Ever since the suburbs became an architectural staple in postwar Britain, they have been a favourite setting for TV situation comedy. Class distinction is at the core of most British comedy, but why does suburbia make for quite such rich pickings? Is it that the design of suburban streets encourages residents to overlook their neighbours? Is it the people who aspire to live there? Is it that suburbia tends to highlight the smallest eccentricity in its residents? Or is it that boredom and the desire for escape provide a petri dish for funniness? We asked the experts: what factors make for the perfect suburban comedy?
1 SnobberyDavid Nobbs (‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’) ‘The suburbs are where people live to whom appearances and the minor things of life matter. It’s in the suburbs where people try to keep up with the Joneses.’
Maurice Gran (‘Birds of a Feather’) ‘I think suburbia is still aspirational for nearly everyone who doesn’t read Time Out. I think Time Out and the publications you compete with are essentially written for people who aren’t worrying about where to send their kids to school. As soon as that happens, that nice area you go past where the kids don’t get beaten up on the way home looks rather lovely. Anyway, I’d claim the whole world lives in suburbia except for three people in a lift in Clerkenwell.’
'George and Mildred'
Brian Cooke (‘George and Mildred’) ‘Moving George and Mildred to the suburbs (we set it in Hampton Wick, which is a euphemism for penis) gave the opportunity for Mildred to do what she always wanted to do – get in the midst of up-and-coming executives. In “Man About the House” (the original idea for which came from Time Out magazine, by the way) they were living in Belsize Square, which today is very posh. It wasn’t back then, because I used to live there. You could buy a house there for chicken feed, sell up and move to somewhere with a bidet. George didn’t even know what a bidet was. He thought it was something to put your wellies in.’
Phil Cornwell (‘Stella Street’) ‘The suburban setting is very English. I don’t think Americans get it. With the British class system, lower-middle-class is the worst thing to be. It’s better to be either upper class or working class.
You have an identity then. Being middle class and coming from cosy suburbia is such a grey area. It’s coolest to come from the mean streets.’
Sam Bain (‘Peep Show’) ‘There is a kind of snobbery. In “Peep Show” it’s always clear that Mark is the home owner and Jeremy the renter. That’s a big status issue in Mark’s life.’
Roger Beckett (‘Suburban Shootout’) ‘Writing comedy in suburbia has got something to do with spoiling the dream of living in the perfect middle-class environment. Suburban attitudes reside everywhere to a certain degree.’
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