The Royle Family Portraits – tonight on GOLD

by Lisa McGarry

After GOLD’s sneak behind the Royle’s sofa, uncovering unseen material and revelations about how the sitcom and characters were conceived, it’s time to hand over to the cast and the legion of celebrity fans to pick the bits they hold with highest esteem.

Not only will the cast and celebrity fans – like Catherine Tate, Paul Whitehouse, Jimmy McGovern and John Prescott – pick their favourite Royle moments, but creators, writers and stars of the show Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash will also pick their all time, top ten personal highlights and talk us through what each moment meant to them .

And what a canon of work to choose from! The Royle Family is chock full of great moments – from Jim’s iconic catchphrase “My Arse!”, to Joe’s spontaneous singing and Denise’s waters breaking – there are enough classic moments here to prove that The Royle Family is one of Britain’s very best.

In anticipation of tonight’s TV special, we bring you ten things you didn’t know about The Royle Family.

Going for a song

Theme song Half the World Away is as much a part of the Royle Family as the clan’s ash-strewn sofa. But Noel Gallagher was mystified when he was first approached – he was on tour at the time, and thanks to a bad connection he thought the Royal Family were inexplicably requesting permission to use one of his songs for a documentary. Even after he twigged, Noel was baffled, suggesting that the track Married with Children was the more logical choice. Pah, shows what he knows.

Caroline vs the suits

The Royle Family would have been a very different show if the TV execs had got their way. They wanted a studio audience or laughter track – Caroline rejected it. They wanted to have bigger, more obvious storylines – Caroline rejected it. And they wanted to take the show out of the Royle’s living room and set it in different locations – Caroline rejecting it, saying that the only rubbish episode of Til Death Us Do Part she could remember was the one in a restaurant. Eventually, the suits backed down in the face of her comedy genius. Caroline, we salute you.

A bit of a perfectionist

Pretty much all of The Royle Family strikes us as quite ridiculously marvellous, but Caroline Aherne’s not a woman who’s easy pleased. In fact, she thought the very first episode of the first series was so bad, she wanted to buy the rights to it and have it binned. Luckily, the hefty price tag (almost a quarter of a million) made her realise she could live with it as it was. “I’d have bought it from them if it had been any less, though,” she says.

The third man

Caroline and her collaborator Craig Cash get all the credit for The Royle Family, but let’s also hear it for the third person who helped bring the show to our screens. Henry Normal, their co-writer on series one, was a one-time performance poet given to such things as taking to the stage with a paper bag over his head (imagine what Jim Royle would have made of that). He then got into TV, and set up a production company with his mate Steve Coogan which has since given us such classics as Gavin & Stacey and The Mighty Boosh. Plus, rumour has it Jim Royle was based on Henry’s own dad!

Remake, my ass

Americans, eh. They do like to mangle our sitcoms. Sometimes they get it right (the US Office is actually rather good), but more often than not it’s enough to make you weep. Like when they took the Royles and turned them into their American equivalent: a bunch of slobbish redneck types. Admittedly, it was clever calling it The Kennedys, as the famed political dynasty were the nearest thing to a royal family America ever had. But even the efforts of Randy Quaid in the Jim Royle role couldn’t save this, and it didn’t last beyond a pilot.

Christmas fiasco

Filming the 2009 Christmas special went as wrong as one of Denise Royle’s turkey dinners thanks to a technical glitch. All seemed fine on set, but when the film went back to the lab, technicians realised the camera had gone wrong and cut off everyone’s heads. In the words of one crew member, “it was like going to Boots with your wedding snaps ruined, but on a massive scale”. The whole cast had to return for a re-shoot which cost £100,000, making it one of the worst blunders in TV history.

Keeping it in the family

If you thought the world of showbiz was all about money-hungry producers and vain, back-stabbing actors, then… Well, you’re probably right, but there are pockets of integrity left. When Caroline Aherne decided to quit The Royle Family in 2000, the series could easily have been dragged on without her, to inevitably diminishing returns. But Ricky Tomlinson was having none of it – he pulled out as well, to ensure the show wouldn’t outlast Caroline’s tenure. Well done that man.

A shameless success

We have many things to thank The Royle Family for. For breathing new life into the sitcom genre, for reminding us that originality can still thrive on telly, and – chiefly – for making us chuckle lots. But fans of Shameless have an extra reason to be grateful. According to Shameless creator Paul Abbott, his hit show would never have been given the go ahead if The Royle Family hadn’t tested out the audience first.

A happy reunion

Dave’s dreary parents David and Jocelyn Best, who turned up in the 2008 Christmas special, were played by screen veterans Tom Courtney and Helen Fraser. But here’s the neat bit: the two of them had played a couple once before, way back in 1963 for the British comedy classic Billy Liar. Extra trivia bit: Royle Family star Ralf Little played Billy Liar himself on stage in 2004.

The swearing gran

No, the subtitle above isn’t referring to Catherine Tate’s foul-mouthed creation. We speak, in fact, of the sweet and lovely Liz Smith, who so poignantly portrayed Nana. Anyone concerned that she might have been mortified by all the swearing on the show can take solace in the fact that she’s actually as gutter-mouthed as anyone, and puts this down to her time in the Navy during World War Two. “I’m a totally vulgar person,” she says. Blimey, who’d have thought it.

The Royle Family Portraits transmits exclusively on GOLD on 17th November at 9pm.

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