fondue no! I will not tolerate dissing of Caroline Aherne! But that's another node ....

The Royle family are:

There is also a small collection of minor characters (next-door neighbours etc) who come and go as required.

Now, far from the cast list being simply a bunch of "Northern character actors" who all "play themselves", they're all among the most respected and talented British actors of their respective generations. They may not have had the instant "star quality" of the soap stars whose lives are followed in intimate detail in the tabloids, but they've made a career out of being able to act, as opposed to simply having a pretty face.

But anyway, onto the TV show itself. The most amazing thing about the programme is that it ever got made in the first place. To clarify for those who might not be familiar with it, The Royle Family is simply the extremely everyday story of a perfectly ordinary working class family who do nothing more exciting than squabble over which TV programme to watch next.

Over 90% of the "action" takes place in the Royle's sitting room which they chat to each other about what they've done that day. Using only two or three static camera positions, no studio audience or canned laughter and a script that could genuinely have come from any of millions of households anywhere in the UK, most TV producers would have run screaming from the idea saying it would never work. Fortunately the BBC isn't (yet) completely dominated by the quest for ratings and took a chance on the programme, which became an instant cult hit.

By the end of the first series the audience had doubled, despite it being on the "minority" BBC2 channel. The critics wrote pages and pages of analysis but more importantly, people who watched it talked about the programme to their friends. Word-of-mouth viral marketing ... for a TV show ... almost unheard of! Even those shows which did gain large cult followings in a similar manner had tended to be deliberately made to be a bit "odd" (Twin Peaks, X-Files etc).

Future seasons of the show (now just beginning a run of its third series) were shown on the more mainstream BBC1 channel. Fortunately the basic idea hasn't changed, it's still really a tap into a stream of consciousness from a perfectly ordinary British family. Even Roseanne -- which is probably the closest US television has come to showing supposedly normal people doing normal things in a "big name" TV show -- tended to veer towards sentimentality and moralism at times. The Royle Family hasn't done that, and I'm still not 100% sure exactly why it's so watchable. I suspect it wouldn't travel well outside of Britain as many of the themes are so tied in to contemporary British life that much of the beauty of the programme would be lost on a foreign audience. I'd love to be proved wrong though.

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