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Best British Comedy Shows - The Royle Family

Updated on June 29, 2013

Best of British Comedy - The Royle Family

In 1998 whilst she was making a series of Dinner Ladies, Victoria Wood, one of Britain's best comedy writers watched The Royle Family on TV.

She described it later as the moment she knew that British comedy, and especially sitcom was moving in a new direction and with a heavy heart she realised that Dinner Ladies was going to look very old fashioned in comparison with The Royle Family.

She completed that series but made no more, comedy was different from now on.

The Royle Family, it might shock those in other parts of the world to know, is basically a story about a family who mainly sit in their pokey living room watching TV, talking, arguing and drinking cups of tea.

Occasionally, it gets as dramatic as them all eating a chocolate biscuit at the same time or talking about what they've had for tea. Jim Royle might occasionally splash out on a bottle of pomagne or fish and chips (though, this is very rare, Jim is a pretty stingy bloke). The Royle Family makes us look at the little things in our lives and appreciate them, poke fun and them, laugh at them.

No, I'm not kidding! The Royle Family was a comedy of manners about most of the British working-class public. It was true to life - most of us do sit in our houses with our families and chat on about this and that don't we? Often real life is uneventful but interspersed with laughter (and sometimes tears).

So what made it one of the most watched British TV comedies of all time? This is where it gets more interesting.

Caroline Aherne - comedy writer and genius?
Caroline Aherne - comedy writer and genius?

Introducing Caroline Aherne

When Caroline Aherne did an IQ test in her teens, the score revealed that she was, statistically, a genius.

Caroline is still amused by that IQ test now but anyone who comes into contact with her understands the way she is able to make almost anything very funny.

Sue Johnson who starred as Barbara Royle commented in her autobiography 'Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother' that working with Aherne is a comedic education; Aherne knows what is funny, she understands that changing two or three words in a sentence can make an enormous difference between viewers smiling or howling with laughter.

Aherne understands camera angles and comic timing but best of all she hand-picked her co-stars so well that by the end of the first episode, you really believed they were all related to one another.

Ricky Tomlinson in his best togs
Ricky Tomlinson in his best togs
Ricky Tomlinson as Jim Royle, full-time scruff.
Ricky Tomlinson as Jim Royle, full-time scruff.
The Royle Family's Jessica Hynes
The Royle Family's Jessica Hynes

"Jim Royle..My Arse"

Ricky Tomlinson plays Jim Royle, who for every show wears exactly the same polo-shirt and scruffy jeans. He is a dad who openly criticises his children and many a withering look has passed across his face as Denise reveals that she has made Dave his favourite tea "Spaghetti."

"Ooh, lovely Denise." Barbara Royle says (always praising her useless daughter) "Bolognese?"

Denise demures, "Hoops."

"Oh." Barbara says quietly but still encourages her daughter for trying.

So Caroline Aherne has given us a typical working-class council-estate family - they're a decent bunch of people and we learn to love them in spite of their imperfections.

Jim Royle is hilarious - he calls his son 'Lurcio' instead of Anthony because he is tall like Lurch from The Addams Family and tells Anthony that unless he bucks up his ideas he is destined for a life-long job working at McDonalds. Barbara is the opposite of Jim, you can tell she absolutely adores her 2 children, they can do no wrong in her eyes.

Jim Royle also constantly takes the mickey out of his mother-in-law,Norma, played by the wonderful Liz Smith.

The Royle Family have neighbours, Joe and Mary ("Easy to remember, Mary and Joseph like Jesus' mam and dad." as Mary helpfully points out) and their constantly overweight but goodhearted daughter, Cheryl played by 'Spaced' star, Jessica Hynes.

One of their best friends is Twiggy, a local small-time criminal who sells stuff 'off the back of a lorry' bringing them cut-price 'knock off' jeans and "here Cheryl, I'll chuck in a packet of pantypads."

Then there's Anthony's soon to be bound for borstal friend, Darren.

Caroline Aherne wrote The Royle Family with her co-star, Craig Cash and Henry Normal (then with Carmel Morgan) and she directed the last two series herself because her comedy demanded perfection. She has admitted that every script deserved a finite amount of direction and as she wrote it, she knew what was needed.

The Royle Family At Christmas - Twiggy Comes To Dinner

We enjoyed many a great Christmas with the Royle Family. One year, we even had Denise Royle go into labour and had Jim Royle delivering his grandson into the world on the Royle's bathroom floor!

Twiggy's return from prison in 2008, "Fraud, nothing major." saw his visit the Royle Family unexpectedly on Christmas Eve. He manages to invite himself for Christmas lunch!

I have included the video to illustrate a typical Royle Family day with the addition of Christmas chocolates for Jim (who else eats After-Eights like he does?) and a Santa hat clad Twiggy.

There is some swearing in the video so you have been warned.

A 'snowball' by the way, offered to Twiggy by Barbara is Advocaat with Lemonade and Lime Juice.


Cheryl Comes In For Some Of Jim Royle's Sarcasm

The Royle Family watching telly
The Royle Family watching telly

The Royle Family - The Funniest People

Caroline Aherne was interviewed on Parkinson after the second series of The Royle Family and said some of the funniest people were people she knew - her funny uncle, her hilarious friends and this was her inspiration for The Royle Family.

She wanted to prove that humour was all around us, as human beings we like to be amused and we enjoy laughing. Sometimes, we switch on the TV to make that happen but often, we are in the company of genuinely funny people and they might be our mams, dads, siblings, uncles, aunts or friends.

In the Royle family, the humour is in the audiences recognition of funny things which happen in their own lives -

  • Jim's love of his TV remote control, tea with a drop of whiskey and playing his banjo or ukelele at family parties.
  • Denise Royle's lack of cooking skills, her really, really bad hair extensions, her love of catalogue gear.
  • Nana's need to go into detail about her troublesome bowel movements.
  • Barbara's love of sucking the chocolate off her Penguin biscuits.
  • Cheryl's abysmal weight loss failures and her desperate desire to find a boyfriend - any boyfriend.

All human frailty is an easy target for The Royle Family but what we get most of all is that as humans we all need each other through good and bad and life is full of things we can all laugh at.

It has humour but is has poignancy too - Caroline Aherne at her best shows us both sides of family life, the laughter and sometimes, the tears and then she turns the tears back to laughter.

The Royle Family became a huge British hit, millions of viewers tuned in every week to see this funny family sitting on their couch doing nothing - and we loved them.

It shows regularly British satellite comedy channel, GOLD and occasionally a 'special' will appear on the BBC, like the amazing 'Queen of Sheba' which sees Nana being cared for in her final days. That show had me laughing so hard that my sides ached and then crying into my hankie a few moments later.

The Royle Family remains a popular show - and it is a very British comedy but there is rumoured to be a U.S. version on the way with both Aherne and Cash acting as script advisors. Aherne moved to Australia for a few years and wrote a hit comedy 'Dossa and Joe' which was quite successful.

She continues to write and rumour has it that The Royle Family will return with a new series this year! I can't wait.

Many thanks for reading.

2012 Rotle Family Christmas Special Confirmed

Sue Johnson has confirmed on Digital Spy that there will definitely be a 2012 Royle Family Christmas Special.

This will come as good news to Royle Family fans who were expecting a special last year, only to be disappointed because Caroline Aherne had not finished the script in time.

The Royle Family Christmas Special is likely to be shown at 9pm on Christmas Day.


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