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Desmond's (1988-94)

Courtesy of Channel 4 Television

Main image of Desmond's (1988-94)
Humphrey Barclay Productions
6 series of 30 min episodes (70 in total) plus final 60-minute episode
WritersTrix Worrell
 Joan Hooley
ProducersHumphrey Barclay
 Charlie Hanson

Norman Beaton (Desmond Ambrose); Carmen Munroe (Shirley Ambrose); Ram John Holder (Porkpie); Gyearbour Asante (Matthew); Kim Walker (Gloria)

Show full cast and credits

The varied lives of Peckham barber shop proprietor Desmond Ambrose, his wife Sheila, three children and assorted locals and regulars.

Show full synopsis

Broadcast by Channel 4 between 1989 and 1995, Desmond's followed the exploits of Desmond Ambrose (Norman Beaton), and the cast of characters who inhabited his South East London barbershop, including his loving wife, Shirley (Carmen Munroe), children Gloria (Kim Walker), Sean (Justin Pickett) and Michael (Geoff Francis), West Indian layabout Porkpie (Ram John Holder) and Matthew (Gyeabuor Asante).

The show was the brainchild of St. Lucia-born writer Trix Worrell and produced by Charlie Hanson (who also produced Channel 4's first Black sitcom No Problem!, 1982-85) and Humphrey Barclay. While not the first sitcom on British TV to primarily focus on Black characters, the show was significant in being based in the workplace. Unlike The Fosters (ITV, 1976-77), which featured both Beaton and Munroe but focused on family relationships within a domestic situation, here the protagonists are seen as upwardly-mobile members of a multicultural Britain.

The comedy, too, is noticeably more sophisticated. Worrell wanted to create distinct characters and move away from the racial stereotypes seen in earlier sitcoms like Curry and Chips (ITV, 1969) and Mixed Blessings (ITV, 1978-80). He was also keen to highlight differences within African-Caribbean society, as illustrated by the characters' repeated jokes at the expense of eternal African student Matthew.

Though often compared to American sitcom The Cosby Show, Desmond's has an overriding British sensibility to its humour, for example with the tensions between the vaguely superior attitudes of eldest son Michael, who works in a bank, and the rest of his family and the other denizens of the barbershop. Consequently, the show was a crossover mainstream success, and also proved popular in the Caribbean and the US, where it was shown on the Black Entertainment Television Network.

Sadly, Norman Beaton died shortly after filming ended on the final series in 1995, but such was the show's popularity that it spawned a spin-off sitcom, Porkpie (Channel 4, 1995-96), which followed the adventures of the titular character as he attempts to come to terms with the life after winning the lottery. It is a testament to the popularity of the characters created by Worrell that between them the two shows produced seven series, totalling 83 episodes, and remained on air for over eight years.

Ali Jaafar

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Can't Buy Me Love (part 1) (14:07)
2. Can't Buy Me Love (part 2) (09:03)
Production stills
Fosters, The (1976-77)
Barclay, Humphrey (1941-)
Beaton, Norman (1934-1994)
Hammond, Mona
Holder, Ram John (1934-)
Munroe, Carmen (1932-)
Worrell, Trix (1960-)
Black TV Writers
Channel 4 Comedy
Channel 4 at 25
Race and the Sitcom
The Sitcom Family