The title card from the first episode, showing the canteen in which the show is set
|Created by||Victoria Wood|
|Written by||Victoria Wood|
|Directed by||Geoff Posner|
|Theme music composer||Victoria Wood|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||2|
|No. of episodes||16 (List of episodes)|
|Location(s)||BBC Television Centre|
|Running time||27–29 minutes|
|Distributor||Universal Playback (DVD)|
|Original channel||BBC One|
|Picture format||576i (4:3 SDTV)|
|Original run||12 November 1998– 27 January 2000|
Dinnerladies (stylised in lowercase as dinnerladies) is a British sitcom which was created, written and co-produced by Victoria Wood. Two series were broadcast on BBC One from 1998 to 2000, with 16 episodes in total. The programme is repeated on Gold, and the complete series was released on DVD in November 2004.
The series is set entirely in the canteen of HWD Components, a fictional factory in Manchester, featuring the caterers and regular customers as the main characters. It depicts the lives and social and romantic interactions of the staff, and is centred around the main character Brenda Furlong (Wood).
The first series won the 1999 Rose d'Or Press Award and "Best New TV Comedy" at the 1999 British Comedy Awards, and the second won "Best TV Comedy" in 2000. The show has also been nominated for the British Academy Television Award for "Best Comedy (Programme or Series)" and the "Situation Comedy Award" in 1998 and 1999 respectively. It came 28th in the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll in 2004.
At the beginning of the first series, we are introduced to the main characters, a group of mostly female and middle-aged canteen workers in Northern England: the main character is the kind and dependable Brenda 'Bren' Furlong (played by Victoria Wood), whose relationship with sarcastic and exhausted canteen manager Tony Martin (Andrew Dunn), develops through the show.
The prim and prudish Dolly Bellfield (Thelma Barlow) and her waspish friend Jean (Anne Reid) are also featured, as well as the younger pair of the snarky Twinkle (Maxine Peake), who is always late, and the ditzy but mild-mannered Anita (Shobna Gulati).
Stan Meadowcroft (Duncan Preston) is an opinionated and easily provoked (but well-meaning) maintenance man who is responsible for cleaning the factory and fixing equipment. The new cheery but disorganised human resources manager Philippa Moorcroft (Celia Imrie) is from the South and doesn't fit in well with the rest of the staff; she moved to Manchester because of her relationship with senior member of staff Mr Michael (Christopher Greet).
Julie Walters also appears in nine episodes[a] as Bren's disadvantaged, delusional and manipulative mother who lives in a caravan behind a petrol station. She abandoned Bren at an orphanage, and often turns up to ask for favours.
In the first series, Bren and Tony's relationship begins to develop, and she supports him as he undergoes chemotherapy. Philippa tries to organise team-building activities, the factory receives a royal visit, Bren's mother causes a scandal in the factory, the team bring their mothers to work, HWD Components merges with a Japanese company and Tony is temporarily replaced due to his treatment.
Throughout the second series, Bren and Tony's relationship develops further; the canteen takes on a work experience girl, Jean goes to stay with her sister after she is put in a foul mood by her unfaithful husband, a murderer escapes from a local prison and Bren's fear of needles is mistaken for pregnancy. Jane (Sue Devaney) organises a holiday to Marbella, on which Bren and Tony want to go together. After a mixup, Bren manages to get a place, but she ends up giving the money to her mother instead. Their colleagues bet on when Bren and Tony will "get it on", and they finally get together after Tony puts on a surprise birthday party for Bren, who was born on Christmas Eve.
Later in the series, Philippa can't attend the Millennium Meal she organises, and Anita has a baby; after leaving it anonymously for Bren to care for, she takes it back and goes on maternity leave; she is replaced temporarily by Christine (Kay Adshead), who is disliked by the rest of the dinnerladies.
As the staff plan to move on with their lives, Bren goes on the game show Totally Trivial, but loses her chance to win after she can't attend due to her mother's death. It is revealed that her mother left her a large amount of cash, and Bren and Tony use the money to move to Scotland.
- Bren is the deputy manager of the canteen, and arguably the most ordinary of the characters. She had an unhappy childhood as her mother had her taken into foster care, and married unhappily to an alcoholic of whom she was afraid. She is very good at solving her colleagues' problems but often doubts her ability to overcome her own hardships and has low self-esteem. She is somewhat scattered, often forgetting adjectives and making other malapropisms, and has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of film, which she makes many metaphorical references to, and gets as her subject on the quiz show Totally Trivial. Several times in the first series it is hinted that she has feelings for Tony, though nothing comes of this until halfway through the second series. She moves to Scotland with Tony at the end of series 2.
- Andrew Dunn as Tony Martin
- The divorced canteen manager, whose battle against cancer is a running storyline in the first series, prompting him to want to do more with his life than running a canteen in the second. He is often frustrated when the others aren't working, and tends to be sarcastic. Though he talks and thinks about women a lot, he has very little luck with them. He is attracted to Bren, but is too shy to reveal this to her for a long time. He is also a smoker and uses this as an excuse to escape uncomfortable or surreal situations.
- Something of a social climber, Dolly is the cattiest of the dinnerladies, often making bitchy remarks about others. Prim and prudish, she frequently snaps at people for using bad language and frowns on the sexual shenanigans of Twinkle, whom she is convinced did not have to work for her catering qualification. She is a Daily Mail reader, and prone to making remarks of questionable political correctness. She is fixated on her weight and dieting, although she is tempted to snack on Mars bars in stressful situations. She has been married for thirty years to her husband Bob (Jack Smethurst), and hopes to move to the nearby upmarket suburb of Mobberley after her retirement. Her constant regret is that her son Stephen lives with a male marine biologist.
- Anne Reid as Jean
- Dolly's best friend, Jean is very often the stooge for her mordant remarks. She is somewhat unhappily married to cheating husband Keith at the start of the series (with a grown-up daughter, Lisa), but in series 2 he leaves her for a Welsh dental hygienist called Bronwyn. After getting over the shock, and rediscovering self-confidence that she'd forgotten she ever had, she has a fling with a security guard (Barry "the love muscle") before settling down with Stan after she accepts his proposal in the final episode.
- Maxine Peake as Twinkle
- The youngest member of the team, she turns up late every day and tries unsuccessfully to borrow cigarettes from Tony. Despite her snarky attitude, she regards the other members of staff as friends; particularly Bren, to whom she turns for help on several occasions, such as when she thinks she is pregnant. She lives with her wheelchair-bound mother, for whom she acts as carer, and often spends her evenings getting drunk and falling into skips. Something of a delinquent who often skipped school, she is also a closeted football fan.
- Pleasant, but rather dim and forgetful, Anita is a kind and loyal friend to her colleagues, empathising with them and often helping them to solve their problems without even realising it. She is somewhat desperate to have a family and children, becoming pregnant in the second series after a one-night stand with a visiting decorator and, terrified of the implications, leaves the baby on the fire escape on Millennium Eve, attaching a note asking Bren to look after him. However, she quickly returns to take the baby back. She is a big fan of Celine Dion.
- Duncan Preston as Stan Meadowcroft
- The handyman of the factory who lives with his father, a retired Desert Rat whom he often speaks of. He is particularly close to Bren as she seems to be the only one who knows how to successfully handle his changeable moods. After his father's death he decides to get his life going again, embarking on a brief relationship with a nurse before dating, and ultimately proposing to, his colleague Jean, which she accepts in the final episode. Although he is well-meaning, Stan's behaviour can occasionally verge on being chauvinistic, believing that he should perform physical labour. This stems from his belief that such tasks (among others, such as seeing animal carcasses) are not suitable for, as he puts it, "female women".
- Celia Imrie as Philippa Moorcroft
- The scatty and disorganised manager of the Human Resources department, having apparently landed the job because she was having an affair with the factory manager, Mr Michael, who she refers to as Mikey. Her well-meaning attempts to relieve the dinnerladies' stress or help them in their personal lives generally have the opposite effect: in the first episode, she tries to organise Scottish country dancing sessions. In the second series she decides to break up with Mr Michael, and later begins a relationship with a colleague, Tom Murray. Philippa is the only character in the series who comes from the south of England.
- Julie Walters as Petula Gordino
- Bren's selfish and manipulative mother, who had Bren taken into foster care as a child because she was "cramping her style", and claims that she lost the address of the orphanage. She sometimes seems to forget that Bren is her daughter. Whenever she pays Bren a visit it's usually because she wants money or a favour. She often claims to be a close friend (and usually lover) of the rich and famous, but in reality is a down-and-out who lives in a caravan behind a petrol station. In the second series, she gets involved with an Asian man and claims to be pregnant with his child. In the final episode, she dies off-screen and it is revealed that her real name was the same as Bren's; Bren muses that she "can't have hated [her] that much" if she named her after herself.
- Sue Devaney as Jane
- A member of the planning department, she had only a minor role in the first series, usually ordering the toast round for meetings. In the second series, she played a much more major part, having an ongoing wager with the canteen staff on whether Bren and Tony would "get it on" by Christmas Eve. She has a drunken snog herself with Tony whilst on holiday in Marbella.
- Andrew Livingston (series 1) and Adrian Hood (series 2) as Norman
- Delivers bread to the canteen. Norman is work-shy, agoraphobic and "technically" a bigamist. He often attributes his condition to an incident when he "fell off a diving board in Guernsey". He also developed a fear of bread in the second series.
- Sue Cleaver as Glenda
- A bread supplier who often takes over Norman's duties when his agoraphobia is plaguing him. She underwent bladder surgery, the nature of which is never directly mentioned. Tony often jokes that she is a transsexual.
- Christopher Greet as Mr Michael
- Senior staff member of HWD Components; it is hinted that he is a manager or even managing director. He was in a relationship with Philippa, which was the reason she moved to Manchester. He is a fan of trad jazz, jigsaws, custard and Garabaldi biscuits.
- Kate Robbins as Babs
- Petula's guest to the Christmas Party and Tony's blind date in series one. Very slow and often mentions that she's from Urmston. She is very knowledgeable in catering appliances, and made a brief appearance in series two: after witnessing Petula's caravan exploding, she was sent to ask for Bren's holiday money.
- Peter Lorenzelli as Keith
- Jean's husband, who appears at the Christmas party, but later leaves Jean for a "lipless dental hygienist from Cardiff".
- Bernard Wrigley as Bob
- Bob is a factory worker who appears at the counter in a number of episodes, usually asking for bacon or liver. He takes a mild interest in canteen gossip.
- Jack Smethurst as Bob
- Dolly's husband is also named "Bob" and he appears in the episode 'Party'.
- Steve Huison as Steve Greengrass
- An unlucky and mundane worker who can't mix his foodstuffs. He had a patella fracture when he slipped on some orange juice spilt by Anita, allowing Bren to go on holiday.
Single episode or occasional characters were played by guest actors, including Tina Malone, Bernard Wrigley, Eric Sykes, Thora Hird, Dora Bryan, Lynda Baron, Elspet Gray, Joanne Froggatt, Jack Smethurst and Kenny Doughty.
Humour is mostly derived from the conversation and banter between characters, regarding their lives and popular culture, most commonly film and television: dialogue often features humorous misunderstandings, malapropisms and sexual innuendos. The series also features various surreal situations, often involving Bren's mother.
There is also a counterpoint of sadder themes, including deaths in the families of two of the main characters, a painful divorce, one of the characters living with cancer, one character becoming a single parent, and the heartache in Bren and Tony's relationship.
The series was written entirely by Victoria Wood, with no additional contributors or script editor. Wood approached writing by allowing plots to develop from interactions between characters, rather than fitting characters into pre-determined storylines.
She wrote the whole six-episode first series in one month; however, she found the second series much harder to write, and even though it had only four more episodes, it took her six months. Wood has attributed this to pressure to do everything herself and loneliness, and has said that she even considered giving up because she thought her scripts were of low quality.
Wood deliberately ended the programme after two series, and the final episode of the second was designed to conclude it. She has said that she "[doesn't] normally do anything twice", but felt that a second series was necessary to do the show justice, and that she knew where to take the show after seeing it air and understanding "what people [have] taken from it". She mentioned the short run of Fawlty Towers when explaining why she planned not to continue the series further.
Involving only one set throughout its run (with the exception of quiz show and hospital sets which are both seen on a television screen in the last two episodes), Dinnerladies was entirely filmed at BBC Television Centre in front of a live studio audience, employing a multiple-camera setup. Other locations such as characters' homes and other parts of the factory are only referred to in conversation.
The set was intended to be as realistic as possible, and even featured a functioning catering toaster from which the studio audience were served toast during filming.
Jokes were generally delivered at a fast pace with dialogue usually only pausing to allow audience laughter to settle. Each episode was filmed twice in front of two separate audiences, once on a Friday and again on a Saturday. This gave cast members two attempts to perfect a scene and, if necessary, the opportunity to correct mistakes without having to repeat a joke to the same audience.
The series' director and producer was Geoff Posner, and the executive producers were Philip McIntyre and David Tyler; the programme was co-produced by Victoria Wood's production company Good News and Posner's Pozzitive Television.
The show's theme music was composed by Victoria Wood. It is usually played without lyrics, but at the end of the episodes "Minnellium" and "Toast", vocals which were also written and performed by Wood were included.
When Victoria Wood was a guest on Parkinson, she performed the programme's theme song with a grand piano.
Dinnerladies was generally well-received, and was praised by critic Tom Paulin. The viewing figures for series 1 peaked with its premiere at 12.24 million viewers, and series 2 peaked with "Minnellium", which aired on 31 December 1999 and reached 15.33 million viewers.
A play based on the series premiered in London in April 2009. The play was based on three episodes of the second series of the TV show, and concentrated on the romance between Bren and Tony. It was directed by David Graham, who also adapted Victoria Wood's original TV scripts for the stage. Gulati and Dunn reprised their original roles from the TV series. The show toured the UK during 2009.
A second show called Dinnerladies: Second Helpings toured in 2011 with a new script, once again featuring Dunn, joined by original series cast member Sue Devaney. Shobna Gulati left to return to the soap opera Coronation Street.
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