The cast of Dinnerladies n 1998

The cast of Dinnerladies in 1998

Who remembers Dinnerladies?  No, not the ones who used to serve you chocolate sponge and pink custard as a kid, but the Victoria Wood TV series?  The chances are you remember it, but probably haven’t seen it for years.  Unlike many other comedy classics, it has never really been repeated, until now.  Dinnerladies Diaries is a new documentary series on GOLD telling the behind story of this ground breaking sitcom.

For those of you unsure what GOLD is, it’s the golden oldies comedy channel.  You may have guessed it would be golden oldies by the channel name, but apparently, the name is an acronym for Go On Laugh Daily.  Yeah right, the same way as since the London talk station LBC (London Broadcasting Company) has gone national they now claim LBC stands for “Leading Britain’s Conversation”.  Whatever.

Dinnerladies Diaries is celebrating 20 years since it appeared on our screens in 1998 (hey, I can do the maths).  If you were around in those days, you may remember that there wasn’t a great deal of pre-watershed home grown comedy.  Men Behaving Badly, the laddish bad boy of the sitcom world had just finished it’s run on BBC One, Reeves and Mortimer were being silly and surreal on BBC Two with Shooting Stars; ITV had just given up on comedy by then which meant that Channel 4 was the main source for comedy with Father Ted and smash US hits Friends and Frasier.  What we needed was a family friendly sitcom and Victoria Wood was the person to deliver it.

Northern humour with a Californian writing style

After 20 years of writing plays, songs and sketches, Vic (as people kept referring to her in this documentary) turned her attention to a full-blown sitcom.  Victoria Wood’s trademark characters were “Northern Women” so it was no surprise that the sitcom was about the lives of five dinner ladies based in a factory on the outskirts of Manchester.  But the writing and production of the show owed a lot to the American system of producing comedies.  We looked into the differences between the two styles of comedy in a blog a couple of years ago.  In a nutshell, British sitcoms are traditionally written by one person compared to the American “writers room” system and in America they will change the gags in the script as whilst recording  and often record two or three versions of a line and go with whichever is funniest (see an example from The Big Bang Theory here.  Go to 17:51 in).

Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite

Victoria Wood was a one woman writing room.  She never collaborated but she did rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again.  In the second episode of Dinnerladies Diaries (available now on demand) the cast bemoan the fact that the script was changed so many times that at points  they had no idea where they were meant to be.  In the same episode we also learnt about the fact that they shot each episode twice; initially on a Friday and then again on a Saturday with a new audience and then pieced together the best takes from the two shows.  She may have come across as a simple Northern lass, but Ms Wood was as savvy at comedy production as any of her big shot American counterparts.

Even better the second time

The two series of Dinnerladies haven’t been repeated as frequently as her other shows, so we don’t remember some of the lines from the show as well as lines from her sketches such as  “Two Soups”, “Is it on the trolley?” and “I’m looking for my friend….Kimberley”, but judging by the clips which were included in the programme there were some great ones.

“I asked him if I could winch my legs down on his hard standing”.  It’s a caravanning term…what did you think it meant?

There are dozens of other ones equally as innuendo ridden and laugh out loud funny.  The Dolly monologue after she has taken a Viagra is great “It’ll be like a Range Rover going to sped into a cul-de-sac”.  I had also forgotten how many people popped up as guest stars (Thora Hird and Eric Sykes in this scene).

Gone but not forgotten

A lot of the insight into the writing of Dinnerladies comes from Vic herself via a radio interview she gave before her death.  I suppose that is the saddest thing about the programme.  It’s very clear that there is one person missing and she really was the star.

But let’s not get maudlin, GOLD are showing the entire series of Dinnerladies after Dinnerladies Diaries, so let’s strap on our tabards (one of the greatest comedy words ever invented) and just enjoy the comedy.

Where to find it

Dinnerladies Diaries is on GOLD on Wednesday evening at 8:00 pm and on demand from the GOLD website.

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