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Royle Family, The (1998-2000)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Royle Family, The (1998-2000)
Granada for BBC, tx. 14/9/1998 - 25/12/2000, 3 series of 6 x 30 min episodes each plus 2 specials, colour
Production CompanyGranada Television
ProducersGlenn Wilhide, Kenton Allen
DirectorsMark Mylod, Steve Bendelack, Caroline Aherne
WritersCaroline Aherne, Craig Cash, Henry Normal, Carmel Morgan

Cast: Caroline Aherne (Denise Royle/Best); Sue Johnston (Barbara Royle); Ricky Tomlinson (Jim Royle); Ralf Little (Antony Royle); Liz Smith (Norma Speakman); Craig Cash (Dave Best)

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The Royles are a working-class family living in Manchester. Father Jim is unemployed; mother Barbara works in a bakery. Their daughter Denise marries and has a baby but teenage son Anthony still lives at home. Most evenings, they gather around the TV set, occasionally joined by other relatives and friends.

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The Royle Family (1998-2000) restored public and critical confidence in the sitcom in the UK and changed the direction of the genre. The show's popular success ensured that sitcom's supporters could again point out the form's ability to resonate with a mass audience and become a kind of cultural shorthand; by 2000 most of the nation were familiar with Jim Royle's characteristic cry, "My Arse!"

The programme has many elements of the traditional family sitcom but creators Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne set a different course, jettisoning the usual laughter of the studio audience and conventional lighting and acting styles, which might spoil the intimacy of our relations with the Royles. This intimacy comes from the attention to realism - very little actually happens in the show beyond the everyday rhythms of life: TV, dinner, cups of tea and the occasional marriage or birth.

Instead of witty one-liners and funny plots, the jokes are those that people in a family would make about each other. The humour lies in recognition. We understand the truths told about family life and gradually get to know the subtleties of each character, so that we can predict what their responses are going to be. Jim (Ricky Tomlinson) is intelligent, but bitter and idle, berating poor Anthony (Ralf Little) to put the kettle on when he never leaves his own armchair. His wife Barbara (Sue Johnston) is nice but downtrodden, not least by her demanding daughter Denise (Aherne), who has never held down a job, nags husband Dave (Cash) and in the third series, controversially, neglects her baby.

The family's quirks are brought into relief by deftly drawn supporting characters, particularly Barbara's wily but repetitive mother Norma (Liz Smith) and Denise's put-upon friend Cheryl (Jessica Stevenson). As in all the best sitcoms, there is a darkness underlying the laughter. An undercurrent of bullying, neglect and disappointment runs through that front room but, as Aherne has said, there is a lot of love there too. The series has great respect for ordinary people and their lives and a belief that they are both interesting and funny.

Aherne found fame hard to deal with and ended the show at the height of its success. The new expectations The Royle Family had created for the comedy audience have allowed other British sitcoms to dispense with a studio audience and play for quieter, uneasier laughs.

Phil Wickham

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Video Clips
1. The blushing bride (2:10)
2. A bit of a state (2:15)
3. A father-daughter moment (0:49)
Complete episode (28:45)
Bread (1986-91)
Aherne, Caroline (1963-)
Hynes, Jessica (1972-)
Smith, Liz (1921-)
Tomlinson, Ricky (1939-)
The Sitcom Family