BLACK BOOKS. (2000-2004) CREATED BY DYLAN MORAN AND GRAHAM LINEHAN. WRITTEN BY DYLAN MORAN, GRAHAM LINEHAN, ARTHUR MATTHEWS, KEVIN CECIL AND ANDY RILEY.
STARRING DYLAN MORAN, BILL BAILEY AND TAMSIN GREIG.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘I ate all your bees…!’
‘Get back in the worm…!’
‘I only knew her as Ma…!’
‘I want a summer girlfriend.’
‘Military history is to your right…’
‘Have you got The Little Book Of Calm…?’
‘Half Iago, half Fu Manchu, all bastard…!’
‘I can’t help it. He looks like a horse in a man costume…!’
I bloody love this British sitcom. It’s the funniest thing since FATHER TED, which is no mere coincidence as, even though it’s the brainchild of Irish comedian Dylan Moran, it was co-created and co-written by Graham Linehan of FATHER TED.
Yes, yes, I know Graham Linehan is persona non grata at the moment because of things he has said about the transgender movement, but that won’t stop me from enjoying his best work.
BLACK BOOKS is hysterically funny. When I was watching it for the first time, it literally felt to me like discovering FATHER TED back in the ’90s.
When I saw the episode of FATHER TED in which Graham Norton as Fr. Noel Furlong exhorts a caravan-full of young people from the local youth club to start ‘Riverdancing’ and the caravan overturns with their efforts, I laughed till I cried. Not since discovering BLACK BOOKS during the 2020 lockdown has that happened again.
BLACK BOOKS, set in a scruffy London second-hand bookshop (so dirty, in fact, that it abounds with wildlife, a running joke), is the story of the interaction of three main characters in and around this bookshop.
Bernard Black, the proprietor, is ‘that grumpy Irish bastard’ who rarely moves out of his chair behind the desk in the shop. Bernard is to bookshops what Basil Fawlty is to hotel management.
He smokes, drinks and reads non-stop (except for the smoking, I thoroughly approve!), while seeming to hate every aspect of book retail: ordering, buying and replacing books, shop maintenance, book events, the customers. He hates the customers worst of all, and can often be seen throwing them willy-nilly out of the shop at short notice, or even getting them to ‘mind the shop’ while he nips out for a boozy lunch.
Manny Bianco, played by Bill Bailey who’s currently dancing up a storm in STRICTLY COME DANCING on BBC One, comes to work in the shop after accidentally swallowing ‘The Little Book of Calm’ which he purchased in Bernard’s shop.
Bernard desperately needs an accountant to help him to do his books, and Manny hates his current job in an office. Over the course of a drunken night out, Bernard offers Manny a job in the bookshop and a room over the shop to live in. Manny eagerly accepts…
Manny is a breath of fresh air around the shop. A free spirit who wears Hawaiian shirts and sandals, his long-haired and bearded Jesus-like appearance is constantly criticised and made fun of by the rude, anti-social Bernard, who’s of more conservative appearance.
After his first full day in the shop, Bernard fires poor Manny for getting on really well with the customers, selling loads of books and prettying up the shop. You can see what kind of establishment Bernard is trying to run here, can’t you…?
Bernard is persuaded to keep Manny on by Fran Katzenjammer, his best- and only- friend. She’s a thirty-something London woman set in the Bridget Jones mould, who owns the gift shop next door, THE NIFTY GIFTY, until it goes out of business and she’s cast once more into the job market.
Fran and Bernard may have slept together once, but have decided to bury that incident in the past and stay ‘just friends’ instead. Fran immediately takes to Manny as the third point in their newly-established triangle.
She’s not at all afraid to say what she thinks, and she’s the one who bangs Manny and Bernard’s heads together, figuratively speaking, though sometimes literally, when they’re having one of their many fallings-out and differences of opinion.
Manny dotes on Bernard and willingly slaves for him, but even slaves have their limits sometimes, like in the episode where Manny decides to ‘run away’ because of Bernard’s cruel treatment of him, and Fran and Bernard have to go down the cop-shop to report the disappearance of their ‘son…’
‘You could become a terrible event and happen to him…!’
Fran keeps the two lads hilariously updated on her dating woes and forays into the world of gainful employment, and both she and Manny together contrive to keep Bernard from slipping through the cracks of the shop into total anti-social ‘loner-ness.’
They’re good for each other, the three of them, although they enable each others’ smoking and drinking somefink rotten. Still, that’s not our problem, lol. We just want the laughs…!
I love the episode where Manny ‘betrays’ Bernard by going to work for Goliath Books next door and Bernard spies on him through a hole in the wall. Manny doesn’t stay there long, however, as his boss, Evan, brilliantly played by Simon SHAUN OF THE DEAD Pegg, is a tightly-wound control freak who wants Manny, horror of horrors, to shave off his beard and become a clone of Evan’s and his cookie-cutter staff…! Even Bernard won’t stand for that. The very idea! No-one tells Manny what to do but Bernard, lol.
I also love Julian Rhind-Tutt as the ‘charming,’ flowery-sentenced travel writer whom Fran and Manny worship but whom Bernard scathingly condemns as ‘Captain Pants…!’ ‘I bet I can open any page in this book and find a picture of him, sitting smugly on top of a Jeep…!’ (Before himself becoming ‘immolated’ behind a wall of said travel writer and explorer’s charm, of course.)
Other familiar faces that crop up in the sitcom include Annette Crosbie from ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE, Martin Freeman from everything ever made, Johnny Vegas as Fran’s corrupt landlord, Omid Djalili as a pornographic photographer and Rob Brydon. Graham Linehan pops up too in a couple of surreal, Father Ted-style cameos.
There are many more fantastic episodes (eighteen in all; six in each of the three series), for example, the one where Bernard and Manny co-write a children’s book together while Fran goes on a disastrous hen weekend but then have to destroy it because it’s ‘too good,’ or the one in which Manny’s annoying parents, Moo-Ma and Moo-Pa, come to stay with their son in the shop for a few days, and Bernard threatens to call the police if he gets so much as a whiff of ‘nonogenarian hanky-panky…!’ Oh, Bernard, you absolute crank, you.
I’ll leave you with Dylan Moran’s thoughts on real-life second-hand bookshops, which apparently he views as ‘doomed enterprises.’
‘Running a second-hand bookshop is a guaranteed commercial failure. It’s a whole philosophy. There were bookshops that I frequented and I was always struck by the loneliness and doggedness of these men who piloted this death ship.’
Ironically, I’ve always wanted to run my own second-hand bookshop. I think I’d feel really at home amongst the dust and tattered covers and hidden lives, waiting to be uncovered. But now I’m thinking I might just leave it…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.