The History of Britcoms on WILL-TV (Part Two)
No Britcom history could be written without paying homage to its grande dame, Penelope Keith. She came to the attention of Central Illinois viewers in February 1980 with the debut of Good Neighbors. The series aired in the U.K. under the title The Good Life, but was renamed to avoid confusion with a long-forgotten American sitcom. (By the way, Good Neighbors will be one of the “All-Stars” competing in this Saturday’s Great Britcom Vote on WILL-TV!)
The indomitable Keith returned in the next Britcom to air on WILL, To the Manor Born. Locally, it premiered in May 1981. It has, of course, been a perennial part of our schedule, wrapping up its most recent run in January of this year.
Soon, new British comedies were arriving rapidly, including a batch that you might barely remember, if at all. They included Not the Nine O’Clock News (WILL-TV premiere: December 1981), a topical sketch comedy featuring a 20-something Rowan Atkinson. Following were Father, Dear Father (January 1982; a dad with two teenaged daughters); Doctor in the House (March 1982; medical student hijinks); Bless Me, Father (October 1983; adventures of an Irish Catholic priest); and The Bounder (November 1984; To the Manor Born’s Peter Bowles as an ex-con).
One of the more notable imports debuted in November 1985: Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister took a comedic look at British politics. A year later, the long-running WWII-era comedy Allo, Allo! came to WILL-TV. Set in occupied France, the series continued to produce new episodes into the early '90s.
The late ‘80s were a time of relative obscurities such as Fairly Secret Army and Don’t Wait Up (both May 1987); Fresh Fields and its follow-up, French Fields (October 1987); The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ (April 1988); and Executive Stress (July 1989) starring—you guessed it—Penelope Keith!
Up until 1989, Britcoms were primarily a weekend thing on WILL-TV, but that changed in February of that year when Good Neighbors began airing weeknights at 10:00 pm. And then, on July 3, 1989 (a few months after I came to work at WILL-TV), a little comedy called Are You Being Served? was introduced. You may have heard of it.