Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn
Black Books was a British sitcom created by Dylan Moran (How Do You Want Me?) and Graham Linehan (The IT Crowd) that was broadcast on Channel 4 from 2000 to 2004. Starring Moran, Bill Bailey (Never Mind the Buzzcocks) and Tamsin Greig (Episodes, Inside n°9), the series is set in the eponymous London bookshop Black Books 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 series revolves around the three main characters of Bernard 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.
Bernard Black is the proprietor of his small bookshop, Black Books. The series revolves around the lives of Bernard, Manny and Fran. A central theme is Bernard’s odd position as a belligerent and openly hostile shopkeeper who has a loathing of the outside world and all the people who inhabit it, except his oldest friend, Fran, who initially ran a trendy bric-a-brac shop, Nifty Gifty, next-door to the shop.
Bernard displays little enthusiasm or interest 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 personal dislike of his customers, treating his bookshop more like a personal library. It is suggested that Fran and Bernard once slept together, but now they remain happy to be friends, sharing a love of smoking heavily and drinking to excess. Fran otherwise has a rather hopeless love life.
Manny is introduced in the first episode as a stressed-out 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 nihilistic view of the world. The bookshop, which also doubles as Manny and Bernard’s residence, is frequently depicted as being in an unhealthy 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.”
Black Books 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.
Black Books was a critical success, winning a number of awards, including two BAFTA awards for Best Situation Comedy in 2001 and 2005 and a Bronze Rose at the Festival Rose d’Or.