Wednesday, September 19, 2018

My Top 10 Favorite BBC Sitcom Characters

With a few exceptions, this list was agonizing to pare down. The runner-ups are in the dozens. More from Only Fools and Horses could’ve made it but I made the decision to just include Del Boy. I feel bad there’s not more women on the list but again, there are plenty in #s 11-199. I genuinely love each of these characters, each of which gives me amazing entertainment any time I ask for it. Other than Del Boy being #1, this is in no order. Enjoy!

Del Boy Trotter (David Jason, Only Fools and Horses)
What can I say that I haven’t already on these pages? He’s simply the greatest sitcom character of all time. He’s funny of course, but he’s different than a lot of other sitcom characters in that he actually TRIES to be funny with his friends. He doesn’t just effortlessly toss out remarkable witticisms every 30 seconds without acknowledging he’s joking. And of course the best of Del Boy came shining through when the episodes were extended from 30 minutes to 50, as we got to see more inside his heart with the incredible David Jason’s acting chops nailing it every time.

When you meet Del, you assume he’s a typical oily douchebag salesman. And while it’s true he could "talk his way out of a room without doors”, over time you see WHY he’s somewhat like that. With his mother dying and father leaving him when he was 16, it’s was up to him to raise not only 3 year-old Rodney, but the lovable but useless Grandad. We start seeing over and over again that the one thing that means more to him than anything is his family - he never got married because girls didn’t want to help raise Rodney, so he stuck with Rodney. Opportunities came up - like moving to Australia for a big-time job - but Rodney couldn't come with him so he turned the job down. He was always loyal to his friends and if you were in a fox-hole, you’d want him with you. As someone once said, “Del Boy could fall into a viper pit and come out wearing snakeskin boots."

This exchange perfectly encapsulates his always feeling the need to take care of his elders (probably due to how much he absolutely reveres his dead mother) and yet can compartmentalize making money:
Del: I'm not a ruthless mercenary. Who is it that goes around the estate every Christmas time, making sure all the old people have got enough to eat and drink?
Rodney: Yeah, and who was it, during the Brixton riot, that drove down in the van, selling paving stones to the rioters? I mean, what did you think they were going to do with them, eh? All run off home and start building patios?
Del: Mine is not to reason why, mine is to sell and buy. 
This scene is just simply fa really funny scene I've always loved; to see the breadth of Del Boy see the last video in this post from last week. Mange tout!

Smithy - (James Corden, Gavin and Stacey)
Talk about a character who has become a beloved national treasure. Since this was written by Corden and is pretty much the exact same character he plays in the wonderful The Wrong Man(s) which he also wrote, I think it’s safe to say this is pretty much Corden being Corden…which is, in a word, delightful. Just like in The Wrong Man(s) his character is the Costanza to his partner’s Jerry, always living at a high pitch while the other is even-keeled. His reactions to Gavin moving on in life - getting married, moving to Barry, etc - are half immature, half spurned wife. He can be selfish and boarish but then he lays out his food policies - like not sharing food family style - and I revel in the fact that it’s just like me. There’s also something so warm about Gavin’s family basically being his own, and the effect he’s had on them re: his many goofy sayings (“Don’t mind if I do? Then don’t mind if I don’t!") is telling of how much charisma and warmth he really has. Brits will be looking for Smithy every year on Red Nose Day, and with each year I bet they love him even more. I know I do.

Oh yeah, and after promising to deliver a best man’s speech so funny that upon practicing it on Gary and Simon they “rinsed themselves”, he gave the greatest best man speech ever.

Audrey fforbes-Hamilton (Penelope Keith, To the Manor Born)
Her role as Margo Ledbetter in The Good Life could’ve easily gone in here since they’re basically the same character, but I chose this one because it’s the lead. It takes an amazing actress to pull off a character we’d normally be set up to not like, the sort of English upper-crust who believes people around her exist merely to maintain her own social status. There is a thrill in her initial “downfall”, but we quickly root for her because even though she’s a snob, she’s so damn likable. Partly because she’s of the (maybe?) last generation of “noblesse oblige”; she’s lost almost everything but the idea of letting her butler Brabinger loose out into the cruel world is unthinkable to her. Her role is to desperately fight maintain the status quo of her once and future estate. How good of a character is this? Incredibly, her natural sense of entitlement is somehow endearing. Now THAT is tough to pull off (at least to an American, I suppose.)

Jay Cartwright (James Buckley, The Inbetweeners)
Never before has one character been tasked with delivering so much bullshit and then delivering it in spades. As he’s constantly bullshitting about being “up to my nuts in guts!” he knows he’s bullshitting, his friends know he’s bullshitting, and he knows his friends know he’s bullshitting, and yet he simply cannot stop! It’s small wonder the producers of Rock & Chips thought of him when they were looking for a 16 year-old Del Boy. Ironically, the show’s only “earnest” moments - and they are flickering - are when Jay’s dad shows up and absolutely pummels him with insults about his manhood and being useless. You get a peek at maybe why Jay’s so desperate to be seen as more than he really is by his friends, after being told daily by his dad he’s even less than he really is. And the series’ best scene ever flawlessly combines Jay’s first heartbreak with his incredible ability to bullshit about his non-existent sex life.

Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan, The Alan Partridge Show)
There’s a million iterations of this character, so I’m sticking to the 1997/2002 series show. Watching Alan Partridge for too long can make you start to wonder, “gee, if I’m just a complete asshole to everybody maybe I can become quasi-famous and comfortable financially?” I’m not sure there’s ever a single thing he does for anyone else except of course for visiting the home of that psycho stalker fan. His personality is such that he seemingly always get out of getting his ass kicked because even as you’re hearing it, you’re thinking there’s no way someone just said that.

Which, of course, makes him intoxicating to watch.

(Note: the two men at the table are the creators of the classic Father Ted; on the right is Graham Linehan who would also write the great Black Books, The IT Crowd, Count Arthur Strong and more.)

Geraldine Granger (Dawn French, The Vicar of Dibley)
It’s hard to say if playing this part only 2 years after the Church of England legalized (maybe not the right word) women vicars was really edgy, since when it’s delivered it’s wrapped in the typical Richard Curtis warm, cozy embrace. Her character is equal parts empathetic, bombastic, spiritual and lustful, which certainly makes her more interesting than any member of the clergy I’ve ever met. Her handling of David Horton's disdain and her patience with Alice Tinker (both fantastic characters themselves) at every turn is a remarkable juggling act, to say nothing of doing it under the scrutiny of a “man’s job” while in such a backwards (or is it?) village. And she somehow pulls off the remarkable feat of being both timeless and current.

Norman Fletcher (Ronnie Barker, Porridge)
Ronnie Barker is a King of British Comedy over so many roles, but there’s no denying he was born to play the weary, savvy prisoner that is Fletcher. His seemingly having his finger on the pulse of everything and everybody inside is a marvel to watch, and him becoming a father figure to prison cellmate Godbar made for some of the best scenes on tv. And while his cynicism about the world would often feel dark, along with a sadness about having wasted his life, his credo about creating “little victories” to get through each and every day is nothing but inspiring.

David Jason played Blanco alongside Barker in Porridge (as well playing Granville to Barker’s Arkwright in the classic Open All Hours), and in Porridge’s sequel Going Straight it’s revealed his son is played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, the future Rodney Trotter. In my eyes, the very fabric of British sitcom is woven throughout the character of Fletcher.

This is one of my favorite bits, from the very first episode.

Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson, The Royle Family)
It’s hard to beat the Wikipedia description of Jim Royle:

Misanthropic, cynical and negligent, Jim is a slob who spends his days sitting in his armchair watching television doing as little as possible and enjoys announcing his visits to the lavatory. Jim is an ill-tempered miser and regularly roasts his family, in particular Antony and his mother-in-law Norma, when not slamming celebrities on television. Jim's outbursts are often accompanied by his mocking catchphrase, "my arse!" On occasions he shows a more patient side, especially when his family is in serious trouble. 

It’s hard to imagine Jim Royle getting a woman to marry him in any generation after his own; no woman today would serve him like a pack mule for over 50 years as Barbara does. And he’s such an enigma - does he work? Has he EVER worked? How does he get the cash to even go to his beloved pub, The Feathers? Either way, he’s beyond entertaining, and while I’m pretty sure any family member who is about to introduce a friend or more to Jim Royle for the first time goes thru an extensive warning about being in the same room as Jim,  he’s definitely the dream dinner guest for any 12 year-old boy what with the farting and cussing and making fun of anyone he can think of.

Here's a typical scene from the show, of which is 99% family sitting on the couch watching tv.

Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon, Gavin and Stacey)
This makes Gavin and Stacey the only show here with 2 characters (and Pam Shipman almost made it 3), but I’ve always had a feeling the writers didn’t know what they had on their hands when they first began writing Bryn. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such a compelling character for being so earnest, so naive, so well-intentioned, so childlike - if you don’t root for Uncle Bryn immediately, I probably will be suspicious of you. And it’s all those qualities that made his most amazing moments - snapping the families into place when they got into a fight about where the wedding would be held, reading his brother’s posthumous note to Stacey on her wedding day and, most of all, his song at Baby Neil’s christianing. Here you have a guy who's obviously been kicked around his whole life, never had any friends, and you realize he's singing about himself, his own having to be strong every day just to get through. You think he's gonna get made fun of, but it's just overpowering. Once this hit me, I've never been able to watch without some waterworks. I love Uncle Bryn.

Wolfie Smith (Richard Lindsay, Citizen Smith)
Just as his very name suggests, he’s a lovable scamp that considers himself a revolutionary Marxist who really has nothing tangible to say about anything and couldn't actually tell you what he’s fighting for. But watching him do it, while dragging his daft but earnest friends along is a joy to watch, as well is his Fonzarelli-style living quarters above his girlfriends parent’s apartment. Sitcom 101 dictates the father is woefully disapproving of Wolifie’s “socialist” lifestyle, and of course the mother dotes on him while calling him “Foxy.” It’s no wonder John Sullivan’s first sitcom would lead the way for Only Fools and Horses; Wolfie is like a much younger Del Boy who peddles bullshit politics instead of cheap, crappy merchandise. Freedom for Tooting!

(Unfortunately there’s not a lot of clips on YouTube so here’s the entire pilot.)

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