Behind the Britcoms: From Script to Screen on PBS

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of a new PBS special featuring the writers of some of the best British comedies we know.

Behind the Britcoms: From Script to Screen is hosted by Alastair (Philip Bretherton) and Judy (Moira Brooker) from As Time Goes By and features interviews with iconic Britcom writers such as Richard Curtis (Blackadder, The Vicar of Dibley) and Stephen Moffat (Coupling, Doctor Who, Sherlock).

The special is delightful and it’s so wonderful to see and hear from some of my favorite actors from British television like Dawn French, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, Richard Briers and Penelope Keith.

Be sure to keep your eyes open for this special to premier on your local PBS station starting March 5, 2011.

In the meantime, you can read more about Behind the Britcoms: From Script to Screen below after watching this clip:

March 2011 (check local listings)

– The Inside Story on Your Favorite British Comedy Series –

Join hosts Moira Brooker and Philip Bretherton (Judith and Alastair on As Time Goes By) as they take you inside the hearts and minds of the writers, producers and actors who have brought you many of your favorite British comedies. If you’ve ever wondered how the British comedies you enjoy on your public television station go from “script to screen,” this program is truly a “must see.” Featuring cast and creators from Vicar of Dibley, Blackadder, Keeping Up Appearances, Last of the Summer Wine, As Time Goes By, Good Neighbors, Are You Being Served? and Mulberry, BEHIND THE BRITCOMS: SCRIPT TO SCREEN is part of special programming premiering on PBS stations beginning March 5, 2011 and airing throughout March (check local listings).

British situation comedies (or “Britcoms” as they are fondly known by fans) usually have one major difference from their American counterparts. While most American sitcoms have a group of writers that may change significantly over time, most Britcoms, on the other hand, have only one or two writers who almost always stay with the series throughout its existence. The continuity of the writers is much appreciated by British actors and nearly all of them will tell you that much of their own success is owed to having had the good fortune to work with some very talented writers. So after years of talking with Britcom actors, the producers of PBS specials such as Celebrating Mollie Sugden, The Funny Ladies of British Comedy, The Funny Blokes of British Comedy, Fawlty Towers Revisited, and Life Lessons from Onslow, decided it was high time public television viewers got to meet some of the creative men and women behind the scenes.

Viewers will discover that the way each writer approaches his or her work is as individual as the writers themselves. Writer Roy Clark (Keeping Up Appearances and Last of the Summer Wine among others), limits his involvement strictly to creating the script which, once delivered, is left in the hands of the producers, directors and actors. It would be a rare thing for Roy to attend either a casting session or a rehearsal. Bob Larbey (As Time Goes By and Mulberry), shares Roy’s feelings, but does like to become involved in casting and rehearsals. And then there’s Richard Curtis, writer of The Vicar of Dibley and Blackadder, who is involved in almost every step of the process: writing, producing, casting, and directing. Both Richard and his Vicar of Dibley star Dawn French talk about how this sort of involvement can be both a blessing and a curse!

Apart from learning more about the process, viewers will hear some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories. Roy Clark, the “marathon man” of Britcom writers, reveals the source of his inspiration to write a comedy series about three elderly pensioners — a gig he’s had for more than thirty years! And although Mulberry was cancelled by the BBC before Bob Larbey had the satisfaction of bringing it to a proper conclusion, he tells viewers how he would have written that final episode. Then there’s the lucky bit of chance that made the final episode of Blackadder one of those great moments in television history.

And, of course, BEHIND THE BRITCOMS has interviews with many of the actors most fancied by public television viewers: Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, Moira Brooker, Philip Bretherton, and Jenny Funnell from As Time Goes By; Dawn French, James Fleet, Trevor Peacock, and Roger Lloyd Pack from Vicar of Dibley; Clive Swift and Josephine Tewson from Keeping Up Appearances; and Penelope Keith and Richard Briers from The Good Life.

To add a bit of seasoning, a few British producers and directors are also thrown into the mix. Director John Howard Davies had a hand in several favorites like Fawlty Towers and The Good Life, among many others. Harold Snoad played a pivotal producer role in Keeping Up Appearances.

Finally, the experience, wit and wisdom of each are woven together with some of the funniest scenes from the best of British comedy as well as seldom-seen, behind-the-scenes production footage. The result is a fascinating story that should provide viewers with both interest and delight. As one producer put it, making comedy is hard work. But it’s also a lot of fun!

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  1. Dean Measor says

    What a fantastic post!

    Thank you very much.

    Just some of MY favourite British comedy writers include the very talented; Ronald Wolfe, Ronald Chesney, Vince Powell, Harry Driver, Carla Lane, Johnnie Mortimer, Brian Cooke, Myra Taylor, David Cumming,
    Derek Collyer, Dave Freeman, Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis, Raymond Allen, Dawn French, Dick Emery, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper, Eric Merriman, Graham Deykin, Tom Magee-Englefield, Kenneth Rock, Gavin Osbon, John Warren, John Singer, Peter Robinson, Hugh Stuckey, Michael Norman, Chris Miller, Alan Crawley, Tony Ravenscroft, Rick Mayall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ronnie Barker, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, Connie Booth, Robert Banks Stewart, Richard Curtis, Paul Mayhew-Archer, and the brilliant John Sullivan.

    Just some of MY favourite Producers and Directors include the very talented; Ray Butt, Gareth Gwenlan, Harold Snoad, Douglas Hespe, John Fisher, Gareth Carrivick, Jon Plowman, Margot Gavan Duffy, Tony Dow, Michael Begg, Anne Lewis, Geoff Miles, John Bishop, Bruce Millard, Stuart Allen, William G. Stewart, Mandy Fletcher, Jim Franklin, John Howard Davies, Peter Frazer-Jones, and Sydney Lotterby.