Behind the sofa
"Behind the sofa" is a British pop culture phrase describing the fearful reaction of hiding behind a sofa to avoid seeing frightening parts of a television programme (with the implication that one wants to remain in the room to watch the rest of the programme). Although the phrase is sometimes employed in a serious context, its use is usually intended to be humorous and/or nostalgic, and to evoke a pleasant, safe fear in a domestic setting.
Origin in Doctor Who
The expression originated from popular media commentary on young children being frightened by episodes of the BBC science-fiction television series Doctor Who, particularly during the 1970s. The idea that young children would hide behind furniture when especially frightening scenes were being shown, as they were unwilling to miss the programme altogether, was also popularized in the media. The phrase is strongly associated with Doctor Who in the United Kingdom, so much so that in 1991 the Museum of the Moving Image in London named their exhibition celebrating the programme "Behind the Sofa".
"Everyone remembers hiding behind the sofa," journalist Sinclair McKay wrote of the programme during its thirtieth anniversary year of 1993. "Remember hiding behind the sofa every time Doctor Who came on the television?" the Daily Mirror newspaper asked its readers in a feature article two years later. In a 2006 interview with Sky News, Prince Andrew, Duke of York said that he hid from Daleks behind a Windsor Castle settee while watching Doctor Who as a child. The Economist has presented "hiding behind the sofa whenever the Daleks appear" as a British cultural institution on par with Bovril and tea-time; furthermore it has appeared (without any explanation of the idiom) in BBC reportage of the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign.
Paul Parsons, author of The Science of Doctor Who, explains the appeal of hiding behind the sofa as the activation of the fear response in the amygdala in conjunction with reassurances of safety from the brain's frontal lobe.
In other popular culture
The phrase has also found more general usage in the UK as a humorous or satirical metaphor for being in a state of fear or terror. For example, after he was sacked as the presenter of the comedy programme Have I Got News for You in 2002 due to revelations about his private life, Angus Deayton released a press statement which concluded: "I sincerely wish the show well in the future and look forward to watching this Friday's episode — from behind the sofa." Another example comes from sports coverage; in a live text commentary on a cricket match in the 2005 Ashes series for the Guardian Unlimited website, journalist Rob Smyth wrote of one moment during the game: "Now that Warne's gone, it's safe for Gilo to come out from behind the sofa: his second ball is chipped tantalisingly over the blundering Hoggard at mid-off by Gillespie."
In scripted programming, a reference occurred in a 2001 episode of the BBC sitcom Coupling, where the central character Steve, while extolling the virtues of a sofa, remarks on its usefulness in avoiding Daleks. Coupling writer Steven Moffat went on to write for and then become executive producer of the revived series of Doctor Who.
- Leith, Sam (2008-07-04). "Worshipping Doctor Who from behind the sofa". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
The cliché about Doctor Who — that it had us "hiding behind the sofa" — is more telling in its tone than its questionable factuality. It connotes nostalgia, and a pleasurable mixture of fright and fascination — but above all it connotes domesticity. It united fear and soft furnishings in the British mind.
- "Still, the Daleks are the boss space horrors, something to get the children hiding behind the sofa." Reynolds, Stanley (1973-04-09). "The metamorphoses of Who". The Times. p. 15.
- McKay, Sinclair. "Guess Who's 30 This Year?". The Mail on Sunday. Sunday 18 April 1993.
- Pringle, Maggie. "Dr Who's 30 Years of Time Travel". Daily Mirror. Friday 17 February 1995.
- Lyon, Shaun. Outpost Gallifrey News Page, Outpost Gallifrey. Friday 21 April 2006.
- "The end of Olde Englande: A lament for Blighty". The Economist. 2006-09-14. Retrieved 2006-09-18.
- Parsons, Paul. "Who believes in who" Daily Telegraph. Tuesday 28 March 2006. (URL accessed 30 March 2006.)
- BBC News Online. "Quiz host Deayton fired by BBC". Wednesday 30 October 2002. (URL accessed 4 January 2006).
- Guardian Unlimited. "Third Test, day four. Over-by-over: morning session". Sunday 14 August 2005. (URL accessed 4 January 2006).
- Writer Steven Moffat; Director Martin Dennis; Producer Sue Vertue (2001-09-17). "Her Best Friend's Bottom". Coupling. BBC Two.