Fifty Years of Love Thy Neighbour: Out of Order, Overlooked?

April 13, 2022

By Aaron Brown (comedy historian and fan, and Editor of British Comedy Guide, promoting British comedy of all varieties to audiences across the globe)

Love Thy Neighbour (Thames, 1972-76) is now often cited as one of Britain’s worst sitcoms. Lazy, poor quality, racist – all these labels, and many more, have been attributed to it in the last couple of decades. But, having run for eight series over five years, spawned a feature film and an Australian sequel, does that really ring true?

Well, partly. Comedy is of course subjective, but Love Thy Neighbour is, in style and tone, very much in keeping with other sitcoms of the mid-70s. Its humour is broad and bawdy, both depicting and appealing to a very mainstream working-class section of Britain, and its lifespan – not to mention the fact we are still discussing it fifty years later – is testament to its huge contemporary success and popularity.

If you enjoy the likes of Bless This House (from the same writers as Love Thy Neighbour), George & Mildred, and On The Buses, then this is a sitcom that will be right up your street.

Accusations of racism ring slightly truer but often miss the point, with epithets flying to and fro, but – like its more critically lauded BBC cousin, Till Death Us Do Part – it is also true that ignorant attitudes (and particularly the hostility of lead white character Eddie toward his black neighbour, Bill) never go un-mocked or un-punished. The viewer is never left in any doubt that bigoted attitudes are not a positive, and those who hold them will always end up losing out.

Whilst racial conflict is the obvious backbone to Love Thy Neighbour’s premise, it is by no means its only cause of contention. As the eight series progress, we see the men establish a firm, if unspoken friendship – never more so than after their wives fall pregnant and make them fathers at the same time. Indeed, Eddie and Bill’s political differences become a deeper topic of argument between them; a subject over which one feels each man holds a genuine grudge of sorts against the other, whilst they are united in those age-old domestic disputes with their wives, and in various quarrels with their bosses and authorities.

By the end of its run, one finds the series far more a study (perhaps unintentionally, but a study all the same) of male friendship – particularly of working-class male friendship, against the backdrop of the changing society and racial tensions of the 1970s.

In the round, it is hard not to conclude that the opprobrium that Love Thy Neighbour attracts is rooted far more in a dislike of its style of comedy, than an assessment of the sitcom’s racial content. There is no question that white socialist Eddie is depicted as the more ignorant of the two, more the loser, whilst the black Conservative Bill the wiser, less judgemental, and more mild-mannered. But each each love their families. And, crucially, each are thoroughly human.

If I’ve managed to pique your interest in this classic comedy series, then I do hope you’ll dip your toe in and discover its working-class charm for yourself – for if you can get past the language that undeniably grates to a modern ear, there is much to delight in.

Order Love Thy Neighbour: The Complete Series



Comments:8

  1. Lee Beardshall Reply
    22/04/14

    Great comedy just a bit fun hilarious.

  2. dgm Reply
    22/04/16

    The problem with the show is that it’s a one joke premise & Booth does not ‘learn’ nor does he appear to care about the hurt his bigotry causes, this despite being said to have protested against Apartheid South Africa in the show’s pilot. The constant use of racist slurs has a corrosive effect & despite protestations that the show was ‘anti racist’ the show could easily have worked without them.

    • Mike Reply
      22/06/01

      But have no problem with the ‘white honky’ slurs I see. Why am I not surprised?

  3. Paul Kinnear Reply
    22/05/22

    Hardly the “worst sitcom ever”, but still problematic. I think my main issue with the show is that the writers clearly wanted to have their cake and eat it. Yes, I grant that the main thrust of the writing paints Eddie in the wrong, but then those same writers will throw in a racist slur to punctuate a scene and get a cheap laugh. And while Eddie is clearly the butt of the joke, you still get other (supposedly less bigoted) characters uttering lines like “Bill’s okay… for a blackey”. I had similar issues with the “South Africa” episode of THE GOODIES. While it contained some biting satire on the stupidity of apartheid, the audience still roared with laughter when Tim dropped the ‘N-bomb’.
    And as a fellow commentator points out: Eddie Booth doesn’t learn. At the end of an episode he’s ‘beaten’ by his own hatreds, but by the next instalment he’s as bad as ever. Having said that, I did titter a few times when I revisited the show, and the scene in episode 2.1 when Barbi is reduced to tears by Eddie’s intolerance is genuinely touching, but the slurs still jar, and the series would have worked just as well if they had dialled them back.

    • Mike Reply
      22/06/01

      Of course, Bill’s racist slurs, such as ‘white honky’, aren’t racist or bigoted, are they? And that’s my gripe with so-called anti-racists, in that they ignore the fact that racism is a human condition, not an exclusively white one. I have no time for people who bang on about racism, trying to portray it as a one-way street. Not only is it disingenuous, it is an absolute lie.

      • P Kinnear Reply
        22/06/02

        And you feel so aggrieved by this sleight against white people that you had to post it three times. Oh, and you forgot to begin with the standard “I’m not racist, but…”

  4. Michael Garfield Reply
    22/06/01

    Everyone seems to miss the elephant in the room, and that is that the black character is somewhat racist himself. The problem I have with the current crop of high and mighty, so-called anti-racists is that they paint racism as a one-way street – i.e. a racist is a white person hating anyone who isn’t white – rather than reflecting on the fact that it is a human condition, where the perpetrator can be of any colour, race, etc. But when do you ever see that portrayed in TV dramas, comedies or films these days? Then again, look at the types who run the media and all becomes clear. Unfortunately, such inconvenient facts don’t sit well with ‘anti-racists’, as it doesn’t fit in with their obvious agenda – an agenda that is more about blaming one section of society, while portraying the perpetual non-white victims (in their eyes at least) as veritable blameless paragons of virtue. Those of us who live in the real world know that the actual truth is somewhat different.

    • Paul Kinnear Reply
      22/06/04

      That’s not an elephant in the room ,it’s a giant red herring. Your ‘theory’ falls apart almost immediately when one realises that Bill doesn’t use the “honky” and “snowflake” insults against any other white person in the show. Not Jacko, not Arthur, not Nobby. He reserves it for Eddie Booth and, more often than not, is a direct retaliation to a slur directed at him. Eddie Booth on the other hand, calls EVERY person of colour “sambo” or “nig nog” multiple times, with zero provocation, as well as employing other nasty terms such as “chink” and “paki”. On top of that, we also have his many theories as to why, in his eyes. coloured people are stupid and inferior.
      But please, you continue your “all live matter” arguments, no matter how hollow they may be, if they lend you some comfort.

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