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BBC vows to banish old sitcoms

TITTER YE NOT - the BBC is no longer amused by the sight of trousers falling down in front of a vicar. Comedies that rely on "suburban sofas and knitted pullovers" are to be banished from the screen.

Peter Salmon, the controller of BBC1, announced a new pounds 30m investment in situation comedy yesterday, but promised to update a genre he admitted had been a weakness in recent years. "There are two things the public currently seem to like more than anything else," Mr Salmon told the Broadcasting Press Guild. "One is watching sitcoms, the other is saying how terrible they are.

"I am the net-curtain comedy killer," added Mr Salmon. "The man who took out a contract on suburban sofas, knitted pullovers, and will finally do for some of those dreary 1950s scenarios that have infected too many British comedies."

Mr Salmon said the channel was looking for comedies that "owed more to Coronation Street and The Simpsons than to Ealing comedies and Carry On films".

He did not name the comedies that would be scrapped. But types of show like Next of Kin, where Penelope Keith played a reluctant grandmother, and A Prince Among Men, a comedy about social- climbing starring Chris Barrie, had had their day, he said. Both shows have ended. Mr Salmon pointed to the new Victoria Wood show, Dinner Ladies, which attracted an audience of 11 million when it began last week, as an example of a new wave of sitcoms planned for the channel.

The pounds 30m is a 50 per cent increase on last year and there are a large number of new projects in the pipeline. After making The Royle Family for BBC2, Caroline Aherne is returning as Mrs Merton, in a show called Mrs Merton and Malcolm. It will be set in her Stockport home rather than showing her interacting with a studio audience.

There is to be a new historical comedy called Let Them Eat Cake, set in pre- revolutionary France, starring Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. The Alan Davies Show, on Radio 4, is transferring to television.

Mark Addy, one of the stars of The Full Monty, is making the BBC's first American-based sitcom. In Too Much Sun he will play a debauched British actor in Hollywood.