The Royle Family

From Academic Kids

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The cast: Clockwise from top: Dave, Antony, Barbara, Jim and Denise
The Royle Family was a popular BBC television situation comedy (sitcom) that ran for three series between 1998 and 2000. It concerned the lives of a cash-strapped working class Manchester family, the Royles.

The series was remarkable for its simple production and realistic portrayal of family life at the turn of the Millennium. The scripts contain often banal conversations but each series focuses on events around a major family occasion, namely the marriage of the family's daughter Denise, the birth of her first child and the child's christening. All the episodes take place in the rather cramped family home. The show was written by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash who also acted in it. It was produced by Granada Television for the BBC.

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, and voted on by industry professionals, The Royle Family was placed 31st. In a 2004 poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom, The Royle Family was placed 19th.



The show is a comic and poignant satire of family life in Manchester, or perhaps Britain as a whole. The family rarely do anything other than watch TV, banter and occasionally eat, smoke and drink. It could be said to be a modern comedy of manners. Every episode takes place in the family home, almost exclusively in the living room and/or kitchen.

Most episodes lack an obvious plot, but most have a theme, or at least a topic of discussion to hold it together. The show also lacks set piece jokes. Many of the humorous situations involve awkwardness, badly told jokes, crassness (usually on Jim's part), irony and the fact that the Royle family on the television often realistically reflect the real lives of the families watching it. In this it has similarities to another BBC docu-comedy, The Office.

Although it is sometimes claimed that the series has no jokes, there are in fact many one-liners, but these are spoken casually by the characters and not signposted like jokes in a regular sitcom.


The first series ran on BBC2 in 1998, quickly gaining a cult following, and was moved to BBC1 for the second series in 1999, when it became even more popular. A Christmas special appeared in 1999, followed by a third series and another Christmas special in 2000. This episode proved to be the last when Caroline Aherne decided to move to Australia after a bout of depression and a suicide attempt to escape the press. After Aherne announced that she would not write or star in any more episodes, Ricky Tomlinson also pulled out to ensure the show's end.


The family consists of:

  • Jim (Ricky Tomlinson), father, and patriarch of the Royle family. Approaching 50, Jim is overweight, unemployed and very lazy. Ignorant and boorish, he is prone to being quick-temperered and scathing to those around him. Since he was made redundant Jim has been unemployed and is preoccupied with family expenditure and frequently loses his temper over money matters, particularly the burden of daughter Denise's wedding. He is loud-mouthed, opinionated, and very public about his bodily functions (for example, by announcing his visits to the toilet). However, he can also be very affectionate and sentimental (usually while slightly drunk). A quite competent banjo player, he has a raucous belly-laugh (usually in response to his own jokes) and is something of a party animal. Interestingly, Jim appears to be the most intelligent character. He spends an overwhelming amount of time sitting in an armchair watching television and does very little else in the series.
  • Barbara (Sue Johnston), mother and domestic drudge to the Royle family, married to Jim. Barbara is the family's only wage-earner, working part-time at a local bakery. A bit more prim and a lot harder-working than her husband, she often scolds Jim for bad language or improper conversation. Barbara is the most diplomatic family member, often using her soft voice and motherly charm to settle arguments.
  • Daughter Denise (Caroline Aherne), a twenty-something weepy neurotic who suffers intense jealousy of the unseen Beverly Macca. Exhibiting all the signs of a favourite (most probably spoiled) child, Denise is fussy, greedy, territorial, and immensely lazy. She has been in a relationship with Dave for five years. Denise is unemployed (undoubtedly due to her laziness and seemingly low intellect), and apparently does very little besides occasionally going to "The Feathers" pub (with a habit of getting blind drunk), and sitting in the family living room watching the television day after day. In series two and three, Denise and Dave are living in their own house but still come round to the Royle home on a very frequent basis.
  • Lanky teen son Antony (Ralf Little), approximately 15, is the family dogsbody. He is constantly ordered around by the family - performing nearly every errand - and seems incapable of standing up to them. In an ironic twist of the later series, Antony becomes street-smart and intelligent, and throughout series two and three, becomes the only character with a possible better future, in the form of wealthy girlfriend Emma.

Regular characters include:

  • Dave Best, Denise's boyfriend and later husband (Craig Cash). Dave is a man of surprisingly low intelligence and is frequently childlike. He works as a furniture remover and part-time mobile disco proprietor. Dave is very hen-pecked by Denise, as his low intelligence makes him unable to stand up to Denise unless he is slightly drunk.
  • Norma Speakman, Barbara's mother, known to everyone as Nana (Liz Smith). Norma features in most episodes and in the few in which she is absent, she is a major topic of conversation between the family. Norma and Jim share a mutual dislike for each other and are not afraid to show it. Nana has an irritating habit of constantly discussing death and recounting trivial anecdotes from her past, and is also something of an alcoholic, a fact which she unconvincingly tries to keep hidden. She lives in a flat on the other side of town with best friend Elsie (never seen), and her constant hints to move into the Royle household are politely ignored.
  • Mary and Joe Carroll (Doreen Keogh and Peter Martin), the Royles' next-door neighbours. Mary, of Irish descent, is constantly cheery and provides a stark contrast to her husband Joe, who is extraordinarily dull and boring. Joe's monotone personality always saps Jim's usually cheery nature.
  • Cheryl Carroll, (Jessica Stevenson), one of Denise's (apparently few) friends, and daughter of Mary and Joe. Plump Cheryl is constantly dieting and constantly failing to stick to her diet regimens, ensuring that she is almost always slightly depressed about her figure. Cheryl is frequently the butt of Jim's often tasteless jokes.

Occasional characters include Antony's best friend Darren (Andrew Whyment) wealthy girlfriend Emma (Sheridan Smith), the never-seen Dukkers (the local hard-man), and Jim's best friend Twiggy (Geoffrey Hughes). The character Beverly Macca is repeatedly mentioned but never seen - all that is known of her is that she had two children before the age of 18, is attractive, and was a one-time girlfriend of Dave. Denise is extremely jealous of Beverly, and her and Dave frequently enter arguments (whilst drunk) over the subject of Beverly.


Unlike most sitcoms the show is filmed in 16mm using a single camera. There is no laugh track.

Each episode appears to take place in real time, so that half an hour of the Royles' lives unfolds during each half-hour episode. However, the passage of time as indicated by the changing programmes on the Royles' TV sometimes suggests that the action has been compressed.

All of the action takes place in the Royles' house. The camera never leaves the house. If the Royles look out of the window the camera looks at them and not what they are looking at. The only images from outside are glimpses of programmes on the Royles' TV.

The show was made famous by Jim ending many sentences with the catchphrase "My arse."

The show's theme tune is "Half the World Away" by Oasis. The song can be found as the B-Side to Whatever and on the album The Masterplan.

Each series appeared to lead up to a specific event. The first led to Denise and Dave's wedding; the second saw Denise now pregnant with their child and led up to the birth (Denise went into labour in the Christmas special); and the third saw the addition of Baby David and the run-up to his christening and his first birthday on Christmas Day. Jim also received Sky Digital as a present.

The name The Royle Family is an obvious pun on Britain's Royal Family. The rude manners of the Royles are in contrast with the supposed refined manners of the Queen and her family. The joke was taken to its conclusion by impressionist Alistair McGowan on his television show, with a series of sketches featuring the Royal Family as the Royle Family. The Duke of Edinburgh character played Jim, with Queen Elizabeth II as Barbara, The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles as Denise and Dave, and The Duke of York as Anthony, wearing the top half of a Royal Navy uniform along with a pair of tracksuit trousers.

External link

BBC's page on the Royle Family (


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