1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 1 (UK)
20 x 30 minute episodes
Maureen Lipman starred as Jane Lucas – a cosmopolitan Jewish wife and mother who was also a radio broadcaster and author of the problem page in the (fictitious) magazine Person.
The main premise was that Jane spent so much time sorting out other people’s problems that she was unable to handle her own – and they were many . . .
She had a psychiatrist husband, Laurence, who was a philandering ex-public schoolboy and a Christian to boot (and from whom she eventually parted); a needy and manipulative archetypal Jewish widowed mother, Bea; a magazine boss, Diana, who was impossible to work for; a gung-ho office secretary, Val; and, at ”Happening Radio 242”, a DJ colleague, Andy, who was shallow and narcissistic.
The only people to offer Jane any real comfort and support were Rob and Michael, her gay neighbours (pictured below).
The portrayal of this homosexual couple as non-camp, sensitive, intelligent, witty and generally happy was a notable first in the British sitcom genre, and the show efficiently tackled many other taboos along the way.
Real-life press and radio ”agony aunt” Anna Raeburn advised and (for the first series) co-wrote this sometimes daring and always entertaining sitcom about her own work.
The series’ media setting and Jewish background meant that the lead character could be legitimately witty, delivering wisecracks and sharp one-liners in a style more usually associated with American sitcoms. Indeed, deviser and co-writer Len Richmond was a Californian who had worked on US TV, notably on Three’s Company.
Agony ended after three series but enjoyed two further leases of life: the first was a US translation, The Lucie Arnaz Show (with scripts from Richmond), not screened in Britain, which starred the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and ran for six episodes on CBS in 1985.
The second was a 1995 British sequel (made by the BBC, not ITV this time), Agony Again with Lipman still starring. Now Jane was the host of the TV talk show, Lucas Live. However, she was still pestered by her mother and those around her, who included her gay son, her new man, Daniel, and her ex-husband, Laurence, who could never quite let go.