Hello fellow blog readers, once again I sincerely apologise for your lack of sitcom blogs for a few weeks. It’s been hell with revision and exams over this way. While I have desperately yearned for a break, what I wouldn’t have given to have been able to sit in bed watching a series (or seven) as blog ‘research’ for you wonderful people. But sitcoms to me are like what Pringles are like to foodies at a party. One (episode) really isn’t enough. Don’t worry though I haven’t forgotten that Bob Larbey tribute I promised, I have something worked out for that. But “bare with, bare with” as Miranda’s school chum Tilly would say, while I finish off my exams this month then it will be business as usual, with a blog update each week. If all goes to plan.
So without further ado, lets us kick off this week’s blog by explaining how it came about. To celebrate being able to score front row tickets to see The Last of the Duty Free next month (yes, I will be sure to be blogging about that one) and being reminded of a conversation with one of my best friends, proving I wasn’t making this week’s featured sitcom up, I am going to be re-living one of my favourite sitcoms as a child, Barbara.
Barbara starred Gwen Taylor as the title role and first aired as a pilot episode in 1995. The programme was commissioned in 1999 and ran until 2003, being one of ITV’s most popular sitcom today (I think I read somewhere it is now classed as second after Benidorm). It was written by a team of writers; Mark Bussell, Rob Clark, Ramsay Gilderdale, Graham Mark Walker and Justin Sbresni.
Now, until I began re-watching this series for you wonderful people I had forgotten pretty much everything about this show other than it was on channel 3 as I knew ITV1 as back then, Barbara was married to a daft man called Ted, who I found the funniest and the whole show was very funny indeed. Oh and Sherrie Hewson was in it too. I guess the purpose of today’s blog is to see if Barbara has stood the test of time for me and if it was as good I remember. As a child of the mid nineties I guess this is the first ‘proper’ sitcom I watched as it went out each week (certainly on ITV).
Barbara is about a blunt, no-nonsense matriarch at the heart of a mad, often dysfunctional family, a formula for a winning sitcom, I hear some of you say. She has been married to cab driver Ted Liversidge (Sam Kelly) for 35 years, she has to put up with bumbling son-in-law Martin (Mark Benton), is often driven to destruction by grown up children Linda (Elizabeth Carling) and Neil (Benedict Sandiford), not to mention Ted’s mother Queenie (Jean Alexander) . And then there is Barbara’s overdramatic sister Jean (Sherrie Hewson) who will do everything she can to stop getting older in her appearance. Not to mention trying her best to hold down a job as a receptionist at the local health centre where the patients there are a nightmare.
So, just like when watching a sitcom you have never seen before it is always a good idea to start at the beginning. While series one is never the best it is always a great place to start when getting to know the characters that aim to entertain you. And it was just the same when watching Barbara again.
While it does take a few episodes to get back into the series (episode three, ‘Amour’ to be precise) I did find it enjoyable. (Albeit not as much as when I was young). While watching series one a few things stuck out for me, Ted is still the funniest character in the show despite it being all about his good lady wife. By allowing Barbara to be the straight woman, we sense she is an ordinary woman stuck in the middle of this mad family. I always found Barbara quite aggressive watching it as a child but now as I have gotten older and more worldly-wise I rather like her and the way she deals with those people who make her life difficult. My favourite being calling up the builders merchants in the early hours of the morning, impersonating the noisy builders who have been waking her up each morning, to see how they like it.
While some of Barbara’s antics and the way she voices her opinions can be seen as too blunt, extreme or uncalled for, I think they are funny and make her more likeable as a character as these things, such as the annoying son-in-law, annoying colleagues and pizza being delivered six hours late, are all things we have to deal with but not all of us have the guts to tackle them head on like our Barb. For me that is why I find the lead admirable as there is no way I could ever be able to tell someone who annoys the hell out of me just what I really think.
By the time I moved on to series two I was glad the show had picked up and was more like the show I loved and remembered. I think part of the reason why I held it so dear was due to the elements of slapstick comedy fed into the show. Luckily for the more grown up, mature Gee there was a good healthy balance of the slapstick and witty dialogue and one-liners.
My favourite episode of series two has to be ‘Mum’ as it showcases both Barbra and Ted at their best as well as a smashing guest appearance from the late Jean Alexander. Hapless Ted manages to get himself involved in an armed robbery at a petrol station and what’s more he somehow manages to be the getaway driver, not that he notices even when the CCTV footage is released on the news; “Oh look, he looks a bit like me.” While Barbara is left to deal with the mother-in-law from hell, making sure she knows just how she makes Barbara feel. Before being accused of “throwing a freezer” at Ted’s mother. While she is rude to the old lady who has run away from her care home, because of the sheer clichéd mother-in-law from hell act (and that fact she has put several people in hospital due to biting them) we don’t feel like she has done anything too out of the ordinary.
However, during the episode “Tyres” the audience may be divided in opinion over the extremes of Barbara’s actions caused by her agro. In this episode she is given notice from her job due to complaints from the patients at the surgery as she doesn’t always treat them with the care and respect one expects when visiting the doctors on a delicate matter. She also slashes the tyres of someone who annoys her. But to her horror she actually has slashed the tyres of a wheel chair bound man who needs to get to work in Glasgow. Of course she isn’t completely heartless and she does have a conscience as she quickly offers hers and Ted’s services to help out. As well as eventually apologising to her work after being unable to get a new job after walking out on receiving her warning.
By the time the third and final series was produced it had become so popular that ITV extended the series to 12 episodes instead of six (though they spit the series in two.) This is the series I remember from my childhood, as I re-watched it bits of episodes that I had locked away inside my brain pushed its way to the front and were just as funny as I remember, particularly the antics of Ted and Barb’s sister Jean and her constant quest for appearing to look younger than she is.
The very final episode is a strange one; it is called “Who Shot Barbara?” And begins with Ms Taylor’s character in a coma with Ted telling the family she’s been shot. The story of how she came to be shot is told through flashbacks where as usual Barbara is letting everyone know what she thinks of them, as well as falling out with the majority of the family, she argues with Ted over a hypothetical situation if they hadn’t even met. She ruins Linda’s £300 dress she was planning on wearing for Martin’s award ceremony and her kitchen, as well as being the cause of Neil’s latest relationship to fail. While Linda ‘could kill her’ Neil tells his dad “We’ve got to do something she is ruining all our lives.” While it is funny for the audience to watch Barbara Liversidge do what it takes to get her own way, the consequences this has on her family makes you side with them for a change as this time she has taken it too far (of course not all audience members want to see her fighting for her life after being shot).
The series ends on an unresolved cliffhanger with the matriarch being shot in the bum by an air rifle in her own home, suggesting that one of her nearest and dearest did it. While this method of wrapping up a well-loved sitcom is not always the most favoured by audience members it does allow them to draw their own conclusions as to who shot Barbara and if she pulled through (I assume she did, but still have no idea who shot her).
So did I enjoy watching one of ITV’s best sitcom’s second time around? I really did even if it wasn’t as side-splittingly funny as I remember it, the slapstick, witty banter, bizarre, insane characters and often dark humour, long with the fantastic rapport of all cast members are probably the reasons why it is regarded as one of ITV’s sitcom success stories.