Sex and the Sitcom: Ooh, er missus

Sex and the Sitcom examines how British sitcoms have dealt with the subject that brought Mary Whitehouse out in hives. This programme gave me pangs of nostalgia, particularly with regard to Butterflies and the wonderful Wendy Craig’s never-to-be consummated affair with Leonard. After the relentlessly male perspective of sexuality in sitcoms such as On the Buses and Casanova 73, it’s clear Carla Lane’s arrival resulted in a really interesting era of sitcoms with complicated and fascinating women characters. I watched every episode of Butterflies as a child, and somehow got caught up in colluding with the men, her boys and husband, that Ria was a bit daffy and a lousy cook. Now, watching a clip of it as an adult, I get a much sharper sense of her longing for something of her own, a relationship where she can feel attractive, noticed, away from the pleasant but stultifying home life where she’s endless washing Y fronts.

There were many other gems in this programme. I’d forgotten how refreshing the arrival of Agony was, with Maureen Lipmann and two lovely gay men (first in a British sitcom not to be Mr Humphreys camp or Frankie Howerd ‘straight’). I never had any interest in watching Men Behaving Badly, so I missed out on the ‘radical’ airing of porn mags and ‘sticky tissue on the face’ of Caroline Quentin Christmas Special wank scandal. I feel sure I can survive the disappointment (I should point out that I do rather love Martin Clunes in general, just not in this).

The programme featured intelligent, thoughtful between-clip discussions by some fine comedy writers, such as Simon Nye, Carla Lane and David Nobbs. Much was said about how British sitcoms traditionally relied on male characters who are somewhat inadequate, stuck, unable to communicate, and never able to have sex with the women that they fantasize about. And even if they do get the girl, they don’t actually know what to do with her. This was beautifully illustrated by a clip of the magnificent Leonard Rossiter being led by the hand to the bedroom, looking terrified, by Audrey from Corrie, in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

And an interesting fact I learnt – that Idris Elba appeared, as a tasty bit of trouser, in an episode of Ab Fab.

Posted by Inkface


Filed under Comedy, Documentaries

4 responses to “Sex and the Sitcom: Ooh, er missus

  1. Qwerty

    Inky we are one and the same. I too watched every episode of Butterflies; it were marvellous. (And also had no interest in Men Behaving Badly, despite liking Martin C and fancying Neil M). Did you know that Wendy Craig was on Desert Island Discs in 1971 and her luxury item was a toothbrush? (I can stop using this archive any time I like, okay? I am In Control.)

  2. Hmmmmm

    Think I will try and watch this on iplayer. Very nostalgic thinking of Butterflies. Slightly tainted for me by my mum’s resemblance to Wendy Craig and her similar yearnings, followed shortly after by divorce from my father. Gave rather too many layers of meaning to the show. I also remember Agony being very feisty.

  3. pauseliveaction

    I find Butterflies to be even better when I watch it now than when I first saw it – I think the first time around I was too young to appreciate the subtle poignancy of it. It’s astonishingly well-written and acted – you feel empathy for every character.

    Qwerty and Inkface, you should really give Men Behaving Badly a go. It’s very funny, and more sweet and subversive than you probably expect. And Simon Nye is a comedy genius.

  4. inkface

    Sorry to hear about the bad Butterfly associations Hmmmmmm, if indeed that is your real name.

    Well the interesting factette about Simon Nye PLA, is that Qwerty and I know his brother (he lives a stone’s throw from my house).