The death of the sitcom is predicted every year, but perhaps the greatest exponents of the art – Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, writers of Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son – disagree. The two 81-year-olds, appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, expressed their enthusiasm for the genre and predicted that it will continue indefinitely.
“Really, it’s like saying, is there any future in the novel?” said Simpson. “It’s there for ever. Whether people are reading them as books or watching them on these gadgets they have now, the act of writing them will carry on. When Dickens was writing, they didn’t say, do you think it’s got any future? The term sitcom is a bit artificial anyway. It’s just half an hour of telling a story.”
Asked which modern sitcoms they enjoy, Galton and Simpson were quick to name several – accolades that are bound to thrill the writers and stars of the shows in question. “On radio I like Count Arthur Strong,” said Galton. “It’s amazingly funny. You’ve got to listen to the guy [Steve Delaney] – he’s a genius.” Galton named BBC1’s Miranda as his preferred television sitcom. “She’s very good. We’ve got lots of good performers waiting for a hit.”
“Outnumbered is wonderful,” Simpson said. “Hugh Dennis is one of the few comedians who’s also a good actor.”
Galton and Simpson surprised the festival audience by jointly nominating an American sitcom as one they both enjoy: Larry David’s profane, improvised Curb Your Enthusiasm. “It’s brilliant,” Simpson said.
Galton and Simpson may not be writing together any more, but Simpson said they still complement each other: “He helps me up the stairs. I tell him what day it is.”
“The trouble is,” quipped Galton, “he still thinks it’s 1937.”
Radio Times is a media partner of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, which runs until 16 October.