Since the beginning of time, well, at least since 1946 when Pinwright’s Progress premiered on the BBC, the British sitcom has always saluted the labor force. After Pinwright’s Progress, the evolution of how the situation comedy dealt with the workforce really took off. Up next in the mid-50’s was Hancock’s Half Hour where Tony Hancock seemed to change jobs every episode.
It wasn’t until the early 60’s, however, and the series, The Rag Trade, did traditional boundaries of dealing only with middle-class men in the workforce get tossed by, instead, featuring a group of strong working-class women. Not long after came Steptoe and Son (which became Sanford and Son in the States) where a father and son looked at their business a bit differently. To one, they were in the ‘junk business’. To the other, they were in the ‘antiques trade’ business.
Class entered the workforce in the 70’s with the David Croft/Jeremy Lloyd classic, Are You Being Served?, which focused on the daily lives of the employees of both the ladies fashion and menswear departments at Grace Brothers.
In the mid-70’s, the British sitcom began to focus on shop owners and sole proprietors with the John Cleese classic, Fawlty Towers, where hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) did his best to keep class and “breeding” alive at Fawlty Towers in the seaside town of Torquay in, perhaps, the best twelve, half-hour, programs ever made.
Next, in 1976, the Roy Clarke’s classic, Open All Hours. The series focused on Arkwright, a miserly grocer whose purpose in life was to make a quick buck, secure the affections of his neighbor and unrequited love, Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, and be a reluctant father figure to his nephew and delivery boy, Granville (David Jason).
In 1981, Trotters Independent Traders opened its’ doors, the doors of a three-wheeled van, in Only Fools and Horses, where, as CEO of Trotters, wheeler and dealer Del Boy, fashions himself as the definition of an entrepreneur in the labor force.
In recent years, the focus turned to management with The Office crashing on to the scene in 2001 with David Brent the epitome of an incompetent manager hiding behind management-speak.
Next, from Graham Linehan, comes the greatness of The IT Crowd, where we leave management and get back to employee angst in the basement of the ivory towers of Reynholm Industries, saluting a job that didn’t even exist 30 years ago.
Finally, from Sky 1, we come full circle with Trollied, starring Jane Horrocks, which deals with both management and the workers. Getting ready to conclude a very successful first season, I really hope there is a series 2 in the not-too-distant future.
As you can see, for over 60 years, management and workers have held a special place in British comedy. Cheers.