Whenever '70's sitcoms about race are discussed on retro programmes, one show that invariably gets mentioned first is 'Love Thy Neighbour', as though that's all there was back then. I shout at the screen: "What about 'The Fosters'"? The idea to do an all-black British sitcom came from Michael Grade of London Weekend Television. On a visit to the U.S.A., he'd seen and enjoyed an episode of 'Good Times', and thought it would work well over here. It did.
The late Norman Beaton played 'Sam Foster', the patriarchal head of a family living in a block of flats in London. He was married to the loving 'Pearl' ( the late Isabelle Lucas ), and the children were 'Sonny' ( Lenny Henry ) who fancied himself as Britain's answer to Richard Rowntree, sister 'Shirley' ( Sharon Rosita ) and little brother 'Benjamin' ( Lawrie Mark ). Carmen Munroe was their neighbour 'Vilma'. The cast were great, particularly Beaton and Henry. Stand-up comic Lenny had won the talent show 'New Faces' only a year or so before, and he fitted effortlessly into this sitcom, acquitting himself well opposite more experienced actors. No wonder he went on to greater success.
Being a family show, 'The Fosters' had to tone down the grittiness of the original. 'Good Times' broke new ground with an episode in which one of the characters caught V.D. Nothing like that happened in 'The Fosters'. Jon Watkins adapted the scripts, and later invented a few new ones. He had previously written for 'Bless This House', and it showed. I cannot recall the plots in any great detail, but do remember Irene Handl guested in one show as a dotty old lady who has used dog food to make shepherd's pie, which she then gives to The Fosters. Too embarrassed to refuse it, they sit down as a family - with the old lady present - to eat the pie. As he says grace, Sonny lets slip that he knows what she has done: "The Lord is my sheepdog, I shall not woof!".
After only two seasons, L.W.T. pulled the pull on the show. Why is unclear to this day, as it was never out of the Top Ten ratings. Perhaps the characters were perceived to be a little too nice, the plots not daring enough. Who knows? 'The Fosters', if nothing else, disapproves the myth that all '70's sitcoms were casually racist.
If you're wondering about that summary, its a quote from the first episode, being Sonny's introductory line. He delivered it in such a cool, nonchalant style it won him a round of applause!
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