Television sitcom production at the BBC 1973-1984 : an integrated approach
Between 1973 and 1984 BBC Television produced and transmitted a number of popular situation comedies. These were designed to be light-hearted, inoffensive entertainment, but they nevertheless explored, reflected and reinforced changing public attitudes to private sexual behaviour. Central to the emergence of these series at this time was the ethos of the BBC's Light Entertainment Department under the successive leadership of Bill Cotton and James Gilbert. They espoused and developed attitudes of creative excellence, competitive success and benevolent patronage, and took a liberal, non-polemical, middle-brow approach to material. The thesis adopts a multi-faceted approach to reveal the relationships between the individual contributors and the public feedback for four of the most successful series: Are You Being Served (1973-1985), The Good Life (1975-1978), Butterflies (1978- 1983) and The Young Ones (1982-1984). It concludes that their central creative impulse initially came from the four writer-producer teams: David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd; John Esmonde, Bob Larbey and John Howard Davies; Carla Lane, Sydney Lotterby and Gareth Gwenlan; and Rik Mayall, Lise Mayer, Ben Elton and Paul Jackson. These four series offered audiences a range of comedic situations, namely: a fading department store, an ecologically-aware suburban household, a more traditional suburban household and a student flat in a large metropolitan city. Audiences had several points of identification with the various characters and were able to adjust their own individual attitude to the private sexual behaviour of the characters, thus allowing the public as a whole to reach a new consensus about emerging changes in public attitudes. Particularly noticeable was the positive public response to the portrayal of two characters who challenged traditional gender norms: Mr Humphries (John Inman) and Margo Leadbetter (Penelope Keith), which for a short while gave both actor and character a life beyond each series. Other notable developments were the public acceptance of a more open portrayal of sexual desire in women, the decline of innuendo and a more public discussion of deviant sexual behaviour, the open acceptance of pre-marital sexual relationships and the tentative recognition of extra-marital sexual relationships.