I have recently been unwell. A by-product of this – the waking hours, at least – was finally getting the chance to watch Ghosts, the much-loved BBC sitcom/comedy drama (depending on how your bread is buttered on such distinctions).
Having already enjoyed the first episode previously, I launched in to episode 2, but… it felt like a story in search of a joke. But, keen to learn and with sweet Fanny Adams else to do other than drink too much Lucozade, I persisted. Eventually, through a few amusing scenes and moments (the decision to sell Button Hall at the end of Series 1 was a highlight), I made it to “The Thomas Thorne Affair”.
And suddenly, Ghosts came alive. This episode is one of the funniest things I’ve ever watched, layered with different takes on the same event, and leaving me in tears of laughter in several places. Every member of the cast is note perfect throughout, particularly Katy Wix who gets little to do in the first series, and it realy feels like the show is hitting its stride at this point.
Now what is interesting about that is that the BBC in its infinite wisdom rarely lets comedy shows hit their stride these days. Consider Only Fools and Horses, which ended up running from 1981 to 2003. But the first series was average, and it probably didn’t get into its groove until Delboy Trotter is reinvented as a wannabe Yuppie and Uncle Albert turns up. In those days, comedies had time to grow, something that rarely happens these days.
Single Camera, Multi-camera, Audiences, and Commissioners
A ton of articles have been written online in the past few months and years about this quirk of TV commissioning. Single camera sitcoms are produced, given time to develop, and either explode or die. Multi-camera, studio-based sitcoms – typically with an audience – invariably get short shrift from commissioners, falling into a bizarre grouping of Mrs Brown’s Boys and Not Going Out (two very different shows) vs The World. Very few audience sitcoms – those that we think of when considering classic sitcoms – are commissioned.
Now, it would be pretty difficult to do many of the visual gags in Ghosts with a traditional audience sitcom setting. While some of those could be dropped, I think it would ruin the atmosphere of the show. “The Thomas Thorne Affair,” interestingly, manages to be a fantastic episode without any special FX, but I suspect as I proceed through the series that this will be an outlier.
But why am I so bloody bothered about all of this? Well, Fawlty Towers, Joking Apart, Men Behaving Badly, One Foot in the Grave, Are You Being Served?, ‘Allo ‘Allo… and of course, the perennial Dad’s Army, all classic sitcoms that basically overlap, throwing serious doubt on the idea that “the classics happened over a longer period” that I’ve seen bandied about.
We just don’t get shows like this anymore, and it baffles me why the people running television stations don’t want the audiences and affection that such loved, funny sitcoms generate.
Edgar Rice Paper, Dave Pearl, Guy Jefferson
There’s another reason, of course. Like most people obsessed by sitcoms who also fancy themselves as writers (as opposed, in my case, to someone who writes instructive pieces for magazines and websites), I’ve got a few scripts in my archive.
All but one of them is – in my head at least – a studio-based sitcom. And in a world where such things are not (or rarely) produced, what the hell am I supposed to do with the misadventures of The Riding Officer? Will Dave Pearl ever extricate himself or his sister from their inherited home? And will Guy Jefferson ever escape the clutches of his overbearing daughter?
It seems that in the most, they will probably linger on a hard drive, at least for a few more months. Although, inspired by friends and other writers, I do feel as though there may be something to explore in a self-produced Riding Officer, as an audio production. That’s something I’m not quite ready to do – mainly for logisitical reasons – but is something I’m thinking about more and more.
But before all that, I still need to finish off Mayor Barry Meat’s book. It’s almost done, save for a bit of proofing and design tweaks to mimic the source material better. In fact, I probably have more work to do on the accompanying audiobook and website.
So, is there a route into the world of comedy for me? Well, given my standup career failed before it started, I doubt it. But there might be a route into my own world of comedy, that people are welcome to join me in. It will be silly, rude, 90% sign posted and obvious, but it will be done with love and utter irreverence. Who knows, there might even be a sitcom produced at the end of it.
Probably without an audience, though.
(By the way, I’m pretty certain that Ghosts, while funny, falls into the comedy drama side of the divide. Although that thought might change tomorrow.)