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Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76)

Courtesy of Fremantlemedia

Main image of Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76)
Thames Television for ITV, 13/04/1972-22/1/1976
54 x 30 mins in 8 series plus 2 specials, colour
Producers includeStuart Allen
 Ronnie Baxter
 Anthony Parker
Writers include Vince Powell
 Harry Driver

Cast: Jack Smethurst (Eddie Booth); Kate Williams (Joan Booth); Rudolph Walker (Bill Reynolds); Nina Baden-Semper (Barbara Reynolds)

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When a West Indian couple, Bill and Barbara Reynolds, move in next door to the white working-class Eddie and Joan Booth, a long-running feud begins.

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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 glum viewing.

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-).

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. The poster (1:57)
2. The bet (3:12)
3. Mistaken identity (3:37)
Complete episode (25:24)
Driver, Harry (1931-1973) and Powell, Vince (1928-2009)
Powell, Vince (1928-2009) and Driver, Harry (1931-1973)
Walker, Rudolph (1939-)
Thames Television
Race and the Sitcom