1 9 7 2 – 1 9 7 6 (UK)
54 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 45 minute episode
1 x special
Staunch Union Jack-waving socialist Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) and his wife Joan (Kate Williams) live in Maple Terrace next door to a West Indian couple, Bill (Rudolph Walker) and Barbie (Nina Baden-Semper) Reynolds.
Joan and Barbie are good friends but their husbands – who work together at the same factory – are perpetually bickering because of Eddie’s bigotry and colour prejudice.
Eddie hates the fact that he has to live next door to Jamaicans, and his cheerful West Indian neighbour, Bill (who also happens to be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory), is just as good at trading insults back.
Having previously explored ethnic disharmony in Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width, writing partners Vince Powell and Harry Driver followed Johnny Speight down the path of employing bigotry as humour.
Unfortunately, whereas Till Death Us Do Part and Curry And Chips (however misunderstood they might have been) had highlighted the ignorance endemic in racism, Love Thy Neighbour rarely rose above name-calling and crude stereotyping.
While it is inconceivable that a show like Love Thy Neighbour could be made today (the racist jibes – “Sambo”, “King Kong”, “Nig Nog”, “Chocolate Drop” etc – are rarely heard (and never condoned) in the world today), the series was a runaway success, boasting 17 million viewers at its peak and spawning a full-length feature film.
One must bear in mind, though, that what is politically incorrect now has not always been so.
By 1976, public sensitivity saw the show cancelled. It was certainly a product of its time, and unlikely as it may seem today, Love Thy Neighbour was also once turned into a two-hour play for a summer season at Blackpool (no pun intended).
Jack Smethurst said at the time; – “I think it will be a bit of an eye-opener for tourists, especially those from countries like South Africa and the American Deep South. At home, they would never see a show where black and white people abuse one another in a comedy situation.” Jack went on; “It’s a very British show. The majority of people here see it for what it is – a show of racial tolerance”.
Black actors Rudolph Walker and Nina Baden-Semper both claimed not to be offended by the racism in the scripts and, like the writers, hoped that Love Thy Neighbour would break down barriers. Sadly it did no such thing.
It was, however, a rip-roaring success, and even after the show’s cancellation in Britain, a further seven episodes of the series were made and screened only in Australia.
Titled Love Thy Neighbour In Australia, the episodes showed Eddie Booth venturing “Down Under” to work and moving into the Sydney suburb of Blacktown (the humour was not overly subtle) to find – surprise, surprise – a problem with his neighbours.
An American version of the show was produced in 1973 with Ron Masak and Joyce Bulifant as Charlie and Peggy Wilson, a white Democrat couple who live on Friar Tuck Lane in suburban Sherwood Forest Estates near Los Angeles.
The Wilsons are horrified by the arrival of their new neighbours, Ferguson and Jackie Bruce (Harrison Page and Janet MacLachlan) – a black Republican couple.
Unlike the British model, the American series was not a success and lasted for only 12 episodes, aired by ABC between June and September 1973.
Jack Smethurst passed away on 16 February 2022, aged 89.