These clichés make for good television, but can be simply refuted. If TILL DEATH US DO PART explored sex in a frank way, its permissiveness was offset by the popularity of NOT IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN, one of a seemingly endless stream of family-oriented sitcoms produced about that time. THE YOUNG ONES explored the frustrations of young student types in the Eighties, but SORRY had Ronnie Corbett bossed about by his mother (Barbara Lott); while a decade later the New Laddism of MEN BEHAVING BADLY has to be set against the appalling MY FAMILY, where Ben Harper (Robert Lindsay) plays a hen-pecked husband who could have appeared in a sitcom three decades previously.
This documentary also made some glaring omissions in its historical sweep, especially in the Seventies. It touched on GEORGE AND MILDRED, but made no mention of the series that spawned it, MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE (1973-6) which explored the relationship between three flatmates, one man and two women. Nor did the program look at MISS JONES AND SON (1977) whose central character (Paula Wilcox) was an unmarried mother. One of the so-called "experts" appearing in the documentary dismissed ITV's fare at this time as "working- class," citing ON THE BUSES (1969-73) as an example. The fact that all three of the above- mentioned sitcoms were produced by ITV would seem to challenge this assertion.
In fact, what emerged most palpably from the documentary - and which was only cursorily explored - is that for all the new frankness in terms of language (sitcom characters discuss masturbation, oral sex and foreplay with a frankness that would have been unthinkable in the Seventies), British attitudes towards the sexual act remain wearyingly unchanged. For young men it is something to be discussed with bravado in groups, especially in public settings; when they are alone they become far more reticent. There is still an emphasis on using the third person singular term "it," to describe sex, despite the coarse language. And very few characters ever conceive of sex as something pleasurable, to be enjoyed for its own sake rather than discussed. I am not the greatest fan of D. H. Lawrence, but I do wish that some of the frankness characteristic of a work like LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER could find its way into the sitcom genre. Perhaps that strategy might help to make some of the scripts much funnier.