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Just Good Friends (1983-86)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Just Good Friends (1983-86)
BBC1, tx. 22/9/1983-25/12/1986
22 x 30 min episodes in three series, colour
WriterJohn Sullivan
DirectorsRay Butt
 Sue Bysh
Producer Ray Butt

Cast: Paul Nicholas (Vince Pinner); Jan Francis (Penny Warrender); Sylvia Kay (Daphne Warrender)

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The tense relationship of star-crossed lovers Vince and Penny, trying to keep things platonic after their first romance ended badly.

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The tragicomic Just Good Friends followed the mutually antagonistic friendship between working-class Essex boy Vince Pinner and snobbish, well-to-do Penny Warrender, a relationship which seldom remained either civil or platonic thanks to their troubled history: Vince had jilted Penny on their wedding day five years previously. Their re-acquaintance, however, revealed that they still had a genuine, albeit reluctant, affection for one another.

The uncertainty over whether Vince and Penny would ever put their unfortunate past behind them and reconcile for good was the perpetual hook of the series. This might have become laboured and uninteresting, but the characters' convincing self-doubt, and the quick-wittedness of their sniping and snarling interchanges - always undercut by their obvious fondness - prevented things from getting too repetitive, while the decision to bring the series to a close after three series and two specials was shrewd. The kind of 'will they/won't they' tension that was key to Just Good Friends' success is now a familiar feature in sitcoms like Friends (US, 1994-2004), The Office (BBC, 2001-03) and Coupling (BBC, 2000-04).

Class difference was a major theme - Vince sometimes called Penny 'Lady Penelope' - while frequent appearances from the pair's respective parents allowed for much generation-gap humour, particularly between Penny and her pompous mother, who referred to Vince emphatically and hatefully as 'Thing'.

Writer John Sullivan had already made his name in sitcoms with Citizen Smith (BBC 1977-1980) and Only Fools and Horses (BBC 1981-2003), but with Just Good Friends he was afforded the opportunity to write his first truly complex female character in Penny. Sullivan also wrote the theme song, performed by Nicholas - who had built a successful parallel career in stage musicals since starring in the 1968 London production of Hair.

In its short span, the series became so popular that it was granted a Christmas Day finale (tx. 25/12/1986), which saw Vince and Penny finally marry, to both the delight and dismay of the viewing audience.

Hannah Hamad

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Video Clips
Lovers, The (1970-71)
Sullivan, John (1946-2011)