Black Books was the story of second-hand bookshop owner Bernard Black, a man for whom the term 'misanthropic' would be an understatement. Of the character, Moran said: "There were bookshops that I frequented and I was always struck by the loneliness and doggedness of these men who piloted this death ship..."
Black Books: Originally broadcast from 29 September 2000 – 15 April 2004
The impetus for Black Books was a pilot produced for the 1998 Channel 4 sitcom festival in Riverside Studios. A decidedly darker beast than the series it would inspire, this early take on the show was Dylan Moran's first television project as a writer. At the suggestion of producer William Burdett-Coutts, Moran was teamed with Graham Linehan to further develop his premise and characters.
Of course, Moran was ably supporting by fellow cast members Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig. Bailey is rightly regarded as a top-notch stand-up comic and entertainer, but his acting work - in the likes of Black Books and Spaced - is often overlooked. That's a shame, because he's superb here as Bernard's stressed-out accomplice (and human plaything) Manny Bianco.
Greig too is excellent. It would have been far too easy to make third lead Fran the token female character - there to react in shrill horror at the antics of Bernard and Manny. But Black Books is too clever for that - Fran is just as desperate, frazzled and plain stupid as her pals, and Greig is clearly loving every second.
The show's guest cast - the cream of British comedy performers - also deserves a mention. Who can forget Simon Pegg's deranged Evan, who briefly becomes Manny's new boss? Or Peter Serafinowicz, using his gravely vocal chords to full effect as Fran's obsession Howell Granger? Julian Rhind-Tutt - later to reunite with Tamsin Greig on Channel 4's Green Wing - is also fantastic as charismatic but smug travel writer Jason, who quickly wins the heart of Fran, Manny and even Bernard.
If there's one problem with Black Books, it's that the show peaked early - its first series is arguably its best. This writer's own favourite episode is the fantastically funny 'Grapes of Wrath', which sees a sozzled Bernard and Manny desperately trying to recreate an expensive bottle of wine, after accidentally chugging down an entire bottle from their friend's cellar.
That said, Black Books remained consistently popular throughout its run - it won the BAFTA for 'Best Situation Comedy' in 2001 and 2005, and won a Bronze Rose at the Festival Rose d'Or of Montreux. And in 2007 - three years after the show ended - Bernard Black was ranked 19th in Channel 4's poll of 'The World's Greatest Comedy Characters'.
Despite the critical acclaim and success, Bernard's bookstore closed its doors for the final time in 2004. After just three series and 18 episodes, Dylan Moran confirmed that there would be no more Black Books - a real shame, though perhaps it's better to burn out than fade away? At least the final episode 'Party' provided fans with a sense of closure, as the central trio uncover a few shocking secrets and grow closer as a result.
The entire series is now available on DVD - both as single releases and a complete box-set - and if you didn't catch it first time round, we'd thoroughly recommend it. And if you're already a dedicated fan, perhaps it's time to give your well-worn discs another spin? Black Books has only been off our screens for seven years, so to call it a 'classic' sitcom might seem churlish, but it's just as funny now as it was when it began over a decade ago. Give it a few more years and maybe that 'classic' tag will fit nicely after all...
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