As we rapidly approach the PBS national premiere of Behind the Britcom: From Script to Screen , which features a look into the minds of the creators of some of the best situation comedy on television anywhere, one thing struck all of us involved in the production of the program besides the known commodity of how brilliant the writing is to the overall success of a series.
After talking with the likes of Richard Curtis (Blackadder, Mr. Bean, Vicar of Dibley), Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served?, ‘Allo, ‘Allo), Bob Larbey (Good Life, As Time Goes By) and Roy Clarke (Open All Hours, Keeping Up Appearances, Last of the Summer Wine), we were reminded of just how important casting was to the success of these comedies. Not only the lead characters. The ‘light bulb moment’ came when we were discussing the incredible supporting casts that make up the entire ensemble cast.
Given the importance writers place on casting, most are heavily involved in the process from the beginning. Some programs are written specifically with an actor/actress in mind (e.g. Dawn French The Vicar of Dibley) and some will have an actor/actress suggested to them (e.g. Judi Dench, As Time Goes By). In almost all cases, however, the writer is very involved in the selection of the supporting cast, recognizing there would be no Dibley without the likes of Owen, Jim, Hugo, David, Alice or Frank. There would be no Grace Brothers Department Store without Captain Peacock, Miss Brahms, Mr. Lucas or Mr. Rumbold. And, definitely, no Hyacinth without having to hide Onslow, Daisy, Rose and Elizabeth from Mrs. Fortescue.
To further the point of the importance of a strong ensemble cast, Richard Briers shares some insight in this Behind the Britcom early rough cut clip about assembling the dream cast for The Good Life, written by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde.