The UK television community sadly lost one of its most high profile comedy stars last week: Caroline Aherne.
Caroline Aherne died on 2 July, aged 52. Well known for her writing and acting, and for comedy creations including Mrs Merton, Roy and Renée and the Royles, Caroline also went on to direct a number of episodes of The Royle Family.
We asked two fellow Directors UK members who worked with Caroline over the years to tell us about her work and her contribution to comedy.
Dominic Brigstocke directed Caroline in The Mrs Merton Show in 1994. He has also worked on numerous drama and comedy series, including Green Wing, Horrible Histories, I’m Alan Partridge, Harry Enfield and Chums, The Armstrong and Miller Show and Born and Bred.
“I was fortunate enough to work with Caroline on the first series of The Mrs Merton Show. Having seen the pilot, where she cheekily asked a bemused Carol Thatcher whether she was breastfed, I was immediately drawn to the irreverent and original style of the show, which reflected her own character perfectly. Caroline was mischievous and charming, with an infectious laugh, but she also had a keen intelligence and a refreshingly clear idea of what she was trying to achieve. The set for the show and the way she was backed and surrounded by her audience was her idea; she respected and adored her elderly studio audience, delighted in their contributions to the show and, in return, they loved her back. Caroline, on set, was always laughing, and occasionally the veneer of the Mrs Merton character would be momentarily broken by her genuine delight at a particularly funny moment.
“On The Mrs Merton Show, Caroline surrounded herself with the cream of Manchester-based writing talent. Henry Normal, Dave Gorman and Craig Cash joined her in dreaming up the most inappropriate questions to ask her guests, and the writing room was always a place of riotous laughter. Her good friend Steve Coogan was drafted in as a guest on the very first show, and he would occasionally drop by in his new red Ferrari and be subjected to a torrent of well-intentioned abuse from Granada’s third floor window.
“Caroline was part of a ’90s North West England revolution in naturalistic comedy, every bit as influential as the ‘alternative’ comedy of the ’80s. She performed in three of the most acclaimed shows of the time - Mrs Merton, The Fast Show and The Royle Family. I vividly remember her pitching the idea of The Royle Family to Geoffrey Perkins; the concept of a sitcom without an audience was way ahead of its time. She wanted to make a show about a family like her own, not the clichéd middle classes she saw usually portrayed on television. She conceived the show ‘as if Ken Loach had made a sitcom’, finding ‘funny’ among the quirky curiosities of ordinary people living ordinary lives. She fiercely fought against convention to ensure it stayed true to her intentions and the triumphant result is a tribute to her vision. She understood better than most people what makes a good comedy and how to communicate through pictures and sound, so it was entirely appropriate that after a few years she had picked up enough experience to take over the directing reigns of her shows.
“It would be no exaggeration to say that without her ground-breaking innovation, her characters, her influence, there would have been no The Office and no Car Share. She created a new genre through the force of her own creative determination, and the fact that she was also funny and completely delightful to work with just makes her sadly early death all the more tragic”.
Director Tony Prescott also worked with Caroline on The Mrs Merton Show in 1998. Tony has also directed episodes of Coronation Street, Emmerdale, The Russ Abbot Show and Heartbeat.
“She was simply a genius. You could never second guess Caroline. She was so ahead of the game, it was like watching a great chess player. She constructed her interviews brilliantly. Her comedy timing was second to none. Her punchline delivery was devastating. Caroline really loved her on screen audience and they returned that love. She was a warm beautiful person and I am honoured to have watched her work”.
Directors UK offers its condolences. Caroline will be much missed.