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Just Janice: never mind the critics, Mrs Brown's Boys is a populist hit

Feck! Mrs Brown’s Boys. Has any TV comedy show ever before so exposed the gulf between TV critics and regular viewers who are not paid to sit back and be sarky?

Brendan O'Carroll in Mrs Brown's Boys
Brendan O'Carroll in Mrs Brown's Boys

This week, the programme won Best Sitcom at the National Television Awards (or the NTAs, if you’re in the biz, dahling), beating Absolutely Fabulous, Benidorm and The Big Bang Theory. 

These gongs are unique because they’re voted for by viewers, who have already given it the most important award of all - record viewing figures. One estimate of the cumulative audience for the show is an anstonishing 15 million. The Christmas Eve special beat Eastenders, Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife, and it’s overtaken Miranda in the Monday night ratings.

Add to that UK and Scottish BAFTAs, record DVD sales, sell-out tours, a planned 4th series, and now talk of Mrs Brown’s Boys - the movie. Extraordinary success in any era, but especially in this age of multi-channel choice. 

And yet, still the critics look down their collective hooter at the hooting audiences and performers, with comments ranging from “truly terrifying ... the BBC should hang its head in shame” (Metro) to “ a crass, depressing, lazy shriek of badly written garbage” (The Scotsman).

Yes, it’s broad stroke, innuendo-laden comedy that piles on the pathos, but it’s confident, knows its audience and takes a sledge-hammer to the pebble-dashed fourth wall of TV sit-com conventions. If a few Oxbridgers had piloted a show on a late night slot on BBC2 that exposed the cameras and audience in the way that Mrs Brown does, the critics would have been wetting themselves as they penned glowing reviews about how it drew upon Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, signifying alienation in a theatrical context, ya?

As the show gives the V-effekt two fingers to the critics, Glasgow should be proud of the part it’s played in nurturing a populist success. As shown in Mark Millar’s recent TV programme, Pavilion of Dreams, it was Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre that took a chance on the show in the early days, and it’s because of that Glasgow audience that Brendan O’Carroll was keen to make the TV show at the BBC studios in Govan. Now you’re not going to dare tell me you don’t like it, are you?

There will be laughter and tears, I’m sure, at one of the highlights of Celtic Connections on Monday night - a concert at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in tribute to Michael Marra, who died last October.

I was privileged to make a radio programme about Michael with his family at the end of the year and was bowled over by the strength, intelligence and compassion of his wonderful wife, siblings and children. No surprise then, that proceeds from the concert will go towards the family’s appeal to start a Sistema Scotland Big Noise orchestra in Dundee. We’ve lost Michael, but who knows how many new musical talents will spring from this project. As Michael sang - All Will Be Well.

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