The Comedy Vault – Shelley.

Shelley (ITV, 1979-1984, 1989-1992)/The Return Of Shelley (ITV, 1988)

This is one of the most successful ITV sitcoms of its era, running for over a decade, and several series. Although there were other cast members who came and went over the years, Shelley centred around wily Londoner James Shelley, played by Hywel Bennett. This was someone who was rather downbeat, he struggled to find work, and often managed to get through his difficult situations by wittily musing on life.

Every setback that he faced was met with some rather barbed comments, as he tried to carry on, even though he was never sure where he was going to go next. But not everything for him is dull of course. He eventually gets married to Francine, and they have a daughter together. But after having enough of his idling, Francine eventually walked out, and it was at this point that he realised he really had to do something different.

So he decided to travel around the world, bringing the sixth, and what seemed to be final, series to a close. But five years later, he finally came home, meaning that the seventh series was retitled The Return Of Shelley. A lot might’ve changed since then, but somehow, he hasn’t, despite being older. And as he was readjusting to life in Britain, he met a new group of people, who once again were on the receiving end of many a sarcastic putdown.

His ex-wife and daughter had long since moved to Canada. Who’ll return his library books and do his laundry now? Shelley launched in 1979, but the first series was suddenly curtailed because of the epic ITV strike. This meant that viewers didn’t really get the chance to know his quirks until the second series. And just like Never The Twain, another production by Thames, this seemed to be guaranteed to return year after year, finally ending in 1992.

Shelley was created by Peter Tilbury, who also wrote several episodes. After he moved on to work on other sitcoms, the majority were written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who had proved that they were able to make satirical observations, as they were also behind the successful Channel 4 sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey. I must admit that I only really remember watching some of the later episodes, but there’s little doubt that this always good value.

There were 71 episodes of Shelley in ten series, and all of them have been released on DVD. I don’t recall any ever being repeated on ITV3 though, with so many episodes available, you would’ve thought that they could easily fill an afternoon or two with them. Five years after the end of the TV version, there was one more series on BBC Radio 2 in 1997, although this featured a different cast.


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