Now available on Netflix, Victoria Wood’s 1998 sitcom demonstrates there’s nothing quite like good, British humour.
Starring Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, Thelma Barlow, Andrew Dunn, Shobna Gulati, Celia Imrie, Maxine Peake, Duncan Preston, and Anne Reid
If there’s any doubt as to Victoria Wood’s status as a National Treasure, dinnerladies settles it. Acting as co-producer, writer and actor in this series, Wood is donning many hats – not to mention the particularly fetching one seen on screen. Writing an entire comedy series single-handedly, without anybody else’s input, even for editing, is a marvellous feat in itself, but it is even more impressive when one manages to produce something of dinnerladies’ calibre.
The brand on humour on offer in dinnerladies is a style that cannot be taught. When watching it, it’s like observing an actual conversation happening within a household, or a workplace, especially one where the people there know each other so intimately. Seeing the episodes, I was immediately transported back to a conversation with my own family, in which there are multiple rambling non-sequiturs, generally based upon a misunderstanding of which person is being spoken about. It’s so slick and meticulously crafted, it’s almost impossible to conceive of it as being created by one person’s brain. The bizarre, logical leaps that the script makes are truly fascinating, and is the source of much of the series’ amusing situations. It’s what sets dinnerladies apart in a way. The basis of the humour isn’t in the physical side, it’s in the rapid fire, witty dialogue, as bandied back and forth like a bizarre volley.
Each part is as well crafted and written as they are performed. Alongside Wood as Bren, our protagonist: a hard working woman with a heart of gold, there’s Dolly (Thelma Barlow) and Jean (Anne Reid), who constantly bicker in the kitchen (mainly concerning Jean’s hips). Rounding off the workforce are Anita (Shobna Gulati), who is five spanners and a couple of screwdrivers away from being a toolbox…or, indeed, probably any box, and moody teenager Twinkle (Maxine Peake), who seems to view smiling as deeply offensive to her sensibilities. Leading the team is Tony (Andrew Dunn), who stands at somewhat of an aside to the everyday conversations that go on in the canteen. Also present is handyman Stan (Duncan Preston), whose father was a desert rat, and Phillipa (Celia Imrie), who was Personnel and is now Human Resources. Perhaps most memorably, or maybe that should be infamously, is Julie Walters as Bren’s mother, Petula Gordeno, who lives in a caravan and constantly name drops celebrities she’s had (definitely fictional) interactions with.
Each character would doubtless be hilarious purely by themselves, but when these characters combine, something magical and ineffable occurs. It’s almost as if the humour writes itself (though I’m sure Wood would thoroughly disagree). It’s also a hallmark of an absolutely brilliant comedy writer that not only is the dialogue itself so witty, and unreliant upon anybody coming into the canteen and falling over an upturned box, but that these laughs are scattered around the entire cast. It must be very tempting as a comedy writer to give yourself the best lines, but it’s truly an ensemble piece at play here.
The entire series – all 16 episodes – are produced to an impressively high standard, and Wood definitely made the correct decision in ending the series where she did, to allow it to maintain this quality. Ultimately, the work speaks for itself. dinnerladies is a masterclass of what a good sitcom should be, and the humour always comes from the characters. Brilliantly written and wonderfully performed, this show is like a warm cup of tea on a rainy day. dinnerladies is, without a shadow of a doubt, a must watch. Or, if you’ve already seen it, a must watch again.
dinnerladies is now streaming on Netflix.