I have to say a word in defence of All Round to Mrs Brown’s, the BBC One series that has just ended (but can be found on iPlayer). Leftie columnists say it’s the embodiment of Brexit – a 1970s-era, live-audience sitcom dredging up memories of a cosy past. And what’s wrong with that? Not all of us want to spend every evening watching Jon Snow grill a sociologist about food banks.
Mrs Brown is played by Brendan O’Carroll as a wisecracking Irish matriarch with a family of idiots, gays and other stereotypes. Why is she Irish? Because, I suspect, the British audience assumes the Irish still live in the 1950s and the themes of Church and family are happily nostalgic. Yet for every liberal decrying Mrs Brown as a conservative throwback, there’s a conservative decrying her for being foul-mouthed and sex-obsessed. They say that she doesn’t belong to the classic sitcom tradition because while Mrs Brown is obscene, the old shows were smutty yet innocent.
Except that they weren’t. Mary Whitehouse, the broadcasting standards campaigner, loathed Till Death Us Do Part because of its foul language (one episode contained 78 instances of the word “bloody”). Rewatch On the Buses and you’ll be struck by the show’s libertine attitude towards sex; Love Thy Neighbour stands out for its frank discussion of race. The only reason why innuendo was used in these old shows, rather than Mrs Brown’s single entendres, was because convention demanded it and people like Mrs Whitehouse enforced it. So Mrs Brown, uncensored, is more faithful to the contemporary attitudes of its audience.
Interestingly, at the heart of her show is a God-fearing woman and on its outskirts is the regular character of a priest, Fr Damien, who is even invited to deliver a “thought for the day”. His teachings are often in tension with the moral choices of the characters; the show invariably comes down on the side of sexual liberty. These are the cultural obligations of 2017 and we just have to put up with them. But Mrs Brown is funny, which is the most important thing, and tries to represent a walk of life otherwise absent from TV, which is a bonus. I’m not ashamed to say I’m a fan.