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20th November 2020

Comedy shows are still caught up in class, we need to stop laughing

Fuse TV’s Tom Grant explores how comedy TV has influenced and reflected British politics and class stereotypes, and asks whether we should really still be laughing
Comedy shows are still caught up in class, we need to stop laughing
Photo: Pxfuel

New Labour, which was voted in during the 1997 General Election, changed the political spectrum of the end of the millennium, and it’s no surprise considering some of our best-loved comedy shows blatantly advertised it in every way they could.

Whether you watched The Vicar of Dibley on the BBC or Cold Feet on the other side, the writing of the time truly reflected the socio-economic background of the UK. Victoria Wood’s BBC One comedy drama Dinnerladies showcased the plight of funding cuts at the same time the wonderful Geraldine Granger was telling her elderly congregation not to vote Conservative in The Vicar of Dibley.

The Class Comedy Collection in the BBC’s archives dabbles in a small selection of video clips from many of the best-loved series of the last century. From Keeping Up Appearances to Only Fools and Horses, the collection seems to play on a classic idea of stereotypes that we still seem to find amusing today.

Yes, Keeping Up Appearances does showcase the rather upper class Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet), and her daily struggles in trying to be not only the woman in demand, but also the woman in the know. The clip which apparently comes under the category of ‘class comedy’ is her answering the phone, calling herself the ‘lady of the house,’ and repeatedly telling callers she is not the number to a Chinese takeaway. Oh how I crease.

This can barely compare to Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash’s wonderfully written The Royle Family. However, to my surprise, this isn’t included in the ‘class comedy’ section.

Why not? Why would a working class family, who work to be able to smoke more than 50 a day, not be considered a class act?

They are, at the end of the day, the apparent epitome of a working class household in the 1990s, huddled around the television and only caring about what their recently married daughter was cooking for her husband that night.

I guess you could say that both these families, the Buckets and the Royles, were pretty much stereotypes, and not only of their class. Where should a working-class sitcom be set other than Manchester? And the Buckets, I hear you ask? Well, of course it’s set in the beauty of Warwickshire.

This is no distant cry from the beautiful fictitious town of Dibley, a rather peaceful village in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside, where the nineties comedy classic The Vicar of Dibley was set. The ever-so controversial female vicar Geraldine Granger, played by comedy legend Dawn French, basically ordered her mostly geriatric congregation not to vote for the Tories, and instead welcome the New Labour dawn of ’97.

And still more than a decade later, we all found amusement in Catherine Tate’s school-girl character Lauren, and Matt Lucas’ school-girl-turned-young-mum Vicky Pollard. Their London-esque accents linked together with their no-work attitude really highlighted the best that the UK has to offer. All because of their stereotypical working class characteristics.

There is a serious class divide in Britain, and it only needs to be shown in documentaries which highlight the plight of our governments past. It isn’t a joke that the Royles were eating canned fruit, nor that the Trotters in Only Fools and Horses were desperately scrabbling for cash. Even our soaps have dabbled in living life on the breadline as EastEnders‘ Bianca Butcher and her family were forced onto the street. This serious issue lies at the heart of politics, and our comedy shows should really be a world away from that. However, true life can sometimes be more hilarious than it’s serious.

We may laugh, we may cry, but the true matter here is that we need to stop observing and do something.

These programmes were thankfully praised for their genuine comedy, but the heart of the programmes were filled with politics. Twenty years on from the release of The Royle Family, people still live like that on a daily basis, and I’m sure many were the double of Vicar Gerry when it came to voting in recent elections.

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