People Like Us is a British comedy programme, a spoof on-location documentary (or mockumentary) written by John Morton, and starring Chris Langham as Roy Mallard, an inept interviewer. Originally a radio show for BBC Radio 4 in three series from 1995 to 1997, it was made into a television series for BBC Two between September 1999 and June 2000.
Each episode features the affable, bumbling Roy Mallard following a typical day in the lives of one or more representatives of a particular career or lifestyle. This he does in his own, inimitable manner. A comedy of wordplay and misunderstanding, People Like Us could be seen as a metaphor for life, in that, while the protagonist is clearly an idiot, everyone else involved is a bigger idiot - Mallard's questions are usually completely sensible, yet they are inexplicably misinterpreted.
There are hints (particularly in The Photographer – with Bill Nighy) that Mallard may be distressingly unattractive – his subjects often ask in passing if he is married, and their reactions range from surprise to incredulity when he tells them he is. Another recurring theme is Mallard's quest for a coffee – or even some lunch. At the end of each episode the cast are never credited as such. Instead, over the strains of Dave Brubeck's Unsquare Dance, we hear statements of the kind, "Roy Mallard would like to thank Chris Langham."
Apparently, John Morton was looking for "someone like Chris Langham" to play the part for quite a while – before somebody actually suggested Chris Langham. Langham also played Mallard in BBC advertisements for the licence fee direct debit payment scheme, and in commercial radio advertising.
The radio show has twice been named Best Radio Comedy at the British Comedy Awards.
Eleven of the radio episodes were adapted for TV (in a different order), together with one original episode – The Actor, featuring David Tennant as a wannabe actor come failed voice-over artist. Mallard is hardly visible in the TV episodes. He is usually just out of sight, but eagle-eyed viewers can spot him, or part of him, in every episode – on one occasion reflected, along with the camera, in a shop window.
Much of the humour is verbal as characters take an overly literal interpretation of what others say, use redundant expressions and non sequiturs. In "The Photographer" a shoe shop assistant says, "Most people have at least one foot bigger than the other." In "The Headteacher" the clueless Head and his secretary fail to realise that "G Reg Nissan" in the visitors book is not "Reg Nissan", "Greg Nissan" or indeed any sort of person but simply Mallard's make of car. Some of these immediately hit the viewer or listener but repeat listening unearths many more. This may have gone over some heads, and combined with the lack of a laugh-track and the dead-pan approach could have led some viewers to believe they were encountering a "straight" documentary.
Alongside this verbal aspect there was more conventional humour. Mallard encountered all sorts of bizarre behaviour from his featured characters and their counterparts. For all his own mediocrity and occasional haplessness he could appear quite sane and competent compared to those alongside him. Indeed it was often not hard to feel sympathy as he floundered in this twisted universe. However there was always a realistic air about the proceedings and many viewers (and listeners of the radio version) were struck by how well the show captured such people and walks of life.
Reportedly, Morton wrote a third series, entitled People Like U.S. set in the United States. It was turned down by the BBC Two controller at the time, Jane Root. It appears that though well respected by the BBC it had a choice between producing a third series or a new production - The Office - and chose the latter.
The first TV series was released on VHS and DVD on September 16, 2002. The second series was due to be released in 2003 but the date was repeatedly put back and the title eventually disappeared from the BBC's release schedule altogether. At present there do not appear to be any plans to release it in the UK. This is due to the poor sales of series 1 coupled with expensive music licensing issues in the UK. However, these licensing problems don't exist in Portugal and a double pack of series 1 and 2 is available on Portuguese Region 2 PAL DVD, entitled "Gente Como Nós." The shows are still in English, but with Portuguese subtitles (which can be turned off). Series 2 was released in November 2007 on Region 4 PAL DVD in Australia.
|1||1||The Farmer||10 June 1995|
|2||The Headmaster||17 June 1995|
|3||The Journalist||24 June 1995|
|4||The Vicar||1 July 1995|
|5||The Doctor||8 July 1995|
|6||The Solicitor||15 July 1995|
|Special||1||Unnamed (a.k.a. The Christmas Panto)||23 December 1995|
|2||1||The Managing Director||8 June 1996|
|2||The Artist||15 June 1996|
|3||The Ski Courier||22 June 1996|
|4||The Estate Agent||29 June 1996|
|5||The Policeman||6 July 1996|
|6||The Hotel Manager||13 July 1996|
|3||1||The Mother||19 July 1997|
|2||The Bank Manager||26 July 1997|
|3||The Air Line Pilot (a.k.a. The Pilot)||2 August 1997|
|4||The Photographer||9 August 1997|
|1||1||The Managing Director||20 September 1999|
|2||The Mother||27 September 1999|
|3||The Journalist||4 October 1999|
|4||The Actor||11 October 1999|
|5||The Bank Manager||18 October 1999|
|6||The Airline Pilot||25 October 1999|
|2||1||The Vicar||20 May 2001|
|2||The Estate Agent||27 May 2001|
|3||The Police Officer||3 June 2001|
|4||The Solicitor||10 June 2001|
|5||The Photographer||17 June 2001|
|6||The Head Teacher||24 June 2001|