Jim Royle, my arse!
Bearded patriarch Jim Royle (played with almost uncanny naturalism by professional scouser Ricky Tomlinson), seemingly glued to his decrepit armchair, has the privilege of uttering the first line of The Royle Family. To set the tone of the show perfectly, it's about the phone bill: "Ninety-eight quid. Ninety-eight quid. Its good to talk, my arse!". And with these seemingly baseless words, an enduring catchphrase was born.
From little acorns grow great rewards
First broadcast in September 1998, The Royle Family was originally buried on late-night BBC2, but after the rapturous critical acclaim (not to mention rapidly burgeoning public response) to the first series, all subsequent episodes were shown on prime time BBC1. The gongs followed quickly: a BAFTA for Best Sitcom and one for Best Comedy Performance (given to Caroline Aherne, who played Jim's vacant daughter Denise as well as co-creating and co-writing the show) were awarded in 2000.
Royle Family creators Aherne and Cash (who also plays Dave Best, Denise's sloth-like boyfriend), along with non-acting co-writer Henry Normal, were determined to make the show as true-to-life as possible. They decided from the off to jettison that sitcom staple, the laugh track, and ensured all dialogue was overflowing with the tics, unintentional belches and inconsequential moaning characteristic of real conversation. But Ricky Tomlinson went one step further: he insisted on not shaving for the duration, and wore the same stinking unwashed shirt throughout, the trooper.
As with The Office, another phenomenally successful offbeat comedy of nuance, concrete storylines are thin on the ground in The Royle Family. Sure, there might be a wedding, the odd birthday and a spot of decorating to be done, but the beauty of The Royle Family is the depiction of the spirit-crushingly banal drudgery of everyday working-class housebound existence. The cast's collective frustration is eased either by shouting at the telly or at Anthony (Ralf Little), Denise's dopey younger brother. There's much fun to be had collecting Anthony's nicknames, dispensed with relish by his merciless family: Lurch, Grumpy, Mallethead, Basinhead, Gayboy, Lazyarse...