It’s that time again… here’s another look back at a Funny Fortnight Favourite, as Paulyne Antoniou looks back at Black Books…
One thing that has stood out with Channel 4 sitcoms is taking the conventional format and turning it on its head. Black Books is the perfect example of this, and a huge love is shared for this show over at TVO.
Earlier this evening you might have caught one of its classic episodes as part of Ch4’s Funny Fortnight, and, to accompany it, we bring you our look back at the history of Black Books.
Starring Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Grieg, the show follows Bernard Black (Moran) who attempts to run his failing book shop with the unwanted help of Manny (Bailey) and what seems to be the only voice of reason in his dim, boozed-up life, Fran (Grieg).
Black Books first aired in 2000 on Channel 4 with the not-so watershed spot of 11pm. It went on to make 3 series (which has tended to be the standard amount for a British comedy – making it quite the success) and gain a loyal fanbase that still passes their DVDs over to others, and them to others, forever more.
Originally directed and written by Graham Linehan and co-written by Dylan Moran, the former then handed over the full reigns to Dylan after the first series for the remainder of its 2 years. The show was an interesting turn for Graham as this was coming off the back of his success with Father Ted. No studio audience and a darker, much drier style of humour may not have been what fans would have expected, but the show thankfully won the BAFTA for Best Sitcom after its first series, giving the writers the nod to continue with this darker turn in comedy. After winning the BAFTA Moran commented on his win saying “The trend now is to get away from stage bound sitcoms. Black Books adheres to a more old fashioned, traditional sitcom format, which I think works, because in its own way, it’s quite theatrical.” This rings true as it gives its own take on shows such as Open All Hours and On The Buses; the premise of funny activities in a usually mundane job.
The writing spoke for itself, and even into the second series with Moran writing solo, the show still remained a constant favourite with its audiences. Black Books may not have been flooded with TVO acts but the cameos have been loved and memorable on so many levels. Not only did Linehan make two hilarious cameos in the first series (these moments alone make me wonder why he isn’t starring in his own show), but the careful eye can also find Tony Way, Jessica Hynes, Kevin Eldon, Rhys Thomas, Justin Edwards and Alice Lowe featuring in some stand-out scenes.
It is difficult to imagine a pitch for the premise of a show which sums down to an alcoholic running a book shop with a simple minded minion and the regular visit of an unemployed wine-guzzling friend. Either way, Black Books is a reminder that there is still a breath of fresh (wine-filled) air in the comedy world, and over a decade later it is still found to be one of the most quoted sitcoms around (If you ever heard “Fetch me my lolly!” in a pub or “Whores will have their trinkets!” then you’ll now know why).
If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing life through Bernard Black’s pessimistic peepers and you missed it this evening, then all 3 series are available to watch on 4OD.