Watching Old, UnPC Sitcoms Should Be Part of the National Curriculum

The BBC’s remakes of Till Death Us Do Part and Are You Being Served? are only to be appreciated through the filter of irony. But things like It Ain’t Half Hot Mum weren’t malicious.

I think I might be turning into Alf Garnett. When I was growing up I saw him as an obnoxious, cantankerous, ranting old git that my grandparents’ generation seemed to find funny but who left me cold. Now I’m beginning to identify with him as an unfairly maligned and surprisingly youthful fount of wisdom whose tragedy is to be ignored by maddeningly unsympathetic womenfolk and infuriating kids.

That was my thought, anyway, watching Till Death Us Do Part (Thursday, BBC Four) — a one-off remake of one of Johnny Speight’s original Sixties scripts, with The Fast Show’s Simon Day as Alf. It’s part of a short season, ‘Lost Sitcoms’, commissioned by the BBC to remind us how marvellous it is, this time for having screened the first British TV sitcom, Hancock’s Half Hour, 60 years ago in the summer of 1956.

With typical oversensitivity, the BBC had taken care to find an episode that didn’t have any racist language in it. Alf gets home late from work to discover his tea has been burned because his useless lazy cow of a wife has gone with his feckless daughter to the pictures and just left it under the grill with the gas on low. But instead of showing appropriate contrition, the women just shrug at his entirely justified fury and mock his pitiful attempts to secure himself something to eat.

This is exactly what it is like to be a father. I notice something similar going on in my current favourite sitcom, Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4), about a Jewish family in north London with two appallingly disrespectful sons — one from The Inbetweeners (Simon Bird) and the other from Plebs (Tom Rosenthal). Tamsin Greig is great as the Jewish mum, but the show’s unsung hero is the dad, played Paul Ritter, who spends every episode living in a completely different world from everyone else, thinking distracted thoughts, being continually irritated by intrusive reality, and swearing a lot.

Read the rest at the Spectator.