Retro delights: Man About the House

Man About the House stands somewhere between genius and drivel when it comes to Seventies British sitcom but Brian Viner thinks that in many ways it may have been the most successful show
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The Independent Culture

There are some who say that the 1970s, which brought us Porridge, Fawlty Towers and Rising Damp, represented the golden age of situation comedy; others cite On The Buses, Love Thy Neighbour and Mind Your Language as reasons to reject the idea unequivocally. Man About the House stands somewhere between these extremes: by no means a Porridge-like work of genius, it was nevertheless a skilfully crafted sitcom that deservedly enjoyed huge popularity, except in my friend Jonny Cook's house, where it was banned along with the rest of ITV's output.

Jonny's father considered ITV "a bit council estate" and would have felt vindicated by the Man About the House credits, had they ever rolled in the Cook household. To symbolise the subject-matter of a man, Robin (Richard O'Sullivan), sharing a flat with two women, Chrissy and Jo, the credits featured not only two sets of ladies underwear and a pair of Y-fronts, but also two cats and a chicken. You didn't have to be a hormone-crazed adolescent at the time, although I was, to appreciate what at the time passed for unusually daring innuendo (two pussies and a cock, if I have to spell it out).

The writers, Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, had great if somewhat predictable fun with the concept of a ménage-a-trois, and the characters and situations appealed (except to Mr Cook) across a range of generations. For schoolboys, it was as mandatory to decide who you fancied more, Chrissy (Paula Wilcox) or Jo (Sally Thomsett), as it was to wonder whether you would pick the blonde or the dark one from Abba, in the highly improbable event of being offered the choice. For the record, I preferred Chrissy, not least because Thomsett had only a few years earlier played the decidedly unfanciable middle child, Phyllis, in The Railway Children. Our parents, meanwhile, got their laughs from the landlords downstairs, the libidinous Mildred Roper (Yootha Joyce) and her weedy husband George (Brian Murphy).

Unlike some 1970s sitcoms, Man About the House has not really endured: perhaps it was too much a product of its time. Yet in some ways it can proudly claim to have been the most successful British sitcom ever, spawning not one but two popular spin-offs – George and Mildred and Robin's Nest. In America, where it was re-made as Three's Company, the same thing happened: between them, The Ropers and Three's a Crowd ran for years.