1 9 9 8 – 2 0 0 0 (UK)
16 x 30 minute episodes
Victoria Wood’s first sitcom (featuring the staff of the works canteen at the Manchester factory of HWD Components) was a character-led affair in which events played second fiddle to the personalities and the sort of socially observant banter that also filled her stage shows.
The ensemble was headed by the down-to-earth big-hearted deputy manager Bren (Victoria Wood herself), the sort of person who keeps her head while all about her are losing theirs and who could butter rolls and wash lettuce with the best of them, even if she did have trouble remembering words.
She coped admirably with boss Tony (Andrew Gunn), a chemotherapy survivor who did his best to retain his dignity among the female staff – and later became her boyfriend; daffy and prudish Daily Mail reader Dolly (Thelma Barlow); laid-back, oversexed Jean (Anne Reid) – “It’s taken me 50 years to find my erogenous zones. I’m not going back and settling for a bag of wine gums”; stroppy teenager Twinkle (Maxine Peake) and dippy, over-sensitive Anita (Shobna Gulati).
For all their bickering, these six formed a close-knit group, bound together by mutual respect. Select visitors were tolerated – notably, father-fixated handyman Stan (Duncan Preston), befuddled by women but boyishly bewitched by technology (“You may find retractable bollards humorous, but to my mind, they’ve revolutionised flexible parking”), and (more guardedly) the cheerfully inept and highly-strung personnel manager Phillipa (Celia Imrie).
But unwelcome interlopers (a tyrannical temporary manager, a flatulent would-be faith healer and, especially, Bren’s alcoholic train-wreck of a mother, Petula (Julie Walters), a namedropping fantasist who occasionally left her grubby caravan home to reveal her latest sexual conquests) met the full force of their disdain.
Although stories nominally revolved around the visit of royalty or a Japanese takeover of the company, of greater importance to Bren and her colleagues was whether the bread man had delivered the right order or if the toaster would actually work.
With its complex and witty dialogue and heavy word count, each Dinnerladies episode was actually recorded twice, to allow the cast to guarantee spot-on performances.
The series first aired on 12 November 1998 and just two series were made. Victoria Wood kept the run short to leave on a high note, and she certainly did.
Wood passed away in 2016 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was just 62.
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