Bringing back classic sitcoms will earn the BBC plenty of criticism - and plenty of viewers too
One-off returns for shows like Are You Being Served?, Porridge, Keeping Up Appearances and Goodnight Sweetheart could lead to big audiences and probably some full series, says Mark Jefferies
Ever since the BBC announced a landmark classic sitcom season there have been murmurings of negativity in the media and in online forums.
And I have no doubt when the season starts on 28th August, social media won’t be kind to many of the remakes.
In many ways Shane Allen, the BBC’s controller of comedy commissioning, is taking his biggest risk yet after three years in the job – ironically, by remaking some safe and family friendly comedy and putting it on screen before the watershed.
But having now watched several of the episodes and heard him discuss the season I think I understand why.
The originals of these comedies are held dear in people’s memories, but that is not to say that many won’t enjoy the new versions.
Shane said: “Sometimes there is a trend in comedy to do the new and the pioneering and to forget there are these great writers and voices that the audiences want. There is a nostalgia there.
“My happiest memories growing up are watching sitcoms with my family. Our job in comedy more than ever is to cheer everyone up after all the miserable drama and the harrowing news – that is what we are here for, to create a bit of joy.
“This is a season about comedy writing. People might think it is sacrilegious to go back to these old classics, and this is going to sound pretentious, but you can re-do Pinter seasons and Chekhov. It is about the power of the writing and these comedies stand the test of time.”
At a London screening of Young Hyacinth – the Keeping Up Appearances prequel – it was clear that Kerry Howard as a teenage Hyacinth was perfectly cast.
The comedy was not edgy or modern, but reminded me of the original show. And for the millions that found the series funny in the early 90s this could easily be a hit. Not all comedy needs to be cool.
On that topic, Shane explained: “Mrs Browns Boys is an interesting example, because Brendan O’Carroll describes it as comedy for the audience comedy forgot. Post The Office there was this thing where studio comedy was dead and everything needed to be single camera and naturalistic but I think there is room for everything.”
Another example that comes to mind is Still Open All Hours. A sequel to Open All Hours with original cast member David Jason, it aired at Christmas in 2013 to fairly harsh reviews on the whole.
But along with those reviews came an audience of 9.4 million and now several series have been made off the back of that one-off.
There are lots of remakes, prequels and sequels in the sitcom season, which runs from 28th August to 16th September, and clearly not all of them are going to work brilliantly.
But the BBC is catering for the masses and once the moaning about ruining classics has died down I am pretty sure a couple of these shows will become series with big audiences like Still Open All Hours.
And for Shane Allen and the BBC, that will make the criticism a lot easier to take.
Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor at the Daily Mirror and co-edits the TV Column Square Eyes
The BBC Landmark Sitcom Season runs across all four BBC TV channels from 28th August until 16th September