More TV Memories – Sitting Pretty.

Sitting Pretty (BBC1, 1992-1993)

This is an example of a 90s sitcom that is now little-remembered that was on BBC1, not ITV like the ones that I usually feature here, but you’ll soon see why I found its story rather interesting. By the early-90s, John Sullivan had become one of Britain’s most successful comedy writers, being behind such shows as Citizen Smith, Just Good Friends, and of course Only Fools And Horses.

So there was much anticipation when it was announced that Sullivan was going to do another new sitcom, which would launch on BBC1 in 1992. It did have something of a “how could it possibly fail” element to it, and there was little doubt that these characters would soon become as well-known to viewers as Del Boy and Rodney, but would that really happen?

Sitting Pretty starred Diane Bull (who also sang the theme song) as Annie Briggs, who had been a model in the 60s, and was now married to a rich businessman and lived in a mock-Tudor house (in a link to Only Fools And Horses, he was played by John “Boycie” Challis, although we only hear him on the phone in the first episode). I remember that when I planned to review this show, I asked someone on Twitter if they knew about it, and then they contacted Boycie himself to ask if he remembered it, and not only did he, he also quoted the show’s catchphrase, which I thought was rather good. vlcsnap-00969

After her husband dies suddenly, Annie has to go back and live with her parents on their small farm in Kent, along with her twin sister Sylvie, and her daughter Tiffany. This is a rather big change in her life, and she has to adjust to this much-less glamorous lifestyle. Annie’s catchphrase (which would soon become very popular, honest) was “phenomenal”, which was said just 2½ minutes into the first episode, and then about every five minutes after that. vlcsnap-00970

But what really stood out to me about the show was that Annie thought of herself as “the Jackie Onassis of Bethnal Green”. Now wait a moment, because this is where I live in London, and often hearing it referenced in a prime-time comedy show was rather odd, but I was so proud of course. Because of this, around the time the show was on TV, maybe in 1992 or 1993, something rather great happened. vlcsnap-00973

Someone had the rather clever idea to have Diane Bull turn on the Christmas lights in Bethnal Green for that year. This means that because I was there for that occasion I have seen the woman herself, making her one of the few TV personalities that I have seen for real, because as you should know by now I’ve never had much of a desire to meet my heroes because I would be so overawed. vlcsnap-00979

There were two series of Sitting Pretty, but they weren’t really that big a success, and by Sullivan’s high standards, it was something of a surprise flop. Diane Bull didn’t appear on TV much after this, and she died in 1998, age 46. I’m fairly sure the show hasn’t been released on DVD either (well I definitely don’t own it), and it didn’t enter the cycle of repeat channels such as what was UK Gold. A shame as it was proper cushty.

The Comedy Vault – special bonus edition!

When I was watching the sitcom The Mighty Boosh again recently, I remembered that there was a reference to Bethnal Green in an episode. Now this is the part of London that I live in, and I always find it surprising to hear a reference on the TV. I started to think about how many other comedy shows feature a reference. I don’t know why it seems to turn up so frequently, clearly it must be a big cultural reference point. I thought of six comedy shows that reference Bethnal Green, so here they are, although if anyone out there does know of any others, you are welcome to tell me.

Big Train. This was the odd BBC2 sketch show from the makers of Father Ted. There is a sketch in the second series that is a parody of detective drama shows, where Mark Heap’s character says “Bethnal Green”. Well to hear one of my favourite comic actors say that right in front of everyone, I was very pleased. Fame at last! vlcsnap-01181

The Mighty Boosh. There is a reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom when Vince (played by Noel Fielding) is trying to track down where someone is by using his Celeb Radar. Also around this time, when the show was popular on TV, there were suddenly a lot of people walking around here who seemingly wanted to be Noel, how great. vlcsnap-01150

Goodnight Sweetheart. I’m fairly sure that there is at least one reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom, and that’s because the area where Gary Sparrow time travels to is supposed to be around here, you even see him walk past a branded bin in the first episode. One person pointed out recently that Gary was supposed to live in Cricklewood, and the only reason he ever came here was when he was a TV repair man trying to find an address. So to continue his double life he would have to travel from Cricklewood to here every time to access the portal, which is rather a journey in itself, but you’re not supposed to notice that… vlcsnap-01183

Saturday Live. This pioneering 80s comedy show featured some of the earliest TV appearances by Harry Enfield, and his kebab shop owner character Stavros, who would become very popular with viewers, was always talking about “the Bethnal Green Road”, which is good innit. vlcsnap-01185

Only Fools And Horses. This sitcom needs no introduction, and in the 1989 episode “Chain Gang” none other than Del Boy says “Bethnal Green” near the end of the episode. Isn’t that lovely jubbly. And that isn’t the only sitcom created by John Sullivan to feature a reference… vlcsnap-01186

Sitting Pretty. This was a sitcom that launched on BBC1 in 1992 which was written by John Sullivan. Because his other sitcoms had been so popular with viewers, this show was simply sold as “this can’t fail!”. The main character in the show was Annie, a woman who had been successful in the 60s who had now fallen on hard times, and her character was described by Radio Times as “the Jackie Onassis of Bethnal Green”. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, Annie does say “Bethnal Green”, and also her catchphrase “phenomenal”, which they really thought would catch on, but didn’t. Although Sitting Pretty ran for two series, it wasn’t a big hit with viewers, there has been no DVD release, and it is now considered the low point of Sullivan’s career. Also, because of the Bethnal Green connections, I remember seeing Diane Bull (who played Annie) once when she was chosen to turn on the Christmas lights here one year (I don’t remember what year, either 1992 or 1993 as they were the only years that the show was on BBC1), now that really was phenomenal. vlcsnap-01180

BONUS! Now to go on to pop music. I am aware of at least two pop stars who were born in Bethnal Green who have had UK Number One hit singles, who are Helen Shapiro and Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame. Also, I’m not aware of any UK hit singles featuring Bethnal Green in the lyrics, but again if you know better, you can let me know. And I know I keep going on about this, but I just want to emphasise this again because I still find it unbelievable.

Now imagine that there is a famous pop group who’ve had a Number One single, say for example, Bananarama, and say that they all visited Bethnal Green one day, and the reason that they would do that was because one member of the group had a house here, say Siobhan, who was also in the awesome Shakespear’s Sister, and here was where they became friends again and decided to reform, that would be a great story, but that’s never going to happen is it… oh wait… b10

Now the fact that Sara from Bananarama said “Bethnal Green” in an interview will probably mean nothing to about 99.8% of the readership of Classic Pop magazine where this article appeared, but when I read this I was practically on the floor. But the fact that she said that her and Keren were here because they were round “Siobhan’s house in Bethnal Green“, you remember Siobhan, the woman whose Shakespear’s Sister song “Stay” was at Number One in the UK for almost two months in 1992, the crazy goth woman who appears in the incredible video that I’m sure any early-90s pop music fan has never forgotten even 25 years on, you know, that woman… b9

…well, I was now in a right old state. Discovering that in more recent years she had probably been walking round here (although presumably not dressed like that), and she had a party in her kitchen with her old pop star friends practically around the corner from me simply blew my mind (there’s even a picture of them all together on Twitter and everything), I just can’t believe it really happened. I told you all the cool people live round here didn’t I, aren’t I lucky.