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2point4 Children (1991-99)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of 2point4 Children (1991-99)
BBC1, tx. 3/9/1991 - 14/12/1999
56 x 30 min episodes across 8 series, colour
ProducersRichard Boden, Andrew Marshall, Rosemary MacGowan
WritersAndrew Marshall, Paul Smith, Paul Alexander, Simon Braithwaite

Cast: Belinda Lang (Bill Porter); Gary Olsen (Ben Porter); Clare Woodgate/Clare Buckfield (Jenny Porter); John Pickard (David Porter); Julia Hills (Rona)

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The Porters are an ostensibly normal family all too often plunged into decidedly abnormal situations.

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Frequently veering from the darkly surreal to the poignantly bittersweet, Andrew Marshall's 2Point4 Children proved to be one of the most enduring sitcoms of the 1990s, its success only cut short by the untimely death of cast member Gary Olsen.

The Porter family consisted of level-headed pastry cook Bill and her less assertive husband, plumber Ben, plus teenage children Jenny and David. The ensemble was rounded out by libidinous neighbour Rona and Ben's sarcastic assistant, Christine.

At first the programme seemed to be re-treading territory familiar from Butterflies (BBC, 1978-83), with Bill tempted into possible infidelity by a mysterious leather-jacketed biker. This character was killed off early in the second series, only to return briefly as a ghost in a surprising cliff-hanger storyline which saw David teetering on the brink of death from a tetanus infection. Long-running story arcs included Bill and Rona being made redundant by the bakery where they worked and subsequently starting their own confectionary business; Rona's attempts to become a mother; and Ben's ongoing feud with a rival plumber, the Star Trek-obsessed Jake Klinger. The latter was played by Roger Lloyd-Pack, one of several sitcom veterans - including Liz Smith and Barbara Lott - to be given a recurring role.

Although the series occasionally succumbed to sitcom clich├ęs (Bill once commenting that she may as well dye her hair red and change her name to Lucy), it was not afraid to enter the bizarre territory inhabited frequently by its contemporary One Foot in the Grave (BBC, 1990-2000; penned by Marshall's former writing partner David Renwick), often breaking the 'fourth wall'. Christmas specials typically ended with the cast breaking into a song and dance routine, while at the end of 'Badger's Bend' (tx: 21/9/1993) Olsen came out of character to explain how a sequence in which David's pet goldfish was accidentally liquefied had been filmed, reassuring viewers that "no animals had been harmed" - only to place the 'real' goldfish into a microwave which was also inadvertently activated.

The 1999 Millennium special proved to be the series' swansong, Olsen's death from cancer in 2000 precluding further episodes. Often hailed as a precursor to My Family (BBC, 2000-), 2Point4 Children was, at its peak, one of the BBC's more weirdly wonderful sitcoms.

Richard Hewett

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Video Clips
My Family (2000-)
Smith, Liz (1921-)
The Sitcom Family