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Television’s rapidly deteriorating sit-com situation is no longer a laughing matter, thanks to Ageism, and quasi-American, youth culture targeting, which rejects all things ‘British’.

That’s the view of veteran comedy writer, Vince Powell, who, over the past three decades, devised and wrote a string of television comedy blockbusters...and is now appalled at the lack of laughs on the box, and is alarmed at what he views as Ageism in the Industry.

Award winning writer, Vince - whose track record includes top-rating shows, like ‘Never Mind The Quality; Feel The Width’; ‘Nearest and Dearest’; ‘Bless This House’; ‘Mind Your Language’; and pioneering mixed race sit-com, ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ - says: "today’s current crop of sit-coms is all too often banal, crude, and unfunny." In the run-up to Christmas, he said, we didn’t have one single British sit-com on our screens, and this was symptomatic of the situation.

What were - in the Golden Age of Comedy - the ‘fun factories’, have now become ‘glum factories’, he says, in which cynical, unlovable productions roll off the line, plainly bankrupt of that familiar mix of love, life, laughter and pathos, which endeared sit-coms, and their stars, to millions of viewers, in former, and more successful, times.

During that era, more than 20 million viewers used to switch-on to sit-coms, written by Vince, when they were guaranteed lots of belly laughs, at good broad comedy.

Today, he says, comedy of that genre is shunned by modern television executives, on the dubious pretext that it is oldfashioned, politically incorrect, or has little appeal to today’s audiences...and Northern sit-com, in particular, is a prime casualty.

"The truth is, viewers are crying-out for funny, ‘oldfashioned’ sit-coms, which make them laugh, without recourse to crude jokes about bodily functions, sex and four-letter words", said Vince, "and, even more so, since the events of September 11, when people desperately need something to raise their spirits.

"Many of my contemporaries are similarly alarmed, at the apparent demise of situation comedy" he said. "These include such writers as: Jimmy Perry and David Croft (‘Dad’s Army’ ; ‘Hi-Di-Hi’), Eric Chappell (‘Duty Free’;‘Rising Damp’),Galton and Simpson(‘Hancock’;‘Steptoe’) Brian Cooke (‘Father, Dear Father’; ‘Robin’s Nest’), Esmonde and Larbey (‘Please Sir’; ‘The Good Life’), Wolfe and Chesney (‘On The Buses’; ‘The Rag Trade’), Dick Sharples (‘In Loving Memory’), Clement and La Frenais (‘Likely Lads’; ‘Porridge’)."

"All those talented writers are still around," he said. "So, why aren’t they writing sit-coms any more ?

"The answer is that television executives have ‘lost the plot’, and are
not commissioning situation-comedies, having convinced themselves that there is no longer an audience for this strand of programming."

"Such American comedies, as ‘Seinfield’, ‘Cheers’, and ‘Soap’, are all very well", says Vince, "but they are not representative of our good old English culture".

"Sit-coms, such as ‘Are You Being Served’, ‘Hi-Di-Hi’, and ‘Steptoe’, were home-grown laughter vehicles - about people living, and working on this island - and now there is nothing, to fill the gaping chasm, left by their marked absence.

"Certain television executives have the mistaken opinion that many veteran writers, are ‘out of touch’ with contemporary views", Vince added. "Of all branches of the media, that of Television Comedy stands alone, in practising Ageism."

"He says that, unlike any other specialisation within the Industry, once a comedy writer reaches middle age, he or she is deemed to have lost the capability to amuse.

"Novelists, dramatists, composers, painters or dress designers, are never considered ‘too old’ to work", he said, "but, in contrast, once a comedy writer reaches middle age...that’s it: they’ve ‘lost it’; well, certainly, according to some of our new policy-makers, at the top.

"But this is nonsense: it is the TV executives, themselves, who are out of touch. Viewers are no longer excited by cookery programmes, gardening, make-overs, reality programmes, and quiz shows.

"They want to be amused, and entertained by programmes capable of tickling their laughter glands: hence the popularity of old sit-com repeats, on cable and satellite, and the big viewing figures they notch-up, in the ratings.

"The lack of new situation comedies, on television, has led to a dearth of comedy writers", warns Vince. "We veterans are still writing now, but - when we are gone - who will fill our shoes ?"

Vince reckons he has a winning formula, to get the de-railed laughter train, back on track again; while, in the meantime, he is encouraging and training-up, budding writers, via his internet-based writing school.

"Persuade a major broadcaster to commission more sit-coms, by inviting each of the above mentioned writers to submit a sit-com, to be transmitted weekly, under the generic title ‘Comedy Half Hour’, or ‘Time For A Laugh’.

"Not only would such a series be entertaining", he said, "but at least one, or more, could spin-off, into a series, in much the same way as ‘Steptoe And Son’, ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ and ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ were spawned by BBC’s ‘Comedy Playhouse."

"Television needs the experience, craftsmanship and expertise of writers who have written successful sit-coms, in the past, and are more than capable of writing equally successful sit-coms in the future", says Vince.

"It is high time for a Renaissance of situation comedy: a return to those halcyon days, when television viewers could - for a brief half hour - forget their problems, and learn to laugh again."

Among recent submissions to broadcasters, Vince has focussed on the first love affair, between a 16-year-old boy and girl, while another script concerns the difficulties of a Pakistani family, of three generations, trying to integrate, and cope with cultural differences, while running a corner shop, in England.

He is also writing two animation projects, a comedy play, for the stage, and a novel.

In addition, in a bid to pass-on his wealth of experience and skills, to up-and-coming comedy writers, he has designed a creative writing correspondence course, which is available on the internet.

E-mail: Gerry_George@btinternet.com

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