Title screen featuring the front of Black Books.
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||3|
|No. of episodes||18 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||William Burdett-Coutts|
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Big Talk|
|Distributor||Channel 4 Sales|
|Original network||Channel 4|
|Picture format||576p SDTV|
|Audio format||Dolby Digital Stereo|
|Original release||29 September 2000– 15 April 2004|
Black Books is a British sitcom created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan, and written by Dylan Moran, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews. It was broadcast on Channel 4, running for three series from 2000 to 2004. Starring Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig, the series is set in the eponymous London bookshop and follows the lives of its owner Bernard Black (Moran), his assistant Manny Bianco (Bailey) and their friend Fran Katzenjammer (Greig). The series was produced by Big Talk Productions, in association with Channel 4.
The show was produced in a multiple-camera setup, and was primarily filmed at Teddington Studios in Teddington, London, with exterior scenes filmed on location on Leigh Street and the surrounding areas in Bloomsbury. The debut episode premiered on 29 September 2000 and three seasons followed, with the final episode airing on 15 April 2004.
Bernard Black is the owner of Black Books, a small bookshop. The series revolves around the lives of Bernard, Manny and Fran. A central theme is Bernard's persona of a grouchy and misanthropic shopkeeper who has a hatred of the outside world and all the people who inhabit it, except for his best friend, Fran, who initially ran a trendy bric-a-brac shop, Nifty Gifty, next-door to the shop.
Bernard displays little interest or knowledge in retail (or, indeed, anything outside drinking, smoking and reading) and actively avoids having to interact with anyone, even inside his shop, as he has a seething dislike towards his customers, treating his bookshop more like a personal library. It is suggested that Fran and Bernard once slept together, but now they remain content to be friends, sharing a love of smoking heavily and drinking to excess. Fran otherwise is a hopeless romantic.
Manny is introduced in the first episode as an angst-ridden accountant who enters the bookshop seeking The Little Book of Calm. During a drunken night out, Bernard offers him a job as a shop assistant and a room above the shop if he will do Bernard's accounts for him. Sobering up, Bernard realises Manny's optimistic nature is not suited to this "kind of operation". Fran, however, seeing that Manny is good for Bernard, forces Bernard to let him stay.
Many episodes are driven by Manny and Fran's attempts to force Bernard into a more socially acceptable lifestyle. Their efforts usually result in chaos, sucking them back into Bernard's cynical view of the world. The bookshop, which also doubles as Manny and Bernard's residence, is frequently depicted as being in an unlivable state of dirtiness and often inhabited by animals and other unidentified creatures, while disorder is a frequent aspect of the running of the shop. Manny's attempts to improve both the shop and the residence often fail.
In October 2011, Graham Linehan was asked what Bernard, Manny and Fran would be doing a decade after the events of the series. Linehan responded, "They'll grow up, like everyone else."
The series revolves around the three main characters of Bernard Ludwig Black (Dylan Moran), Manny Bianco (Bill Bailey) and Fran Katzenjammer (Tamsin Greig), who all appeared in every episode. Supporting characters appear briefly in single episodes, while the show also featured several guest stars, such as actor Simon Pegg and writer Graham Linehan.
Black Books ran for a total of 18 half-hour episodes, broadcast over three series of six episodes each. Series 1 premiered on 29 September 2000 and ran until 3 November 2000, series 2 from 1 March 2002 to 5 April 2002 and series 3 from 11 March 2004 to 15 April 2004.
A pilot for the show was featured in the 1998 Channel 4 sitcom festival in Riverside Studios. This early version was decidedly darker, revolving around Bernard's, and later Manny's, decision to commit suicide. It featured Manny (surname Zimmerman in reference to Bob Dylan) and the Fran character as Valerie, a philosophy lecturer.
The pilot was an original creation of Moran's and the series was his first creation as a writer for a television series. Linehan, co-writer of the 1995 Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted, joined at the outset to co-write the series with Moran at the suggestion of producer William Burdett-Coutts after Linehan saw the pilot and had seen Moran performing in Dublin. The characters were Moran's original creation, created over a month-long process he calls "spitballing", which is talking spontaneously to each other in character.
The concept of Bernard owning a bookshop came about because of Moran's view of bookshops as doomed enterprises. Moran said "Running a second-hand bookshop is a guaranteed commercial failure. It's a whole philosophy. There were bookshops that I frequented and I was always struck by the loneliness and doggedness of these men who piloted this death ship", while Linehan said his belligerent personality reflected a sign he once saw in a bookshop stating "Please put the books anywhere you like because we've got nothing better to do than put them back". Moran said of the series, "We just wanted to cram as much elaborate stupidity into a half-hour that could make it be coherent and that you would believe".
The fictional address for the bookshop is Black Books, 13 Little Bevan Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1. Manny also states the shop is located "just off Russell Square". The exterior scenes of the bookshop were filmed outside a real bookshop, albeit a smaller one, called Collinge & Clark, located at 13 Leigh Street, Bloomsbury.
The audio commentary for Shaun of the Dead states that Black Books is considered by the producers to be a sister show of the 1999 Channel 4 sitcom Spaced, also produced by Nira Park. The show features several actors from Spaced, while in one episode Manny is heard speaking to Twist Morgan, a character from Spaced. Simon Pegg appeared guest-starred as Bill Bailey's boss in another episode, an inversion of their roles in Spaced; Nick Frost appeared at the beginning of the episode "The Big Lockout" to install a new security system for the shop, though lost Manny's attention when he spotted a Subbuteo player in his hair; Kevin Cecil, one of the Black Books writers, appeared in Spaced playing the character of Harris; Jessica Stevenson made an appearance as a friend of Fran's, who was trying to help her live a healthier lifestyle with attempts to change her diet and get her to exercise more; Peter Serafinowicz played a radio broadcaster whose dulcet tones reading the shipping forecast drove Fran wild with desire; Omid Djalili appeared in "He's Leaving Home" as an opportunistic photographer; Rob Brydon appeared in Season 2's episode "The Fixer". Both Lucy Davis (The Office, Shaun of the Dead) and Olivia Colman (Hot Fuzz) appeared in Season 3's episode "Elephants and Hens".
Awards and reception
Black Books won the BAFTA for Best Situation Comedy in 2001 and 2005, and won a Bronze Rose at the Festival Rose d'Or of Montreux in 2001. It also received nominations for British Comedy Awards and the Irish Film and Television Awards.
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- Wright, Mark (28 May 2008). "Unsung Heroes of Television: Bernard Black". The Stage. Archived from the original on 18 June 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
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