COMFORT TELEVISION. As I pop in a dvd of YES, MINISTER to relax after a hard night's work, it occurred to me that there are certain British comedy series which occupy a warm place in my heart. The reason for this is certainly one of timing: after cutting my comedy teeth on MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS and THE BENNY HILL SHOW in the 70s, my local PBS station began airing what they called "britcoms" in the early 80s. These were on Sunday nights so I could watch them and get in a good mood before school the next morning. They were shown in a block of two on a rotating basis; when they would run through an entire series they would replace it with another and round and round. Usually the first show was GOOD NEIGHBORS (the American name for THE GOOD LIFE); this show was usually never replaced with another but would start over at the beginning when it reached the end. THE GOOD LIFE of course starred Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington and concerned the adventures of Tom and Barbara Good as they dropped out of the rat race and made a go of self-sufficiency. The second half hour (on Channel 12) was rotate between entire runs of BUTTERFLIES (starring Wendy Craig and Geoffrey Palmer), TO THE MANOR BORN (starring Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles) and THE FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN starring Leonard Rossiter. There were other shows sandwiched in now and then but these two were rerun the most. BUTTERFLIES found Wendy Craig playing a bored housewife going through something of a mid-life crisis and toying with the possibility of a romantic affair. TO THE MANOR BORN finds Penelope Keith a newly widowed wife of the local lord of the manor who is forced to vacate her sprawling estate when it is purchased by a rich businessman. THE FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN found Leonard Rossiter having something more than a mid-life crisis when he drops out of his job and comes slightly unhinged.
Around this same time in the very early 80s, a new channel called "The Entertainment Channel" came on basic cable. After a short time, the channel changed its name to "The Arts & Entertainment Channel" and it's been A&E ever since! When it first came on the air it was a very different animal than it is now. It showed many British programmes and introduced me to several which would also join the pantheon of comfort television and I would come to regard them as old friends. TWO'S COMPANY starred Elaine Stritch as an American mystery writer in London who hires a very British butler played by Donald Sinden. Then there was the long-running perennial LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE which found three pensioners getting into mischief. SOLO starred Felicity Kendal as a woman who has just turned thirty and . . . wait for it . . . has something of a early mid-life crisis (there seems to be a theme here). OPEN ALL HOURS starred Ronnie Barker (half of the Two Ronnies comedy team) as the proprietor of a small shop forever vexed by the world in general as well as our Granville (David Jason). RISING DAMP starred Leonard Rossiter this time as an horrific landlord of a shabby boarding house. Then of course there was YES, MINISTER which starred another GOOD LIFE alum Paul Eddington as newly-elected Minister Jim Hacker who tries to steer his way through the labyrinth of political life despite the "help" of Nigel Hawthorne's Sir Humphrey. Some more edgy but nevertheless fondly held programmes were NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS which also aired occasionally on my PBS station Channel 12 and THE YOUNG ONES which bizarrely aired on MTV in the mid-80's and became a cult late-night favourite. NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS was a sketch comedy programme taking the loose form of a news telecast and starred Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys-Jones and Pamela Stephenson. THE YOUNG ONES of course was the anarchic adventures of some horrendous college students played by Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Christopher Ryan and Alexei Sayle. Probably the last example of my "comfort television" britcoms came fairly late in the game; it wasn't until 1990 that PBS Channel 12 started running ARE YOU BEING SERVED? which surprised everyone by becoming a smash hit and probably the most watched British comedy show on American PBS! Of course, we all know the show concerned the daily antics of the staff of Grace Bros. department store featuring Trevor Bannister, Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richards and Frank Thornton. There are certainly other shows which I've just as much fondness for but have slipped my mind for the moment. Suffice it to say that the shows I've mentioned were watched countless times by me, over and over, until the became as familiar and comforting as old friends. And to this day, whenever I want that peculiar feeling of warm recognition and just hanging out with a cherished old friend, I will pop these shows into the dvd player and rocket back in time when I was still in high school and Blondie was at the top of the charts. These shows give me the same cozy feeling as if snuggling up in a warm blanket with a cup of hot cocoa. Or should that rather be tea?!?