Right of Reply: Richard Briers
Friday 27 November 1998
to attacks on the situation comedy
I WAS amused to read that Peter Salmon, the controller of BBC1, thinks that the traditional sit com is a "dreary Fifties' scenario", and that he has decided to "take out a contract on suburban sofas and knitted pullovers".
Speaking for myself, I have delivered some of my best lines in just such knitwear sitting on those very suburban soft furnishings! I think that Mr Salmon has missed the point about what makes for a funny sit com.
A good sit com does not rely simply on its format, or what an actor happens to be wearing: it depends on its writing and I may modestly add, the acting too. You only have to look the audiences for repeats of shows like The Good Life, written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, or The Likely Lads, (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais), or Dad's Army (David Croft and Jimmy Perry), to appreciate the enduring strengths of the old formats. It is hard to think of something less contemporary than, say, the wartime Home Guard. Here we had superb teams with wit and intelligence who created timeless characters, and who explored pomposity, foolishness, jealousy and a score of other themes. And what could be more traditional or funnier than One Foot in the Grave?
Of course, there have been some terrible comedies put out in the name of traditional sit com. But we have also had to witness some new types that are no funnier. Even Men Behaving Badly, for example, takes a little too antagonistic an attitude to the viewer.
Comedy is lot harder to write than drama or soaps. If Mr Salmon doesn't want to find himself in ever decreasing circles, he should have a long hard think about how he proposes to encourage good writers, and forget about jumpers and furniture.
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