Like her TV Mum Su Johnston, I am so, so sorry to hear of the death of comedienne Caroline Aherne in her early fifties. This wickedly funny, complex character first appeared in the national consciousness as television chat show hostess Mrs Merton: a little old lady with a gimlet glance and acid lips. Nobody can forget her opening question to magician’s assistant-turned-wife Debbie McGee ‘So, what first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?’
Mrs Merton punctured pomposity and got to the heart of the matter with rapier wit. Again to McGee, Mrs Merton declared that magician David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear. ‘Your Paul did that with the ace of Clubs’. The voice was comedy gold: high, sweet and steely when necessary. I will never forget when she asked alcoholic footballer George Best ‘if you hadn’t done all that running, do you think you wouldn’t have been so thirsty?’
By her own admission, Caroline Aherne liked a few sips herself. She was also a sometime cancer patient and a full-time manic depressive so we did have not a little in common. Fact, along with many difficulties manic depression does give those who live with it an unique sense of humour. My favourite Mrs Merton moments were the ones with her ‘Wigan women’: the fellow old ladies in the audience who she egged on and insulted with equal relish.
I can remember one link where Mrs Merton turned away from the camera and asked the Wigan women, ‘who’s gorra a sweet?’ Comedy gold and brilliant observation considering every old lady of my Nan’s generation carried sweets in her handbag. I will be buying a Mrs Merton box set today because I want to remember more of Caroline Aherne’s magic moments. I already have her sitcom Mrs Merton and Malcolm. The dynamic between she and her son with arrested development was sublime writing and physical comedy.
My favourite Mrs Merton moment with Malcolm was when he was trying to imitate Michael Flatley doing Riverdance and Mrs M showed him how it was done. Of course the younger generation will remember Caroline Aherne for voicing Gogglebox and for The Royle Family. I think the latter was some of the best writing of Caroline’s career. She was so unsympathetic as thick, venal, lazy Denise. She gave Nanna and Mam the best lines and made them national treasures.
Of course Gogglebox was a direct consequence of The Royle Family: a family on a sofa watching telly and shouting or laughing at it. As concepts go, it was and is genius not because of the telly the family is watching but because of the relationships within that family. The Royle Family Christmas specials were superb television as was the extended episode when Nana dies. It gave Liz Fraser one of the best moments of her long television career. The Royle Family also gave Sheridan Smith her first big break and for that we should be eternally grateful to Caroline Aherne.
I see similarities between the talents of Sheridan Smith and Caroline Aherne and not the obvious comparisons between their troubled private lives. They are life-enhancing performers and I use the present tense because once you are captured on film you live forever. As long as there are boxes to goggle at, Caroline Aherne will live on.
In other news, I went to a bar frequented by gentlemen only last night and was harangued on a bar stool for at least three-quarters of an hour by a very handsome Frenchman who was disgusted by Brexit. I thought as an opening gambit, I could go with the Brexit debate until he became progressively if jovially critical of the British. We will, apparently, be isolated. We are stupid, pig-headed, irresponsible and lost. I did point out that you can’t respect a country that cuts it’s monarchs’ heads off ... salve King Charles I but that wasn’t a majority decision as was the French Revolution.
I also pointed-out that the French had always been chippy about the Brits and that the feeling of antipathy is mutual. If I never see Paris again I will be contented. Loathe Paris, don’t you? He stormed-off saying I was very rude having trashed my country and ambushed me when I was out for a quiet sherry. And you wonder why we left…
So enjoying the news again on telly and radio if only because the BBC is still stunned like a mullet that Brexit was achieved. I think there are a lot of stunned people to be frank and I for one am enjoying the fall-out. I was told by a dear friend that the economy would collapse. It hasn’t. I was told the United Kingdom would split like an atom. I doubt it.
I was also told that being a thick Northerner, I am partly responsible for a catastrophic decision for Britain and for future generations. I love Britain and quite frankly don’t give a stuff about future generations. Can’t bear all this ‘do it for the children’ malarky. In case the children didn’t notice, the older generation is still alive – just! – so there we are.
‘Scotland did not let you down’ the European Parliament was told by an MEP. Well, the European Union let England down so we reciprocated. I also think Nicola Sturgeon is farting higher than her arse, no? Where’s Mrs Merton when you need her?