Love Thy Neighbour was another sitcom from the prolific writing team of Vince
Powell and Harry Driver. Perhaps the most often discussed of their
collaborations, it is remembered today not for its massive popularity (it ranked
highly in the ratings throughout its long run), but for what now seems a dated
and distinctly precarious comic premise. Old-school Socialist Eddie Booth is
outraged to discover that his new neighbour, Bill Reynolds, is black, and a
Tory. The racially-motivated antagonism between them was stretched out into
eight series and a feature film, while their wives struggled to create harmony.
While the show is now reviled as the epitome of racist sitcom, the original
intention was ostensibly quite the opposite. Launching the series, the TV Times
proudly announced, "It is about racial prejudice - with a difference. It should
make us laugh a lot... and think a lot, too." But to a large extent, it fails to
do either. Compared to its controversial but more deftly-written precursor, Till
Death Us Do Part (BBC, 1966-75), the characters and scripts of Love Thy
Neighbour are flat, ramshackle, superficial and, because of the often careless
and stereotypical exploitation of the central premise, intermittently offensive.
Though the 1970s studio audience hoots uproariously at every mention of 'sambo'
or 'honky', the comic value of the clumsy and gratuitous slanging matches that
were central to the show is difficult to comprehend today, and it all makes for
The black actors, however, claimed to be happy with the material. Rudolph Walker was
"excited" by the first script: "Here are white men writing for blacks and there
isn't a touch of the Uncle Tom." He claimed that he saw no problem with the
noisy disputes between Eddie and Bill: "My arguments are as silly as his."
In 1976, though still popular, the show was quietly dropped in a cull of
long-running Thames sitcoms, explained by Philip Jones, then Thames's Controller of Light Entertainment in terms of "a duty and a desire to create new shows".
Briefly appearing in Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-) as Stan and Hilda Ogden's
lodger, Jack Smethurst subsequently formed a theatre company that performed at
Butlin's. Walker later appeared in the BBC legal drama Black Silk (1985) before
eventually becoming a regular actor in EastEnders (BBC, 1985-).