3 Series – Channel 4 (UK)
Dylan Moran / Bill Bailey / Tamsin Grieg / Written & Created by Dylan Moran / Produced by Karen Beever, William Burdett-Coutts & Nira Park / Soundtrack by Jonathan Whitehead / Cinematography by Andy Hollis & John Rosenberg / Directed by Martin Dennis, Graham Lineham & Nick Wood
Dylan Moran’s brainchild Black Books is a true successor to the British comedic traditions once personified by the creations of Galton & Simpson, but subverted by the anarchic aftershocks of 80’s contemporary comedy. Hancock and Steptoe & Son collide with the surrealist yarns of Dylan Moran’s stand-up, producing beautiful drunken poetry, with touches of Withnail & I and the sardonic wit of Father Ted.
Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) runs a dillapidated secondhand bookshop through a haze of booze and world loathing, of the type that all city dwellers are cozily familiar..mine’s next to Balham tube station. His only companionship as he slurs and sneers through life are in the humble and kind shape of his employee Manny (Bill Bailey) and Fran Katzenjammer (played by the extraordinary Tamsin Grieg), the owner of neighbouring tat shop ‘Nifty Gifts’. These three lost characters in search of a life, hide away from the cruel world sniping at and mistreating eachother, but fundamentally caring deeply for one another as kindred souls.
Thankfully BB only ran for three series, with the third to be honest losing some of it’s spontineity and sophistication. Two series seems to be the magic number with most British situation comedies, and with the average show clocking in at six episodes per series they are governed by a far different structure than their American cousins. Fawlty Towers and The Office both called it a day after a second series, keeping their status as classics before the show’s concept stretched too thin. The American multiple writer system allows for a greater pool of ideas, but does seem to limit the individuality of the shows, leaving the actors to stamp their personality on the material to make it distinctive. Situations & jokes in a Will & Grace script aren’t that markedly different to those in a Friends script.
Where British shows differ is in the lone responsibility of one or perhaps two writers, who (if they’re worth any salt at all) wouldn’t dream of letting anyone else take over writing their show when they decide it’s time to stop. Not that I’m meaning to run down American comedy shows, only to indicate the different ways of working. No one can after all belittle the incredible success and quality of shows like MASH, Cheers and Frasier. Horses for courses.
‘I’m a quitter. I come from a long line of quitters. It’s amazing I’m here at all.’
Manny: There’s a girl.
Bernard: A what? You know I don’t approve of you seeing other girls- people. Who is she?
Manny: Roweena, a friend of Anne’s. I met her once and was hoping to meet her again.
Bernard: Oh, I see.
Bernard: Roweena! Roweeeeena! And what am I supposed to do while you’re doing the underpants charleston with this insane, blind tart?
Manny: Why are you getting so angry?
Bernard: I can’t help being angry when I’m furious! So, before you go off to raise your bearded freak circus, what’s she like?
Manny: She’s nice.
Bernard: She’s nice, she- dont make me sick into my own scorn. What are her prospects? Does she play the viola? Does she embroider? Is she kind to the servants?
Customer: I bought this for a friend, and they didn’t want it, I was wondering if I could exchange it, preferably for the money..
Bernard: (flicking through it rapidly then stops) Aha! sand!
(collects some onto his finger)
[sprinkles it into Manny’s mouth]
Manny: (tasting the sand) Sardinia… South… Porto Scuzo… The little beach by the monastery.
Bernard: (to customer) Get out!
(shoves his book back into his hands)