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Why The Royle Family is still relevant, 20 years on


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Despite the success of TV titan Gogglebox in the last ten years, what may seem like a ridiculous pastime - watching others watch tv- was first made fashionable way back in 1998, when British sitcom The Royle Family first hit our screens.

Despite its regular screenings on GOLD, a clearly outdated set and a cast with very few who are left with us, The Royle Family is a timeless classic in its quintessential depiction of British family life, with comedy that continues to create impact even in its 20th year. 

The Royle Family first hit our screens back in 1998, and depicts an incredibly normal, working class family, firmly rooted in the North of England. The show literally shows nothing more or less than a family crowded round a black box television, bickering over who cleans the pots and gossiping about the small-town characters. And yet, it still manages to be comedic genius. Writers Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who also play the young and ‘bone-idle’ couple Denise and Dave write such effortless comedy, that its classic charm remains timeless, and relatable to British families even today.

Jim, the slovenly, smart-arse patriarch is a character who perfectly balances a love/hate reaction amongst the audience, with a careless attitude that is admirable and simultaneously infuriating. His character is the perfect advocate for the presentation of questionable morals, outdated political correctness and gross stereotypes- and this is just what the sitcom does best. Things have moved on considerably since the 90s - there is greater awareness surrounding the different ways in which people choose to live their lives, the battle of the sexes has made considerable steps in the right direction, and kitchen sink politics appear to be eradicated in the media, with a tentative and cautious approach to political correctness being applied in almost every image we see on the screen.

In this way, The Royle Family could be seen as a reflection of our old ways, and the problematic attitudes that have now been eradicated. Arguably, it does the exact opposite. The charm of the programme is its refusal to submit to new rules and regulations within the home, to uphold petty stereotypes, gross exaggerations and fundamental perceptions of society in the most harmless and insightful way. The idea of the family home is the freedom to say exactly what you like, think exactly what you like and behave exactly how you like, even if the politics behind it are questionable and sometimes just downright wrong. Aherne and Cash tightrope walk the line between outrage and genius, therefore rocketing the sitcom comfortably into the 21st century.

Weary Barbara is allowed to do absolutely everything for her family while no one bats an eyelid; Denise is allowed to have weekly tantrums over the village ‘tart’ who looks at her man in the wrong way, and the monster-in-law is allowed to say pretty much anything she likes, with her age and background being offered as the justifiable excuse. Cash and Aherne create such relatable and loveable characters because they are simply true.

This is why we sob our hearts our when Nana begins to deteriorate, despair for Craig when all he gets for dinner is Dairylea on toast, and feel a little pang of love for Cheryl when she can’t quite fit into her bridesmaid dress - because they are relatable in the most fundamental, problematic of ways.

Simple, but effective is often the mantra to The Royal Family’s comedy. It’s hard to believe that watching two teenage boys wolf down sausage and mash in seconds is comedy, or watching a group of people bicker about the answers to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is entertaining - but we all know that that Mambo Number 5 scene may be one of the greatest in British TV history.

A Christmas classic, a sure-fire pick me up and surprisingly a champion of family values and support, The Royle Family’s charm and wit cannot be rivalled, even in its 20th year. Despite being tinged with sadness as Denise, Nana, Twiggy and Mary are no longer with us, it remains one of the greats.

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