Forgotten TV: Beautiful People

Beautiful People written by Jonathan Harvey ran on BBC2 for 2 series across 2008-9.
Beautiful People written by Jonathan Harvey ran on BBC2 for 2 series across 2008-9.

Reading, 1997 or should that be BBC2, 2008 and a new sitcom from Jonathan Harvey (Writer of Beautiful Thing, Gimme Gimme Gimme and scriptwriter on Coronation Street) made its debut. Beautiful People ran from 2008 to 2009 and inspired by the book by Simon Doonan, the episodes flashed back to Simon’s childhood in Reading during the late 1990s. Starring Luke Ward-Wilkinson as Simon, and featuring that soon to be UK major television star Olivia Coleman as his Mum, Debbie, if you haven’t seen this sitcom already I wholeheartedly recommend you grab it on DVD or iTunes.

There are many things that make this sitcom so great. It’s setting is first and foremost a must – and maybe given the fact that I too was of the same age in the late 1990s I can have a certain affinity with the setting and characters. From the music of Steps, to an episode centred around the one time in the last twenty years Eurovision has actually come to the United Kingdom all the way to reflecting on Girl Power and Princess Diana this sitcom has late 1990s culture down to near perfection. Coupled with a soundtrack that includes such cheesy classics as ‘The Winner Takes It All’, ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’ and ‘Somewhere’ – you almost need a glass of gherkin and cucumber wine to fully enjoy the late nineties experience this provides.

Almost with seamless linkage each episode begins with the older Simon (as played by History Boys Samuel Barnett) considering how he got some random object. The answer, lying in his childhood causes a flashback to the late 1990s. Due to the slightly zany nature of the sitcom, set in flashbacks, this paves the way for some amazing cameos. Dana International (Series 2), Frances Barber (Series 1), Elaine Paige (Series 2) and a very amusing stint from Brenda Fricker (Series 1). Fantasy sequences are definitely the call of the day here.

The show is supported not just by celebrity cameos, but also a sterling cast. Alongside Luke Ward-Wilkinson and Olivia Coleman are other notables such as Leyton Williams (pre-Bad Education) playing Simon’s best friend Kyle (or Kylie as he likes to be known), Tameka Empson (now in EastEnders playing Kim) as a rather eccentric hairdresser and Meera Syal in a rather amusing turn as blind Aunty Hayley.

As far as sitcoms go, this is not an Only Fools and Horses, Keeping Up Appearances, Last of the Summer Wine classic. It does however, as a sitcom set in the (recent) past stand up incredibly well – even six years after the last episode aired. It’s funny, charming and lots of fun. It might not be to everyone’s cup of tea – but if you want a very rose-tinted look at Blair’s Britain has we hurtled towards the millennium this will certainly bring more than a nostalgic smile to your face… And if that hasn’t convinced you, check out the YouTube clip from Series 1 below…

Beautiful People is available to buy on DVD and Blu Ray from Amazon as two separate DVDs for series 1 and 2. Series 1 is also available to purchase on iTunes.