means?
-Do I know what "rhetorical" means?
But the appeal of Homer Simpson also lay in the writers' desire
to colour their character with some tenderness.
It's noticeable again how emotional Homer Simpson can be
and how the programme wants us to engage with his emotions
now and again.
It's so quiet here without the kids.
What I wouldn't give to hear Lisa play another one of her jazzy tunes.
For me, that's the really new and interesting thing that The Simpsons does,
is that emotionality, that we're used to cartoons not being emotional.
At least this time I'm awake for your goodbye.
Oh, Homer, remember,
whatever happens, you have a mother and she's truly proud of you.
The series where Homer meets his mother, who turns out to
have been a '60s revolutionary, is heartbreaking.
Don't forget me.
Don't worry, Homer, you'll always be a part of me.
I can barely talk about it without crying, I have to warn you, but he says... Oh, God!
..he says goodbye to his mother and he sits on the back of his car, I think, looking at
the road she's just travelled down, and it cuts back and it's dark and he's still sitting there.
You know what I mean? That is unbelievable. You know?
Now in its 20th year, The Simpsons remain ahead of the comedy curve
and a huge influence that inspired one of the most surreal and offbeat sitcoms of the '90s,
boasting not one but three fathers.
I think we even might have said it aloud, that we were trying to do
with live action, what The Simpsons was able to do.
Watching The Simpsons, we thought, "Well, this is what a visual thing should be like,"
more about what happens than what's said.
I was just playing with them, Ted!
Playing with them?! You were jumping up and down with them,
running around with them and getting completely overexcited.
That's why you got sick on me.
The reason, I think, that Ted has lasted as long as it has is it's a mirror of a family. You know?
And when kids look at it, kids can see themselves in Dougal,
and they can see their dad in Ted, and they can see their grandfather in Jack, you know?
And that was something we discovered afterwards, and we realised that
accidentally we'd... created a family unit.
And be sure to keep warm, won't you?
Ted! Not in front of Mr Fox!
Hm? And stay on the left side of the road.
Duh! I know!
Like, for instance, when Ted says goodbye to Dougal when Dougal becomes a milkman,
there's a little kind of paternal tear as he watches Dougal drive away, and stuff like that.
So I think we began to recognise that he was a dad of some sort.
Away from the pantomime of Father Ted, our political leaders were delivering sermons
about how Britain could wave goodbye to our class system.
The classless society is to give people the opportunity to move from one job to another,
to have a ladder of opportunity.
In 1997, as one middle-class man replaced another in Downing Street,
there was a great sense of optimism - yes, this man used to fill us with optimism -
about a new direction for Britain.
We have secured a mandate
to bring this nation together...
There was that assumption, certainly throughout the 1990s and once the Labour government came in,
Tony Blair came in, this assumption that we're all middle class now, it's all been levelled.
The concerns we had had for decades about the underclass or the working class,
actually that's all gone and we're all middle class.
But up in Manchester, one sitcom didn't get that Downing Street memo
and remained working class to the core.
# I would like to leave this city
# This old town don't smell too good... #
"It's good to talk" my arse.
Lots of people did reject The Royle Family,
saw it as just a throwback to the 1960s, an unrealistic,
stereotypical representation of working-class people,
and of course, Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who wrote it, said,
"No, we're just writing about our families. We know lots of people who are like this."
-Antony, which room are you in, lad, this room or that room?
Well, what's the light on in that room for?
Anchored at the very centre of the show and to his chair,
sat Jim Royle, a father not blessed with a gentle touch.
Whereas a father in a sort of Mancunian family like that in the past
might have been very much the sort of strong patriarch,
the Jim Royle figure just doesn't do much.
He's quite a passive figure, you know, reacting to things
rather than actually actively controlling the situation.
-You all right, Jim?
I can't smile wide enough, me.
You see a character who seems to have lost his sense of himself
outside of the family home, you know, so you have no sense of him working,
earning a wage, making his way in society, you know,
perhaps going through the stages that most people imagine they will do.
So where does he get his authority from?
He gets it from holding the remote!
And actually, nobody challenges him about that.
Oh! Look, it's him again. He's everywhere, him.
He's like shit in a field.
Leave it on, Dad!
She's had a facelift. They all have!
Shut it, Dad, I'm listening!
Oh, here's the gobshite now.
Look at him. Full of himself.
-He's a millionaire, him.
-Aye, and he's still got ginger bollocks.
Oh, that reminds me, I've got some tangerines in the kitchen.
Anybody want a tangerine?
I also have a sense of the delicate balance that's being struck between
the family, between the parents particularly, where you have a wife who really doesn't want to confront
her husband, doesn't want to confront him and his lack of being a father
because it might make him crumble, it might expose things that nobody talks about.
Jim! Get upstairs!
-Our Denise's waters have broken!
Jim Royle may have been gruff and insensitive on the outside,
but when called upon, he was always there for his family.
..already in there. Come on! Now!
That scene where Caroline Aherne's waters break, that's a highly emotional scene
and a point where her dad is allowed to be emotional.
Let's play your tape, eh?
That does seem a similarity to Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses.
We're getting a series of dads who occupy that authoritative role,
who use humour to mock other people and to maintain their position
and yet at moments of extreme can be emotional and nobody minds about that.
Are you definitely sure it wasn't just a great big piss, love?
No, I know it wasn't.
And again, you go back to sitcoms of the 1950s and '60s,
and it's very hard to find that kind of representation, that emotionality.
We welcomed in the new millennium with style,
and the rest of the decade would be full of fireworks, too.
We had a credit boom and spectacular bust.
We continued to be deluged by tedious celebrity coverage whilst our country went to war.
Throughout, our biggest hit sitcoms were a study in the everyday grind of the office
and a gentle comedy about a long-distance love affair, with family values much to the fore.
But in 2000, a hidden comedy gem appeared featuring a devoted father
whose spirit is rarely dampened
by his estrangement from his wife and children.
Good morning, good morning!
Bright and early.
Another day, another dollar.
My first pick-up, please.
STATIC HISSES ON RADIO
For my money, Marion and Geoff is the single best piece of television
of its time. I think it's better than The Office.
I think if they did Marion and Geoff onstage at the National Theatre,
it'd win all kinds of awards and people would say it was brilliant.
Because it was on BBC2 and not that many people watched it, it's kind of forgotten.
I don't feel like I've lost a wife,
I feel like I've gained a friend.
I would never have met Geoff if Marion hadn't left me. Not a chance.
Marion and Geoff was centred exclusively on the luckless Keith Barret,
who appeared to be blind to the loss of his wife and his children to another man.
That's the boys' room just there.
They've changed the curtains.
Sleep tight, little angels.
It's the first comedy in which you believe that the character could actually really exist.
He might as well be real, he's so well observed,
he's so rounded, and that, I think, makes it a REAL breakthrough.
He thinks he's defined my his job.
In the programme, we only ever see him sitting in a car driving places, and he talks about his job.
But actually, it's quite clear he's defined entirely by his parental role.
His wife has left him and married somebody else, and so now he only sees his two children rarely.
To be fair to Marion, when I was up there two weekends ago, she said the kids had missed me.
I think in her own way, what she was saying was, "It would be nice if you were there with us".
Now, she can't say that, of course not. I'm not a fool.
She can't say that in front of Geoff.
So I suggested it.
Erm, and fair play to Geoff - again, you've got to say
fair play to Geoff - because he didn't veto it outright,
he didn't veto the suggestion.
In fact he said, you know,
it'd be a bit cosy.
In some ways, it's a very different representation. He's kind of quite childish towards his children.
He doesn't talk about them very often as an authority figure.
But also it's quite a new representation precisely, because it's a couple who have split up,
so it's about a father and children without the mother there,
which doesn't happen in sitcom that often.
Never had children, though, you see, Geoff. He has now, obviously.
never had children. I always felt, "Well, there's something, I do have the edge on you there
"with my two little smashers."
The status quo is never restored.
He carries on losing, and things actually get worse for him, and it gets darker and darker.
And there's a very interesting question about at what point
does a sitcom or a comedy cease to be a comedy,
when it's actually more sad than it is funny?
I mean, don't get be wrong, Marion and Geoff is very funny, but it's actually sadder than it is amusing.
Come on. Big hug.
See? You're all right, aren't you?
Eh? Who's got a big hug?
Hey? Who's Daddy's boys?
Who's Daddy's boys?
In 2007, a sitcom hit more positive notes.
Gavin And Stacey began as a love affair
between an Essex boy and a Welsh girl.
But the cast quickly grew to include the families.
Pineapple and melon, croissant, pain au chocolat and brioche.
In all the commotion, one very traditional sitcom dad filled a key comic function.
We're talking about Gavin's new girlfriend, not Princess Di.
You do not mention that hussy's name in this house, and you know that, Michael!
I think in Gavin And Stacey, you kind of needed the dad to be like that.
Larry Lamb in Gavin And Stacey is like the holding midfielder.
He kind of gets it and he gives it.
That's his job. He's the kind of buffer there.
He kind of does what he needs to do and then he lets Alison Steadman get on with it.
Right, well, I'm off. That was terrific.
Lovely to meet you, Stacey.
That character of Mick had to represent an element of stability and warmth.
He's just like a ordinary bloke that's got a job in a factory.
You know, he's a sort of a manager, medium level or whatever he is
in a factory somewhere, he's not anything special.
You know? They're all normal people, and I think that's its strength.
-just hold me!
-Hey, what's up?
Can't you see what's going on?
With Jackie Onassis in there? I know. What's that all about?
It's evidently, plainly obvious that our son has been beating that poor girl.
Are you mad?
The main father figure of the Larry Lamb character is good-humoured, tolerant, patient.
He even gives Gavin advice on his sperm count, you know, all this kind of thing.
He's everybody's perfect father, I suppose.
I just feel like I've let everyone down, y'know?
-Like who, for Christ's sake?
-You and Mum.
-Oh, don't be silly.
I know she's not saying anything, but I saw how upset she was when I told her.
-You and her, you'd make brilliant grandparents.
-It's essentially all in a positive vein.
-There's so many what-ifs, Dad.
It's not about people trying to amass a fortune,
it's not about trying to get rich or have one over,
it kind of cuts into the lives of people who are just existing, you know, just going along.
Congratulations, son. Now, are you really sure about this?
1,000 per cent.
The huge success of such a restrained sitcom with a reassuring father at the helm
says much about our current comedy cravings.
Gavin And Stacey is an avowedly kind of warm, reassuring, backward-looking comedy.
It's part of, dare I say, a balanced cultural diet,
and you need these kinds of... comfort foods, if you like.
I think if all we had was Gavin And Stacey, we'd probably want to kill ourselves,
but thankfully, there's always something dark out there, and we need the two.
-You are not having toast!
-I can't be doing with crumbs, not today!
-But I want some toast!
Do not start, Mick, please.
After three award-winning series, Gavin And Stacey achieved closure.
At the same time, it also marked the end of a short but successful comedy career.
I can't quite see going on doing it.
You know, I like a bit of drama.
It's much easier to make 'em cry!
For the last 50 years, Britain has seen remarkable social change.
The way families live now bears little resemblance to the past.
Oh, my Gawd! What am I going to do?
Kiss of life.
As comedy reacts to the change around it, there is one thing
that we can say for certain - the sitcom dad is here to stay.
IN A SINGSONG VOICE: Jealous, jealous! Jealous, jealous!
You have to have a father in a sitcom.
They're like the sitcom equivalent of a can opener.
Every household should have one, otherwise it can't function.
And they've always been there.
I think they always will be there.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Email [email protected]
Father may be the head of the family, a potent symbol of authority, but he has always been the butt of some of our biggest laughs in British sitcom. Over the last five decades some of our most iconic comedy dads have been bewildered by a changing world and struggled with the work/life balance. These dads have coped with every curveball their writers threw at them and in the process changed the course of British comedy. They remain our most enduring Men About The House.