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Fosters, The (1976-77)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Fosters, The (1976-77)
LWT for ITV, 9/4/1976-9/7/1977
26 x 30 min episodes in two series plus one special, colour
DirectorStuart Allen
ProducerStuart Allen
AdaptationJohn Watkins

Cast: Norman Beaton (Samuel Foster); Lenny Henry (Sonny Foster); Isabelle Lucas (Pearl Foster); Carmen Munroe (Vilma); Lawrie Mark (Benjamin Foster); Sharon Rosita (Shirley Foster)

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The lives of the members of a black family in South London.

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Broadcast over two seasons between 1976-1977 on ITV, The Fosters followed the exploits of a black family living in a tower block in South London. Based on American show Good Times, the show's family was made up of father Samuel Foster (Norman Beaton), mother Pearl Foster (Isabelle Lucas), and children Sonny (Lenny Henry), Benjamin (Mark Lawrie), and Shirley (Sharon Rosita).

The Fosters was the first British sitcom on television to feature an all Black cast, among them a young, up-and-coming Lenny Henry. While fairly tame by today's standards and not overtly political, the show found time to make statements on the conditions of Black families in 1970s Britain. When a Reverand calls on the Foster residence and makes the point that "The Good Lord gives us everything", Benjamin replies "So why does he give white people more, then?"

Samuel Foster is portrayed as an honest man trying to elevate his family, often against the odds. Interestingly the show takes as many sideswipes at the Fosters' local Black community as it does against the implicitly overriding racial odds the family has to work against. In one episode, following Samuel's decision to return a stolen bag full of money to its rightful owners, he is beset by phonecalls and notes through his mailbox all mocking his stupidity.

Other characters chosen for lampooning are a succession of Reverends, many of whom are portrayed as more interested in the size of their collection boxes than in the spiritual wellbeing of their flock.

With the action largely confined to the family's living room, one almosts gets the sense, despite the fact that the show is a comedy, of the social restrictions on them. The final image of the opening credits shows a close-up of the family's imposing tower block home, adding to this feeling of confinement.

It is interesting to compare the series with the later Desmond's (Channel 4, 1989-94). The patriarch in both series is Norman Beaton, however in the latter show he is no longer a humble car wash attendant but the proprietor of his own barbershop business, a sign of some social and financial progression, at least in the eyes of commissioning editors, of Black life in Britain.

Ali Jaafar

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Video Clips
The trouble with money (3:07)
Desmond's (1988-94)
Beaton, Norman (1934-1994)
Henry, Lenny (1958- )
Munroe, Carmen (1932-)
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