Trendy, sophisticated types are wrong to sneer at Mrs Brown’s Boys, writes Aidan Smith, who plans to watch the Christmas special for the first time.
We are creatures of habit and at Christmas-time we are synthetic-fur, highly-inflammable, maiden aunt-gifting, table-display reindeers of habit. So that is why, right after the election and the resumption of normal life, I dug deep in the cellar for the naffest of Yuletide bawbees, installing them in their usual place.
That is why, too, I headed uptown to Jenners to gawp at the tree. With the duchess of Princes Street set to hoick up her petticoats and quit the scene, I was probably doing it for the last time. For Edinburgh Department Store Boy, this was quite a moment. My first-ever ride on an escalator was in Goldbergs. Haircuts were downstairs in PT’s. My glam-rock clobber came from C&A. The Forsyth’s windows on international rugby weekends were always a must-see. And new girlfriends were traditionally met underneath the clock at Binn’s, at least when they bothered to turn up. That PT’s baldy in the style of Slade guitarist Dave Hill, snipped high across the forehead as if in readiness for frontal lobotomy, was probably a poor choice.
The tree was stunning but simple, ceiling-high but modestly decorated, an antidote to the over-Christmasisation of the rest of Princes Street and a reminder of quieter times. Was a trip to view it really once the sum total of festive entertainment? Yes it was. Just like how, regarding entertainment indoors, there used to be only two television channels. Strange but true.
A wishbone of contention
With such a superabundance of goggle-box choice these days, you wouldn’t think Mrs Brown’s Boys securing a plum spot in the Christmas Day schedules would be any kind of big deal. But it is. It’s always a Christmas Day show and that’s always a wishbone of contention for some. A certain kind of sophisticated, sneering, snobby viewership has continued to rubbish Mrs Brown’s Boys, and laughed at the sitcom’s fans laughing at its obvious, old-fashioned humour. I know because I’d count myself as one of these snobs.
None of this remotely bothers Brendan O’Carroll who plays the eponymous Irish mammy and who every year around this time is invited to explain the bizarre secret of the show’s success. “Honestly, I just put on my dress and my tits and go out and make people laugh,” O’Carroll said in an interview yesterday. “But if they don’t like it – feck ’em.”
Maybe, though, we who think ourselves above this sort of base comedy have to accept that other folk like different things. Perhaps we should undergo the soul-searching that is taking place in whatever has replaced the old smoke-filled rooms of Labour’s high command. There, the party’s metropolitan elite are having to come to terms with harsh truths: other folk think them out of touch. Other folk reckon they’re, as Mrs Brown would say, up their own erses. Other folk like Brexit.
We who nod knowingly at postmodern comedies and anti-comedies and clever-clever comedies without gags cannot point at the great Mrs Brown rump of this land and shout: “Idiots!” Similarly Labour leadership hopefuls cannot say this about the voters the party have lost, those who’ve jumped over the Red Wall and into the gruff embrace of Boris Johnson, never one to pass up the opportunity of a surprise knee-squeeze.
The silent majority
We may think we know better; we may think we like better. We may believe Fleabag to be the greatest thing since artisan-baked bread, but is it really? The hype surrounding Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy has been staggering. You would think we’d been waiting – anxiously, desperately – for it to come along and show us the error of the past six-and-a-half decades of television. You would think it had reinvented the potter’s wheel, the regular between-programmes interlude in the medium’s first days.
Hip columnists like to pen zeitgeisty treatises about “the Fleabag effect” and at the weekend the Daily Telegraph, compiling a list of the top 50 cultural highpoints of the decade, placed the comedy at No 1. Wasn’t it simply about a dysfunctional family with will-they-won’t-they? love intrigue involving a “hot priest”? It was funny but not that funny, original but not that original. And I honestly don’t think I’m trying to outcool the coolios by saying that.
Mrs Brown’s Boys concerns – guess what? – a dysfunctional family. Those who like it don’t have columns in which to sing its praises. They are, in one sense, the silent majority. But when polls are decided by the viewing public and the popular vote then they come out in their droves: four National Television Awards and the Radio Times’ Sitcom of the Century among many others.
Mrs Brown’s Boys, the Brexit of comedies, does not profess to being the future of comedy or life or anything although given that it’s an Irish-set show filmed in Scotland and Labour are being told they should relocate away from London it’s possibly ahead of the game.
It’s more like the past of comedy if you’re old enough to remember the cross-dressing malarkey of Stanley Baxter, Benny Hill and Dick Emery but in grim times the show seems to be exactly what’s needed. We want Boris and we want a man with ginormous fake boobs.
If you’ve never seen it before, maybe now’s the time to get acquainted. This Christmas-time, trendy types can no longer dismiss it as the Brussels sprout of comedy, the pair-of-socks of comedy or the Lime Barrel of comedy, that being the sweet always left at the bottom of the tin. These types include me and, for the very first time, Mrs Brown’s Boys will find room at the inn, just like that hideous reindeer, one Sellotaped antler and all. If you can’t beat them then you probably have to join them.