Watching

Watching is a British television sitcom, produced by Granada Television for the ITV network and broadcast for seven series and four Christmas specials between 1987 and 1993.

The series was written by Jim Hitchmough and starred Paul Bown and Emma Wray as mismatched couple Malcolm Stoneway and Brenda Wilson.

Watching was set in Merseyside, with Brenda from Liverpool and Malcolm from Meols on the Wirral, the “posh” part of Merseyside on the other side of the River Mersey. The title refers to Brenda and her sister Pamela’s hobby of “people watching”, and to Malcolm’s hobby of birdwatching, which initially Brenda endures rather than enjoys, but later comes to appreciate.

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Quiet biker Malcolm, who lived with his domineering mother (played by Patsy Byrne), was accompanied on his birdwatching trips by loud scouser Brenda, who was forced to ride in the sidecar of his Norton motorbike and had a habit of rubbing his mother up the wrong way. Other key characters in the series were Brenda’s sister Pamela (Liza Tarbuck), her husband David (John Bowler – Series 2 onwards) and Brenda and Pam’s mother Joyce (played by Noreen Kershaw) in the last few series. The series followed Malcolm and Brenda’s on/off relationship, during which Malcolm married another woman called Lucinda (played by Elizabeth Morton). However, Brenda and Malcolm finally married each other in the final episode, “Knotting”, which was broadcast on 4 April 1993.

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Emma Wray & Paul Bown

Cast

  • Emma Wray as Brenda Wilson
  • Paul Bown as Malcolm Stoneway
  • Liza Tarbuck as Pamela Wilson
  • Patsy Byrne as Mrs Marjorie Stoneway, Malcolm’s mother
  • Perry Fenwick as Terry Milton
  • Philip Fox as Sydney Clough (series 1 only)
  • John Bowler as David Lynch (series 2 on)
  • Elizabeth Spriggs as Aunt Peggy (from series 2 on)
  • Liz Crowther as Susan Roberts (series 2 and 3 only)
  • Ken Jones as Uncle Bernard (series 5)
  • Russell Boulter as Chris Cameron (series 4 only)
  • Noreen Kershaw as Joyce Wilson, Brenda’s Mum (series 5 on)
  • Andrew Hilton as Gerald Wilson, Brenda’s young brother (series 5 on)
  • Elizabeth Morton as Lucinda Davis/Stoneway
  • Richard Good as Jonathan MacMillan
  • Ally Vuli as Roz, the Nanny
  • Al T. Kossy as Harold, landlord of the Grapes
  • Dave Dutton as Oswald the cafe owner
  • Bill Moores as “Cedric”, regular at the Grapes
  • Anita Petrof – “Mary”, regular at the Grapes

Note: “Cedric” and “Mary” are the names given to the characters by Brenda during her people-watching days, Cedric’s “real” name is unknown, but in series one episode “Repenting” Brenda reveals that she has talked to her and that “Mary”‘s real name is Freda.

Watching was originally conceived as a comedy sketch about a shy birdwatcher and a lively girl, written by Hitchmough during a drama workshop at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. He submitted the sketch for the BBC satirical series Not the Nine O’Clock News but it was rejected.

Undeterred by this, Hitchmough developed the sketch into a hit stage play and later won a commission from Granada Television to produce a seven-part series for broadcast on Sunday nights at 10pm – a timeslot which was usually reserved for satirical comedy such as Yorkshire Television’s The New Statesman and Central’s Spitting Image.

After a successful first series and subsequent Christmas special, Watching was recommissioned and moved to an earlier timeslot of 8pm on Friday nights. Up until the end of the final run (broadcast at 7pm on Sunday), the series would win audiences of over 13 million viewers.

Originally, the series was produced by David Liddiment (later to become Director of Programming at ITV) and directed by Les Chatfield, a senior director at Granada. Chatfield directed all 56 episodes and took over producing duties from series 3 onwards. Liddiment became the series’ executive producer.

Emma Wray sang both the opening and closing versions of the theme song, What Does He See in Me?, which was written by Charles Hart. Incidental music was written and composed by Richie Close.

In 1998, after a revival of the series was turned down by ITV, who felt that the series had run its course, Hitchmough pitched a revived version of the series to the BBC, spurred on by the success of Men Behaving Badly’s move to BBC One after it was dropped by ITV. Initial talks were held, but the BBC decided not to pursue the proposed series; they did offer Hitchmough the option to record a Radio 4 adaption of his original series, in keeping with a number of popular sit-coms that had also been adapted into radio versions, but Hitchmough turned the offer down, feeling that he ‘wanted to tell new stories with the characters, not redo old ones’.

A novel based on the first series of Watching and written by Jim Hitchmough was published in 1990 by Bantam Books.

A video featuring the first two episodes, “Meeting” and “Wrestling”, was released by CastleVision in August 1993.

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