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Aherne, Caroline (1963-)

Actor, Writer, Producer, Director

Main image of Aherne, Caroline (1963-)

Born in London on December 24, 1963 to a railway labourer and a school dinner lady, Caroline Aherne emerged from radio and the comedy circuit in the 1990s to become one of Britain's foremost writers/performers with her acerbic chat show hostess Mrs Merton and the ground-breaking, reality-based, working-class situation comedy The Royle Family (BBC, 1998-2000).

Aged two, she moved to Wythenshawe, Manchester. Both she and her brother suffered from cancer of the retina, leaving her partially sighted in one eye. As a young girl, her uncanny gift for mimicry (including impressions of Cilla Black and Marti Caine) won her a prize at Butlins. After studying Drama at Liverpool Polytechnic she worked as a BBC secretary with aspirations of becoming a writer and programme researcher.

Aherne began working with her long-time collaborator Craig Cash on the Stockport radio station KFM, creating numerous characters including country and western singer Mitzi Goldberg and Sister Mary Immaculate. Another popular character was agony aunt Mrs Merton, who, with the aid of writers Cash, Dave Gorman and Henry Normal, took on a life of her own, making her television debut as the next door neighbour in Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show (ITV, 1992).

The Mrs Merton Show (BBC, 1995-98) was an unqualified success. Surrounded by an audience of real-life pensioners and supported by her in-house band Hooky and the Boys (Aherne was then married to Peter Hook of New Order, and even credited as 'Caroline Hook' for a time), Mrs Merton's interviewing style ("warm with a gentle kicking") enabled her to ask cheekier questions to her guests than more conventional hosts might have dared - including, famously, asking Debbie McGee; "So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?" The character's popularity produced adverts for British Gas, a spin-off sit-com Mrs Merton and Malcolm (BBC, 1999), and a BAFTA in 1995.

Whilst playing Mrs Merton, Aherne contributed a handful of characters to the award winning sketch series The Fast Show (BBC, 1994-2000), including Spanish TV weathergirl Paola Fisch ("Scorchio!"), Rochdale schoolgirl Janine Carr and the sharp-tongued supermarket checkout girl forever commenting on the shoppers' items ("Ribbed condoms? Very thoughtful.").

With Cash and Normal, Aherne created the BAFTA-winning The Royle Family, in which the lives of a Manchester family revolved around the television. The action rarely ventured away from the living room as the family drank tea and held sofa based discussions. Aherne played the bone idle daughter Denise and also directed the third series.

Her writing partnership with Cash came to an abrupt end when she walked out of work on Early Doors (eventually broadcast by the BBC in 2003) over problems with the script. Suffering from depression and constant press intrusion into her private life, she left Britain for Sydney. Coaxed by BBC2 controller Jane Root into creating a new comedy series, Aherne wrote and directed the Australia-set Dossa and Joe (BBC, 2002), about the breakdown of a long-term marriage post retirement. The series was a critical success but a ratings failure.

Graham Rinaldi

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Thumbnail image of Fast Show, The (1994-2000)Fast Show, The (1994-2000)

Enormously popular TV sketch show which spawned countless catchphrases

Thumbnail image of Royle Family, The (1998-2000)Royle Family, The (1998-2000)

Groundbreaking sitcom about a working-class Manchester family

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