Nearest and Dearest, The Lovers, The Dustbinmen and The Cuckoo Waltz – many of the nation’s best-loved sitcoms sprang to life in the Manchester studios of Granada TV.
A gifted group of writers, including Manchester’s Jack Rosenthal, produced some of comedy’s most memorable and bitter-sweet moments from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Starting with The Army Game in the late 1950s right through to Watching in 1987, sparkling scripts and stand-out performances have delighted viewers in Britain and beyond.
Who could forget Paula Wilcox and Richard Beckinsale as the blissfully naïve courting couple Geoffrey and Beryl in The Lovers?
Or Diane Keen and David Roper as impoverished newlyweds Chris and Fliss in The Cuckoo Waltz, forced to take in lodger Gavin (Lewis Collins) to make ends meet?
The cast of The Army Game read like a Who’s Who of British comedy when it was first broadcast in June 1957.
The show, all about National Service conscription, starred William Hartnell, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw, Alfie Bass and Dick Emery to name but a few.
Many of the actors featured in Carry On Sergeant, the first Carry On film, in 1958. It was virtually a spin-off from The Army Game, again focusing on the trials and traumas of National Service.
The movie introduced new characters too. They included a young Bob Monkhouse as newly married husband Charlie Sage, who gets his call-up papers over his wedding breakfast, and Shirley Eaton as his wife Mary.
Nearest and Dearest starred Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewel as squabbling siblings trying to manage the family pickle business in Colne, Lancashire.
It ran for 46 episodes from 1968 to 1973, mainly in black and white. The last 28 were in colour – an exciting development in the early 1970s!
Veteran comedienne Baker, born and bred in Farnworth, was cast as Nellie Pledge while Yorkshire actor Jewel played her brother Eli.
Blackburn actress Madge Hindle, famous for the role of Renee Bradshaw in Coronation Street, was the Pledges’ second cousin Lily Tattersall. She was married to octogenarian Walter (Edward Main) who never said a word throughout the series.
Salford actor Joe Gladwin appeared as the cloth-capped foreman Stan Hardman.
The plots usually centred on Nellie’s arguments with Eli, especially over his womanising and drinking, ending up in comic shouting matches and insults.
Baker’s malapropisms became renowned. She once berated Jewel for sitting about looking like a ‘big business typhoon.’
When he asked whether she knew the facts of life, Baker emphatically replied: ‘Of course I do. I’m over the age of content!’
The facts of life played a major part in The Lovers as Geoffrey Scrimshaw (Richard Beckinsale) did his best to seduce girlfriend Beryl Battersby (Paula Wilcox).
The comedy came from the mismatch between the two. Slightly dizzy Beryl referred to Geoffrey as ‘Geoffrey bubbles bonbon’ and sex as ‘Percy Filth.’
Needless to say, all Geoffrey’s advances were rebuffed with a stern ‘N-O spells NO!’
Beautifully scripted by Jack Rosenthal, The Lovers ran for 13 episodes from October 1970 to November 1971.
The Cuckoo Waltz, written by Geoffrey Lancashire, enjoyed a longer stretch of 26 episodes in four series from October 1975 to August 1980.
Set in Manchester, the comedy revolved around newlyweds Chris and Fliss Hawthorne (David Roper and Diane Keen) easing their financial woes by taking in lodger Gavin Rumsey (Lewis Collins).
The couple famously sat on deck chairs in the lounge instead of a three-piece suite and constantly envied Gavin’s single lifestyle.
Much of the Hawthorn’s furniture would probably find its way on to the back of Thunderbird 3 – the name given to the refuse van operated by the cast of The Dustbinmen.
The comedy, broadcast in three series from September 1969 to August 1970, dealt with the everyday life experienced by the four main characters – Cheese and Egg, Heavy Breathing, Winston Platt and Eric.
The Dustbinmen was again set in Manchester. It featured Graham Haberfield (Jerry Booth in Coronation Street) as the lifelong City fan Winston who worshipped Colin Bell as a god.
Coronation Street even spawned its own comedy spin-off in 1965. Called Pardon the Expression, it featured Arthur Lowe as Leonard Swindley – the former manager of the Street’s fashion retailer Gamma Garments.
In Pardon the Expression, Swindley became the deputy manager of department store Dobson and Hawks.
The series also included another Coronation Street regular as the store’s canteen lady Mrs Edgeley. No doubt perfecting her hotpots, it was Rovers Return barmaid Betty Driver.