Break out the posh crisps and fancy glassware – it’s time to raise a toast to TV’s most iconic couch-bound clan
By Charlotte Briggs, Staff Writer
You read that right. This month marks 25 years since the Royles first gloriously slumped onto our screens and changed telly forever. Created by Craig Cash and the late Caroline Aherne, The Royle Family captured the titular unit’s everyday antics in all their mundane splendour, and instantly captured the hearts of viewers.
Patriarch Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson), his wife Barbara (Sue Johnston), their son Antony (Ralf Little), daughter Denise (Aherne) and her boyfriend, later husband, Dave (Cash), all loved nothing more than sitting in front of the box with a side of tea and toast. Just like the rest of us!
Occasionally joining them in their Manchester living room was a whole roster of beloved characters including “Nana” Norma Speakman (Liz Smith), family friend Twiggy (Geoffrey Hughes), Antony’s girlfriend Emma (Sheridan Smith) and next-door neighbours Joe, Mary and Cheryl (Peter Martin, Doreen Keogh and Jessica Hynes, respectively).
From their relentless bickering while doting on grandchild little David Keanu Ronan Best, to Jim’s non-existent DIY skills and Nana offering ham sandwiches to vegetarians, the characters captured realistic family dynamics and life events to strike a very real, grounded and always hilarious emotional chord.
To celebrate the show’s anniversary, GOLD is airing The Royle Family: Down The Back Of The Sofa. An expanded version of an earlier documentary, it features original interviews from the show’s core cast members (including the only on-screen interview with creators Cash and Aherne together), as well as brand new musings from celebrity superfans including Diane Morgan, Rosie Jones, Shobna Gulati and more. Mint!
Get ready to chortle along on Thursday 14 September at 9pm on GOLD HD (CH 124). And if you can’t wait until then, you can take a seat alongside the Royles by rewatching the original show, available now in On Demand and in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer.
Despite the original series wrapping up over two decades ago, The Royle Family changed the landscape of British television forever. The multiple award-winning series tore up the sitcom rulebook, with many of our now favourite shows to following its blueprint. Read on to discover some of the surprising ways this heartfelt and hilarious series influenced a host of our favourite comedies to date.
It introduced a new visual style
The Royle Family was shot using 16mm film and a single-camera set-up to capture more character-focused footage, which was groundbreaking for UK sitcoms at the time. This pioneering production style quickly caught on in the industry, going on to be seen in such favourites as Phoenix Nights, Gavin & Stacey, The Trip, Ghosts, Mandy and more.
Don’t believe us? Just check out this Royle Family parody from the show’s own Hynes and Simon Pegg, which featured in the pair’s surreal cult sitcom Spaced.
It helped make a new approach to comedy possible
Laugh tracks are a divisive element in comedy. Fortunately series co-creator firmly refused when the studio asked to use them, or film live with a studio audience. In fact, legend also says that when it was suggested the show use filming locations other than the Royle’s home, Aherne objected, because “the only rubbish episode of Till Death Us Do Part was the one in a restaurant”.
Its success paved the way for other writers to opt for the same approach, including Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (The Office UK), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) and Julia Davis (Nighty Night).
It contributed to the rise of the modern “sadcom”
We admit it, mixing comedy and pathos isn’t a new concept – sitcom greats such as Blackadder Goes Forth, Dad’s Army and Porridge have all had tear-jerking moments amid hilarity. But arguably no one did sadcom better than The Royle Family in its 2006 special “The Queen Of Sheba” – one of TV comedy’s most emotional hours.
From a gut-wrenching final singalong between mother-daughter duo Nana and Barbara to Nana’s peaceful passing, the writers and actors effortlessly alluded to the real-life experience of losing a loved one. And the show’s nuanced approach to handling tricky themes such as loneliness and grief has since inspired heartbreaking series like After Life and This Way Up.
It played with and upended stereotypes
The Royle Family wasn’t the first comedy to centre on a working-class family (let’s take a moment and pay tribute to the UK’s best-loved sitcom Only Fools And Horses). But it was arguably the first to show characters that were content with their lot.
Cue the likes of Brassic, This Country, People Just Do Nothing, Alma’s Not Normal and Derry Girls following suit with authentic portrayals of working-class people who, like the Royles, were rich in love, familial bonds and community.
It inspired Gogglebox
That’s right. Not only did The Royle Family put the “sit” into sitcom and popularise the “people doing normal things” genre (see Car Share, Outnumbered, Motherland), it also inspired the multi-award-winning, docu-reality series Gogglebox (watch series 22 in Apps & Games > Channel 4 now).
And the ties between The Royle Family and Gogglebox go deeper than just people sofa-slumping. Aherne narrated the show from its 2013 debut until her death in 2016, then her close friend Cash took over as its regular voice. Plus, on-screen couple Tomlinson and Johnston made an appearance on spin-off series Celebrity Gogglebox earlier this year!
When is The Royle Family: Down The Back Of The Sofa on TV?
Don’t miss the 90-minute special on Thursday 14 September at 9pm on GOLD HD (CH 124). All three series of The Royle Family plus specials are available now in On Demand and Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer.
TV channels: Channels, content and features available depend on your chosen package. Channel line-ups and content are subject to change at any time and to regional variations.
HD: HD TV set, V HD Box, TiVo box or Virgin TV V6 connected with HDMI cables required for HD channels. Number of inclusive HD channels depends on package.
Catch Up TV: Catch Up TV content available for up to 7 days or up to 30 days after broadcast, depending on content.
On Demand: Content available to view depends on TV package. Time limits apply for viewing chargeable On Demand content – see virginmedia.com. Once purchased, all chargeable On Demand content must be viewed within 48 hours. Premium channels and upgrades must be kept for at least 30 days.
Image credits: Down The Back Of The Sofa © Vishai Shal SharmaI 2008-2009 All rights reserved
The Royle Family © BBC