THE ROYLE FAMILY. (1998-2000 and 2006-2012.) STARRING CAROLINE AHERNE, CRAIG CASH, SUE JOHNSTON, RICKY TOMLINSON, RALF LITTLE, LIZ SMITH, DOREEN KEOGH, PETER MARTIN, JESSICA HYNES, ANDREW WHYMENT, TOM COURTENAY, HELEN FRASER AND GEOFFREY HUGHES.
THEME MUSIC: HALF THE WORLD AWAY BY OASIS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is such a genius sitcom. It’s warm, hilariously witty, down-to-earth and the genius part is that it’s based on such a simple premise, ie, a bunch of working-class folks from Manchester sitting round on a family couch in front of the telly, just talking shite-talk to each other.
‘Whatcher ‘ave for your tea, Dave?’ and ‘You’ll never guess who was in’t Chinese last night?’ Stuff like that, the shite-talk we talk with our families and friends every day. It might not be earth-shattering, but it’s the stuff of which everyday life is made up.
Caroline Aherne as Denise Royle is pure comic genius. Denise is lazy in the extreme, which means that she and her work-shy Dad Jim Royle are like two peas in a pod. She chain-smokes and she can sink a pint as well as her dad and her hubby Dave, and she’s not one to let impending marriage and motherhood tie her down. ‘I’ve gotter keep me independence, Mam…!’ (How many times does she palm them kiddies off on ‘er mam and dad…?)
Dave, a removals man and sometimes-disc jockey, is completely under Denise’s thumb. If he has any ambitions in life beyond slouching on the Royles’ couch eating one of Denise’s mam’s bacon butties, he keeps it well hidden. (Well, Denise doesn’t feed him, lol. That’s apparently not part of her remit as Dave’s missus…!)
He enjoys a pint or fifteen of a night, down the Feathers with his main man Jim Royle, and if he should happen to bump into his ex there, Beverly Macca with the great big knockers, well, he’d best keep schtum about it, that’s all, or Our Denise’ll ‘ave his testicles for ping-pong balls. She will an’ all, our Dave…!
Our Mam, or Barbara Royle, is like Marge Simpson from The Simpsons. She medicates her brood with food, an endless assembly line of grub to cork their cryholes, everything from the aforementioned bacon butties to a Christmas dinner big enough to feed all outdoors to a Kit-Kat or a Bounty bar with your cup of char.
She didn’t exactly draw James Bond or Prince Rainier of Monaco in the lottery of marriage, but she seems to be holding up okay under it. She loves her kids and grand-kids and a bit of gossip, but some of her hubby Jim’s grottier habits turn her stomach, and no wonder.
Jim is a character. His armchair in the family living-room is his throne, and from here he holds his court, and holds forth also, on every subject under the sun. And, to every subject under the sun, from having to pay 5p for a plastic carrier bag at the shops to Dave’s dad’s owning a Ford Mondeo, he says ‘My arse…!’ It’s sort of his catch-phrase, if you will. When he opens his wallet, the Queen declares a Bank Holiday, and he’ll have to be buried with his TV remote control, it means that much to him.
Antony Royle, aka Our Ant’ny, is Jim’s son and heir, though you wouldn’t think it, the abuse Jim gives him, calling him gayboy and Lurch from the Addams Family and yeh lazy sod and yeh lazy git and get up there and make yer sodding family a brew…! But Our Ant’ny will grow up to be, of the two Royle offspring, the more successful and dynamic, ending up going to conferences in Congleton and other such high-flying places, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jim Royle.
If you enjoyed Big Brother in the 2000s, you’ll love Our Ant’ny’s impersonations of Craig Phillips, the winner of series one of the show, nominating fellow contestant Sada in the diary room scenes. Our Ant’ny’s a big Ali G fan too, and he and his hilariously funny dopey mate Darren, aka Kirk Sutherland from Coronation Street, have great craic outdoing each other with their classic imitations of same. ‘You is da king of the batty men…!’ Yes, indeed, harrumph, harrumph.
Norma Jean Speakman, or Nanna Royle, is a canny old dear. When she practically strips her dear dead friend Elsie’s house of ‘a few bits’ that she has her gimlet eye on after the funeral, you can see why Liz Smith was asked to play Mrs. Dilber in not one but two screen versions of Charles Dickens’s perennial favourite story, A Christmas Carol…! Still, she gives Our Ant’ny three pounds when he goes up to London for the day to be a big music mogul, so she can’t be all bad.
Norma and her son-in-law Jim fight like cat and dog, but they love each other really, as we see in the truly gut-wrenching special episode The Queen of Sheba in which… gasp, sob, sniffle… Nanna Dies. And this is meant to be comedy, lol…! Remember when Nanna asks her daughter Barbara back in 1999 if she (Nanna) is definitely ‘staying over for Minnelium Night…?’ It’s one of my most enduring memories of the late ’90s and early ‘Noughties.
Mary and Joseph (Mary and Joseph, lol!) from next door are always popping in the back door, Irish Mary to swap bits of gossip with Barbara and to ‘have a bit of a sniff around to see if she can smell anything untoward’ after Dave treks dog muck in on his shoe, and the monosyllabic Joe to make such magnificent pronouncements as ‘A little baby…!’ when Denise announces that herself and Dave are expecting a visit from the Stork.
Mary and Joseph’s one child, their daughter Cheryl (not Jesus!), is always unsuccessfully on a diet, always hungry and always stuffing her face. She’s always on the hunt for a bloke too. That time she tries putting an ad in the personals and Lomper from The Full Monty, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and a tie, ends up on the Royle family couch between Cheryl and a practically prone Our Denise so that the Royles can give him the once-over is so pricelessly funny. Uncomfortable is not the word.
My favourite character is Twiggy. A big bear of a man with a heart of pure gold, he can sell you anything in the world your little heart desires, but just give him some time to rob it first, right? He only sees his son Lee when they both end up in the same nick together at the same time and, if there’s any free grub going round at his great mate Jim’s house, you can be sure that Twiggy’ll be first in line. ‘Our Ant’ny, put some bacon under for Twiggy, would you?’
The Royles do Christmas so well. It’s that kind of magical Christmas from the ’90s and the 2000s when mobile phones were still a novelty and shops, horror of horrors, did occasionally close and allow families some time to veg out on the couch together and watch The Snowman while pigging out on turkey sandwiches and Quality Street.
Back then, of course, Quality Street choccies came in a proper tin. A tin, mark you, and none of this plastic tub or even plastic pouch shite. Pouch, my arse…! Sigh. Don’t even get me started on how much our favourite sweets and chocolates have changed since the ’90s.
My two favourite episodes are Christmas ones. One is the one where Emma, Our Ant’ny’s preggers girlfriend, brings her well-to-do parents round to meet the Royles one Crimbo Night, and everyone ends up goggling at the breast implants that Roger (John Henshaw) has bought for his blonde wife, Valerie (Sharon Duce).
Nanna develops quite the girl-crush on Valerie, but she’s really curious to know first if the airline’s advised Valerie if her new titties have been cleared for take-off. Then, when it’s pull-a-cracker time, Nanna was ‘hoping for Valerie’ to be her cracker buddy. It’s just so funny.
Then, finally, there’s my favourite episode of all, the one where Denise goes into labour at Christmas-time and everyone rushes off down the ‘ospital with her. The camera pans round the empty living-room, empty of people but full of Christmas, with the lights and the tree and the cards and the telly and the couch.
That heavenly couch ‘upstairs’ has quite a few Royle behinds settled on it by now, sadly. The wonderful Caroline Aherne, Liz Smith, Doreen Keogh and Geoffrey Hughes are all deceased now. No doubt they’ll be joined by other cast members in the fullness of time. We’ll always have our memories of them, and the three series and four Christmas specials of this magnificent sitcom that captured so brilliantly the essence of the ’90s and the new ‘minnelium.’ All together now: Sitcom, my arse…!
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:
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