The Royle Family (BBC2, 1998-1999, BBC1, 1999-2000, 2006-2012)
This is a sitcom that started out fairly quietly, before it went on to become one of the most successful of its era. The Royle Family was mostly written by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who previously had some success in the mid-90s working together on BBC2’s chat show parody The Mrs Merton Show. It is one of those shows where it is rather hard to describe what happens, because nothing happens really, it was simply highlighting the lives of ordinary people.
The Royle Family was set in Manchester and mostly concentrated on what the family got up to at home, which was usually just watching the TV and remarking on it. The parents were Jim and Barbara (played by Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston who had previously appeared as a couple on Channel 4’s soap Brookside about 15 years earlier), along with their two children, Denise and Anthony.
Along the way a few other characters regularly appeared, including Barbara’s mother Norma, and Denise’s boyfriend (and later husband) Dave. The next-door neighbours would occasionally turn up too. Even though it seemed like little happened, it was always engrossing to watch, and Jim could always be relied on to get his banjo out to liven up a dull episode, and the character quirks and catchphrases became much imitated and admired.
The Royle Family is one of those shows that I didn’t see that much of at the time, once again I discovered the show by watching some episodes late at night on the great digital channel UK Play, it was a channel that introduced me to so many great comedy shows from this era, and I’m very grateful for that. More recently, the show has been repeated endlessly on Gold, people just want to see it again and again.
By the end of the second series, the show had become so popular that the third series moved to BBC1. It continued to intrigue, but then that was the end. However, because the show continued to be held in affection by viewers, after a long gap, The Royle Family began to return for one-off specials, mostly at Christmas, seemingly filling the gap where Only Fools And Horses used to go as a long-running and much-loved show that now only turned up once a year to please us.
Some viewers felt that these specials weren’t as good as the regular series, although it was always nice seeing some familiar faces doing their thing again (so I suppose the show ended up like Only Fools And Horses in that respect too), and the final special was in 2012. The Royle Family also won many awards and highlighted Aherne and Cash as talented comedy writers, and all of the 25 episodes have been released on DVD.
One other notable thing about The Royle Family was that after it ended, Aherne and Cash went on to narrate the Channel 4 series Gogglebox, and I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence as this was also a show that mostly featured people watching the TV and commenting on what they saw, although I’ve not really ever watched it much myself. As it approaches its 20th anniversary, The Royle Family remains held in high regard.