Posts Tagged ‘Black Books’

Today is the Great American Smokeout, a day when the American Cancer Society encourages people to make a plan to stop smoking. So of course my mind turns to British TV and some of its characters who could probably use a little help kicking the habit. Granted some of them come from period dramas set in a time when the deleterious effects of smoking were not fully known.

Perhaps they can take a page out of Sherlock’s book and stock up on nicotine patches?


1.Thomas from Downton Abbey

Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) with the ubiquitous fag hanging from his lips image credit Carnival Film & Television and ITV

Villain-ish Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) with a ubiquitous fag hanging from his lips. You may recall he used to take smoking breaks with his partner in crime O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) before she left Downton for warmer climes
image credit Carnival Film & Television and ITV


2.  Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect

DCI Tennison's (Helen Mirren) high pressure job surely takes a toll for which smoking (and drinking) provide some temporary relief image credit Granada Television

DCI Tennison’s (Helen Mirren) high pressure job surely takes a toll for which smoking (and drinking) provide some temporary relief
image credit Granada Television


3.  Bernard Black from Black Books

Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) might be happy if he could just smoke...and drink  and read. image credit Assembly Film and Television and Channel 4

Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) thinks he could be happy if he could just smoke…and drink and read.
image credit Assembly Film and Television and Channel 4


4.  Eddie and Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous

Hedonistic Eddie (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are rarely seen without a ciggie or a drink. (Is a pattern emerging here?) Image credit French & Saunders Productions and BBC

Hedonistic Eddie (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are rarely seen without a ciggie and a drink. (Is a pattern emerging here?) Addiction is a way of life for these best friends.
Image credit French & Saunders Productions and BBC


5. Dr. Turner from Call the Midwife

Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) and the former Sister Bernadette, now Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) share a smoke. Even though it's the late 50's/early 60's, you'd think medical professionals would know better image credit Neal Street Productions, BBC

Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) and the former Sister Bernadette, now Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) share a smoke. Despite being set in the late 50’s/early 60’s, you’d think medical professionals would know better, especially our good doctor.
image credit Neal Street Productions, BBC


Wishing the best of luck to all those who are attempting to quit smoking today! It road is hard, but the benefits are undeniable.

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Welcome back to my Who Did It Best series. If you recall last time we talked about telly butlers. Fifty-two percent of those who participated in my poll voted Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson as the one who did it best, followed by the “other” category at twenty-four percent. I assume from the comments people offered, “other” includes Mr. Hudson from the original Upstairs, Downstairs and Magersfontein Lugg from the Campion mystery series. Jeeves came in third with nineteen percent and sadly I must conclude that I was the lone vote for Edmund Blackadder. He might not have been the best example of a dutiful butler on TV, but he made me laugh the most and that counts for something in my book.

Onward and upward. This time I’m asking you to consider the enterprising local shopkeeper.

Dead Parrot

How not to handle a customer complaint image credit BBC

You know you were thinking of  Michael Palin as the inept and quite possibly dishonest pet shopkeeper in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch.

Small business entrepreneurs must bring every bit of consumer psychology, organization and persuasiveness they possess to the sales floor everyday in order to make a profit particularly in today’s world of quick and cheap superstores and on-line shopping. From books to novelties to the neighborhood grocers’, all these vendors have an uphill battle when it comes to keeping their business viable.

Now it’s time to take a look at our match-up for British telly shopkeepers and discover their tricks of the trade…


Albert Arkwright (Ronnie Barker) – Arkwright’s is a small neighborhood grocery store in Doncaster and is the setting of the classic sitcom Open All Hours. Its proprietor and namesake is a master salesman and a tightwad as well. Just ask his beleaguered nephew and errand boy Granville (David Jason).

Arkwright makes it his mission to see to it that no one who walks through the door of his shop leaves without making a purchase. His true genius is in his ability to convince people to buy the items he needs to move most.



Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) – Black Books is a chaotic, disheveled looking establishment. Shop owner Bernard Black has no discernible customer service skills nor does he seem to have any desire to sell any of his disorganized stock. His assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) does his best to help the shoppers, but Bernard’s rude manner and total disregard for his business is impossible to overcome. Or is it? Perhaps it’s all a brilliant ruse and Bernand is employing reverse psychology tactics on his customers with no self-esteem. Why else would people keep coming back to put up with his abuse?



Miranda (Miranda Hart)- If you had inherited a decent amount of dosh what would you do with the proceeds? Miranda thought it would be fun to buy a joke/novelty shop with hers. Apparently her interest in running the place wore off fairly quickly because she’s left the day to day operations of the business to her far more organized best friend, Stevie (Sarah Hadland). And thank goodness because if she were stuck in the store all day we’d never get to witness all the Miranda-ish shenanigans she gets up to such as fashioning friends from fruit and using alternative appliances to wash her unmentionables. That being said, Miranda doesn’t shy away from enthusiastically greeting her customers when she encounters them in the shop.



So there you have it, my candidates for the telly shopkeepers who did it best. I didn’t consider department store moguls like Mr. Selfridge, but might do so in a future contest. Whose shop would you want to frequent? Which character has the ability to sell ice to an Eskimo? Vote for your favorite or write in your own choice in the comment section.


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As an American on St. Paddy’s Day, I should be drinking disgusting green beer at a faux Irish pub, pretending to like eating corned beef (which is an Irish-American immigrant dish borrowed from the Jewish, by the way) and gathering with throngs of inebriated, often obnoxious, parade goers.  But as you should know by now, I’m celebrating the patron saint’s day in my own couch potato way.

By watching YouTube clips of some of my favorite Irish telly characters, I’m savoring the day without the congestion, the crowds and, to be quite blunt, the vomit. Please enjoy the charm, the hospitality, the accents and the colorful language of the Emerald Isle…

Bernard Black from Black Books


Roy from The IT Crowd


Mrs. Doyle from Father Ted


Nathan from Misfits


Mitchell (the vampire) from Being Human


Who would you add to the list?





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During my time in London I was a student with very little disposable income. Shopping usually consisted of going to Boot’s Chemist shops for toiletries plus film developing, Hart’s Food Market on Baker Street for groceries and popping into a little newsagent’s near the City University for papers and candy.  I was overwhelmed at Harrod’s, browsed disinterestedly at Laura Ashley, and finally forced myself to buy some boots and a clubbing outfit at Selfridges.

There was a Benetton store on every corner (it was the 80’s) and at the HMV on Oxford Street, I purchased the Les Mis soundtrack and the Pet Shop Boys on cassette.  It was the 80’s, remember?  There were a lot of little boutiques in my neighborhood, but I wasn’t cool enough or wealthy enough to feel comfortable going inside.  I did try the outdoor market experience in Convent Garden and Camden Town, but just ask my family, that type of adventurous bargain hunting makes me indecisive and irritable.  It saddens me to say, give me Target and Kohl’s and I’m content.  I must admit I am probably a shopaphobic.

Also at the time I lived in London, shopping hours were not nearly as convenient as I was accustomed to in the States.  Many stores closed by dinnertime and all day Sundays.  I remember wondering how working people got their shopping done.  As for customer service, I don’t recall being accosted by salespeople, but the smaller shops seemed to have friendlier staff.

And what of the British television take on shopping?  The proprietors and staff tend to be quirky and eccentric.  According to Monty Python sketches, the stock might be non-existent (the cheese shop) or deceased (the pet shop).  But stores are places for human interaction and that makes for great comedy.  Here are a few I can recommend whether you adore or abhor the beep of the cash register :

Men’s clothing and women’s lingerie are featured at Grace Brothers (Are You Being Served?).  I’m afraid I’m not very familiar with this classic retail institution. Nevertheless, my impression is that while on the surface this department store seems quite proper, you may walk away with ill-fitting clothing, questionable alterations and a shopping bag full of double entendres.

Ladies finery from the late 1800’s can be found at the The Stores, owned and operated by the Pratt Sisters (Lark Rise to Candleford).  If you are wealthy and well-connected, Ruby and Pearl will unabashedly compliment and fawn over you.  If not, you are likely to be the subject of snide remarks and cruel gossip.

Costume wigs, whoopee cushions, and chocolate…erm… naughty bits are sold at Miranda‘s joke shop (sorry, I don’t think they ever mention the actual name). While Miranda is the owner, you probably won’t find her helping on the sales floor very often.  Her social awkwardness, lack of business acumen and general ADDish behavior has led her to hire her more ambitious childhood friend, Stevie, to manage the shop.  Miranda is more likely to be at the restaurant next door, making a fool of herself in front of Chef Gary, her friend and not-so-secret crush.

Books, mostly second-hand, are stored in a shop called Black Books.  Proprietor Bernard Black seems to have little interest in making a sale and even less in treating his customers with common courtesy or providing any level of service.  Just watch the YouTube clip above and you’ll get the idea.

For the person who has everything might I suggest visiting the Nabootique (The Mighty Boosh)?  Here you can purchase the full range of Howard Moon elbow patches, stationary and an exclusive Vince Noir invention,  Indie Celebrity Radar.  To be honest, I don’t think it’s a real shop at all, just a front for the Board of Shamans.  Don’t ask.

Constantly changing stock is the hallmark of Shopkeeper Roy’s business.   Books, costumes, greeting cards, and videos have all been on offer in this anonymous establishment (Where else could that happen besides Little Britain?)  Here’s the drill.   Mr. Mann, the store’s lone patron, requests some absurdly specific item.  Then Roy, with the help of his unseen and apparently limbless wife, Margaret, usually finds something almost perfect…like a painting of a disappointed horse for example.

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