Dinnerladies (stylised as dinnerladies) was a British sitcom written, co-produced by and starring Victoria Wood. It ran on BBC One for 16 episodes from 1998 to 2000.
The show is set entirely in the canteen of HWD Components
, a fictional factory in Manchester
, featuring the caterers and regular customers as the main characters. The inner lives and social interactions of the mostly female, mostly middle-aged characters are vividly and amusingly depicted.
As with much of Victoria Wood's work, there is also a counterpoint of sadder themes, including deaths in the families of two of the main characters, a painful divorce, one of the characters living with cancer, one character becoming a single parent, and a long-running on-off relationship involving a great deal of heartache for the pair involved.
Involving only one set throughout its run (with the exception of a quiz show set and hospital set - both seen only on a television screen in the last two episodes), Dinnerladies
was entirely filmed at BBC Television Centre
in front of a live studio audience. Other locations such as characters' homes and other parts of the factory are only referred to in conversation. The jokes are generally delivered at a fast pace with dialogue usually only pausing to allow the audience's laughter to settle.
Uniquely, for a sitcom, each episode was filmed twice in front of two separate audiences, once on a Friday and again on a Saturday. This gave cast members two attempts to perfect a scene and, if necessary, the opportunity to correct mistakes without having to repeat a joke to the same audience.
- Brenda (Bren) Furlong (Victoria Wood) - The deputy manager of the canteen, and arguably the most ordinary of the characters. She had an unhappy childhood as her mother had her taken into care, and had an unhappy marriage to an alcoholic of whom she was frightened. She is very good at solving her colleagues' problems but often doubts her ability to overcome her own hardships. She is somewhat scattered, often forgetting adjectives and suggesting implausible alternatives and has a near encyclopedic knowledge of cinema which she makes many metaphorical references to. Several times in the first series it is hinted that she has feelings for Tony, though nothing comes of this until halfway through the second series.
- Tony Martin (Andrew Dunn) - The canteen manager, whose battle against cancer is a running storyline in the first series, prompting him in the second to want to do more with his life than simply running a canteen. Though he talks and thinks about women a lot, he has very little luck with them. He is attracted to Bren, but is too shy to reveal this to her for a long time. He is also a smoker and uses this as an excuse to escape some of the more surreal conversations of his co-workers
- Dolly Bellfield (Thelma Barlow) - Something of a social climber, Dolly is the cattiest of the dinnerladies, always having a bitchy remark to make about those around her. Prim and prudish, she frequently snaps at people that they ought to moderate their language, and frowns on Twinkle's sexual shenanigans. Perhaps because of earlier problems, alluded to in the first series episode "Moods", she is fixated on her weight and dieting. She has been married for thirty years and hopes to move to the nearby upmarket suburb of Mobberley after her retirement. Her constant regret is that her son lives with a marine biologist called Marcus (the audience are left to draw their own conclusions as to the living arrangements).
- Jean (Anne Reid) - Dolly's best friend, Jean is very often the stooge for her mordant remarks. Jean is somewhat unhappily married at the start of the series (with a grown-up daughter, Lisa), and in the second series her husband leaves her for his dental hygienist. After getting over the shock, and rediscovering self-confidence that she'd forgotten she ever had, she has a fling with a security guard (Barry "the love muscle") before settling down with Stan. She should wear her glasses for reading, but never does.
- Twinkle (Maxine Peake) - The youngest member of the team, she turns up late every day and tries unsuccessfully to borrow cigarettes from Tony. No matter how sarcastic she may be however, it is clear that she regards the other members of staff as good friends, particularly Bren to whom she turns for help on several occasions. She lives with her wheelchair-bound mother, for whom she acts as carer, and spends her evenings getting drunk and falling into skips. She loses a lot of weight between series. She is also a closeted football fan, much to Tony's amazement with her depth of knowledge.
- Anita (Shobna Gulati) - Pleasant, but rather dim, Anita is a kind and loyal friend to her colleagues, empathising with them and often helping them to solve their problems without even realising it. She is somewhat desperate to have a family and children, becoming pregnant in the second series with a handyman from the first series and terrified of the implications, leaves the baby on the fire escape on Millennium Eve, attaching a note asking Bren to look after him. However, she realises that she must face the consequences of her actions and returns to take the baby back.
- Stan Meadowcroft (Duncan Preston) - Stan is the uptight handyman of the factory, who lives with his father. He spends his days cleaning bins and grumbling. He is also particularly close to Bren as she seems to be the only one who knows how to successfully handle his moods. After his father's death he decides to get his life going again, embarking on a brief relationship with a nurse before dating, and ultimately proposing to his colleague Jean.
- Petula Gordino (Julie Walters) - Bren's selfish and manipulative mother, who had Bren taken into care as a child because she was cramping her style. She sometimes seems to forget that Bren is her daughter. Whenever she pays Bren a visit, it's usually because she wants money or a favour. She appears to live in a fantasy world where she is a close friend (and usually a lover) of the rich and famous, but in reality is a down-and-out who lives in a caravan behind a petrol station. It is revealed in the final episode that her real name is also Brenda Furlong.
- Philippa Moorcroft (Celia Imrie) - The scatty and disorganised manager of the Human Resources department, having apparently landed the job because she was having an affair with the factory manager, Mr Michael to whom she refers as Mikey. Her well-meaning attempts to relieve the dinnerladies' stress or help them in their personal lives generally have the opposite effect. In the second series she decides to break up with Mr Michael, and, having spent days planning how to do so to the smallest detail, she is furious when he dumps her first. She later begins a relationship with a colleague, Tom. Philippa is the only character in the series who comes from the south of England.
- Jane (Sue Devaney) - A member of the planning department, she had only a minor role in the first series, usually ordering the toast round for meetings. In the second series, she played a much more major part, having an ongoing wager with the canteen staff that Bren and Tony would or would not manage to have sex by Christmas Day. She has a drunken snog herself with Tony whilst on holiday in Marbella.
- Norman (Andrew Livingston/Adrian Hood) and Big Glenda (Sue Cleaver) - bread suppliers to the canteen. Norman is a work shy agoraphobic and bigamist, and Glenda seems to overtake Norman's duties when his agoraphobia is plaguing him. Norman often attributes the cause of his condition to an incident when he "fell off a diving board in Guernsey". Glenda was undergoing 'bladder' surgery, the nature of which is never directly mentioned (apart from a comment that it was to correct 'a bit hanging down'), though Tony often jokes that she is a transsexual and once likened her to Desperate Dan.
- Connie (Dora Bryan) - Jean's mother, a tracksuit wearing nymphomaniac who flirted shamelessly with Tony at the canteen worker's tea-party for the mothers.
- Enid (Dame Thora Hird) - Dolly's mother, who is wheel-chair bound and lacks a sense of humour. Has a sour view on everything (such as her daughter's weight gain during puberty) "she had the biggest bottom on Whitefield" and dislikes southerners.
- Jim (Eric Sykes) - Stan's father, with whom he lived until series two when he died. He was a Desert Rat in World War II and various anecdotes are made about this throughout the show, such as his life being saved by a mess-tin and saving a man's life with a tablespoon.
- Peggy - Jean's sister, appears to collect Jean during her breakdown during her divorce. She is as equally as catty as Dolly, much to her consternation.
- Mr Michael (Christopher Greet) - Member of staff of HWD Components but his position is never mentioned although it is hinted he is a manager or even CEO. He hasn't actually been seen doing any work and was in a relationship with Philippa (the reason she moved up to Manchester). A fan of trad jazz, sexual intercourse, jigsaws and custard.
- Babs from Urmston (Kate Robbins) - Petula's guest to the factory's Christmas Party and Tony's blind date in series one. She's very slow, dimwitted and has the tendency to repeatedly tell people that she's from Urmston. She is very knowledgeable in catering appliances, which piqued Stan's interest at the Christmas Party. She made a brief appearance in series two after witnessing Petula's caravan exploding due to a faulty gas connection Petula made with a pair of tights. After Petula recovered from being flung into the car wash, Babs was sent to the factory on a request for Brenda's holiday money.
- Malcolm - An inflatable mannequin of a man usually dressed in a suit, Malcolm was owned by Anita, who sat him in the passenger seat of her car while driving to discourage thieves. She often talked for him and used him as a decoration for the Christmas party. Tony once remarked that, compared to Anita, he provided fairly interesting conversation.
- Liza - Jean's daughter, who gets married in the first episode.
- Keith (Peter Lorenzelli)- Jean's husband, who appears at the Christmas party, but later leaves Jean for a "lipless dental hygienist from Wales".
- Bob Bellfield - Dolly's husband, who came to the Christmas party and annoyed Dolly by apparently feigning deafness
- Steve Greengrass (Steve Huison)- Unlucky office worker who can't mix his foodstuffs and who broke his leg when he slipped on some orange juice spilt by Anita.
- Bob the factory worker (Bernard Wrigley) - Usually seen struggling to get served whilst the girls talk, and seen with Jane collecting for Mr Michael's retirement at Christmas.
- Ken (David Hatton)- Factory worker who apparently has a wife at home with Alzheimer's, and who got bored with Yoghurt after 30 years and was encouraged by Bren to "go wild and have custard".
- The Pie Man (Graham Turner) - A strange man who likes Judy Garland and who seems to have an attraction to Tony. He gave Tony some mince pies as a gift, which made Twinkle ill after she ate seven of them.
Dinnerladies ran for two series. The first series (6 episodes) ran in 1998 from November 12 to December 17, and the second (10 episodes) from November 25 1999 to January 27 2000. Both series were shown on BBC1. Reruns air on UKTV Gold.
- Monday - A typical Monday in the canteen. Jean is frantically preparing for her daughter's wedding — though she needn't bother, as we learn at the end that her daughter has had an attack of nerves at the prospect of a glitzy wedding and has already tied the knot. Bren and Dolly discuss the weekend's television offerings in great detail. Twinkle arrives late again. New Human Resources manageress Phillippa Moorcroft tries to rope everyone in to a group Scottish country dancing session, without much success. And Tony tries to keep everyone focused on actually making some food.
- Royals - The dinner ladies are very excited about an impending royal visit, though they aren't impressed to find out that they've been allocated His Royal Highness Prince James, The Duke of Danby, as they've never heard of him, with the exception of Stan who had met him 30-odd years before at Catterick Garrison army base. There are lots of rehearsals to ensure everything goes smoothly but of course things go anything but. Twinkle finds she's unable to string a sentence together because of nerves, while Anita's (Shobna Gulati) mouth runs away with her on the topic of nipples. Dolly and Jean compete with each other to perform the best curtsy, and Bren receives a most unexpected proposition from the Duke...
- Scandal - Bren is horrified when her flatulent mother Petula moves into the factory car park with her 16-year-old fiancé Clint. Sheelagh, Clint's mother, is also less than happy about the arrangements and forms a picket line around the factory with the national press. As the factory deliverymen gradually stop visiting for fear of the mob outside, Anita unexpectedly has the good idea of an impromptu Oprah Winfrey-style talk show to sort the matter out with the help of local "Northern Roundup" news journalist, Carmel (Lynda Baron). Meanwhile, a TV researcher visits the canteen to assess whether the dinner ladies would make good docu-soap material.
- Moods - Tony and Bren arrive early to the canteen in much better moods than usual. Unfortunately, everyone else is in a bad temper. Stan's had trouble with his father, Dolly and Jean bicker continuously, Anita is convinced her new haircut makes her look like Fatima Whitbread (and isn't happy about it) and Twinkle thinks she's pregnant. Phillippa suggests having a "Bring Your Mother To Work" day to cheer everyone up, though sarcastic Enid (Dolly's mother) and nymphomaniac Connie (Jean's mother) do little to raise the workers' spirits. And that's before Bren's mother has even arrived...
- Party - A merger with a Japanese company means that the factory's Christmas Party has an Oriental theme to it. Tony and Bren plan to attend as a couple but Petula throws a spanner in the works by inviting herself along as Bren's dinner partner. Anita gets very drunk at the party and makes a fool of herself, while Twinkle and her friend Tiffany are unimpressed by the older workers' dancing. Petula flings herself at every man in sight, including Jean's husband Keith. Bren and Tony try to salvage what was meant to be their night together, but first they have to fend off the respective advances of Stan and Jean — can they finally get together?
- Nightshift - An unexpected order comes in, prompting the factory manager to ask all the staff, including the dinnerladies, to work a 24 hour shift. With Tony off work having chemotherapy for his cancer, obnoxious temporary manager Nicola Bodeux ("B-O-D-E-U-X") gives the staff a hard time, resulting in Dolly, Jean, Anita and Twinkle walking out. Realising her constant failure to connect with people, Nicola herself then resigns and decides to become a lighthouse keeper. Bren prepares for the impossible task of manning the canteen single-handedly all night - will anyone come back to help her out?
Each episode of series 2 was set on a specific date, to help put the progress of the various running storylines into perspective. The dates shown are the dates the episodes were set - not when they were broadcast
- Catering (April 9 1999) - Gormless work experience girl Sigourney has trouble finding the canteen — in fact, she has trouble doing almost anything! When the decorators arrive a day early they cause a lot of trouble by accidentally trapping Glenda, the bread lady with the bladder trouble, behind a fifteen-foot ladder. It's then a race against time to free her before she has an accident of her own. Meanwhile, the dinner ladies debate the possibility of conceiving a baby in the queue at Homebase. Near the end of the program, 'Jayne from Planning' arrives and suggests Glenda 'wets herself, it's easier', Dolly suggests a game they should play and the episode ends with blindfolded Jayne being hit over the head with a tin tray whilst listening to belly-dancing music.
- Trouble (June 21 1999) - It may be the first day of summer, but there's trouble afoot at the factory after Jean's philandering husband Keith leaves her for his dental hygienist, Bronwen, prompting Jean to pick fights with everyone. Meanwhile, an anonymous bunch of flowers sent to Bren provokes rumours of a secret lover (in fact they're from Stan as a thank-you for helping his father when he was ill), and Anita's continual stories about new boyfriend Pedder bore the others almost to tears. Tony invites Bren on holiday with him and some friends. Bren's elderly mother claims to be pregnant (by Leonardo DiCaprio)!
- Holidays (August 5 1999) - Everyone's very excited about their holidays — Bren and Tony are going to Marbella and Dolly's going on a luxury cruise. Petula's caravan blows up, prompting her to ask Bren for her holiday money to fix it up. Although her workmates tell her she should keep the money and tell selfish Petula she'll have to find the cash elsewhere, the death of Stan's father, and his subsequent wish that he could have the chance back to do good deeds for his dad, Bren decides to let Petula have the money. Meanwhile, Dolly and Anita discuss breast implants and biryanis. Jean did not appear in this episode as she was staying with her sister to get over depression.
- Fog (November 1 1999) - The dinner ladies are dismayed to hear that the November fog has allowed a convicted murderer to escape from Strangeways prison just a few miles away. The National Blood Service comes to encourage people to donate — Bren's secret fear of needles means she feels faint whenever they are mentioned, causing her colleagues to speculate that she might be pregnant. Jean harps on about her handsome new boyfriend but when he arrives to pick her up, Phillippa panics and calls the police, thinking he is the escaped convict. In the confusion, the real fugitive manages to escape again — he was in fact disguised as one of the nurses taking blood, explaining why she seemed so inept when receiving Dolly's donation. Phillippa tries to pluck up courage to leave Mr Michael and is furious when he dumps her just before she gets round to it.
- Gamble (December 21 1999) - Tony and Bren's developing relationship is the subject of a bet between the dinner ladies and the Planning Department — if they get together before Christmas the canteen staff win fifty pounds. They cause controversy when they turn up late together the next day, though in fact this is due to a late-night hospital appointment for Tony. Meanwhile, Phillippa looks forward to having sex at Christmas for the first time, Dolly searches for novelty hot-water bottles and Anita's awful taste in Christmas presents appals the rest of the team. When Tony and Bren finally have their first kiss a most unexpected visitor arrives to really kill the mood!
- Christmas (December 23 1999) - After revealing that she was married (but separated) at the end of the previous episode, Bren begins to doubt her relationship with Tony, and his secretive actions throughout this episode eventually make her decide to dump Tony and resign from the canteen. However, just as she is about to tell him this, he reveals a huge surprise birthday party for her (Christmas Eve is Bren's birthday), and the pair fly up to Scotland to spend Christmas with friends of Tony's. The other caterers also receive presents out of their Bran Tub (Stan receives two cheap watches, Tony is given bacon by Twinkle and Twinkle receives a china horse from Dolly which was given to her by Jean previously). Meanwhile Phillippa has a crush on a co-worker and Anita mysteriously leaves before the party with a mumbled excuse...
- Minnellium (December 31 1999) - Phillippa is organising the company's "no-expense-spared, once-in-a-lifetime" Millennium Meal, but riots in the city centre and the closure of the fly-over prevent her from attending herself. Jean's estranged husband arrives and seems to want a reconciliation, but it turns out all he wants is the wallpaper table. Jean later goes home with Stan. Tony and Bren are trying to settle into their relationship, but the shock discovery of a baby on the fire escape leaves Bren feeling miserable, particularly when she discovers an anonymous note asking her to look after the child. The dinner ladies discuss who the mother could be and eventually decide Twinkle is most likely. Just before midnight, however, Anita returns to the canteen in tears to reclaim her son.
- Christine (January 10 2000) - With Anita away on maternity leave, new girl Christine (Kay Adshead) joins the team. Whilst Dolly is very taken with her, Christine's back-handed compliments and outright insults, combined with her dreadful personal hygiene, leave her very unpopular with the others. Twinkle manages to score the impotent Tony some Viagra, but Christine mistakes the tablets for Dolly's sweeteners and puts them in her teacup. Horrified and (somewhat irrationally) fearing for her life ('It'll bounce back and head straight for my heart wont it?! I'll die of a heart attack! It'll be like a Land Rover going top speed into a cul-de-sac!'), Dolly turns against Christine, who flees the canteen in tears and doesn't return. Meanwhile a social worker visits Bren to discuss Petula's living arrangements, and Stan worries about his sexual prowess as Jean pushes him to take their relationship to the next level.
- Gravy (February 7 2000) - All the staff are considering moving on in their lives. Tony and Bren consider moving to Scotland to run a Bed and Breakfast, while Twinkle applies to become a Lap dancer and Dolly makes plans to move to Mobberly. Even Phillippa announces that she's thinking of leaving the firm. A self clear system is introduced to the canteen that proves difficult to maintain. Petula meanwhile arrives in an ambulance and announces she has only has 3 weeks left to live. After admitting it to Phillippa Tony finally tells Bren he loves her. Tony and Bren start making financial calculations for their move to Scotland and quickly realise they don't have enough money. Shortly afterwards Bren discovers that she has been accepted as a contestant on a TV Trivia show, Totally Trivial with a top prize of £10,000, this comes as a bit of a shock as it was Jean who originally applied on Bren's behalf. On the show Bren gets through to the final round with her chosen topic of film and is invited to come back to play for the grand prize. The new uniforms arrive and are universally hated by the staff.
- Toast (February 29 2000) - Bren leaves the canteen for the Totally Trivial studios and plans to stop at the hospital to visit her mother on the way. Stan waits all afternoon for his skip collection. The remaining staff tune in to watch Bren to find she does not appear at the studios. Bren shuffles through the door with a large rubbish bag and a video cassette and informs the staff that Petula died whilst she was visiting. They play her living will on the video player, whilst this is happening, Dolly throws the rubbish bag in the skip (which has still not been picked up). During the living will, Petula tells them that there is money in the rubbish bag, Dolly is horrified when Stan says that the skip lorry will already have been. Whilst they contemplate, Phillipa tells Bren the canteen will be closing and turned into office space. They then hear the skip lorry arrive and Stan realises his unreliable watch he received out of the bran tub told him the wrong time. They jump in the skip and retrieve the bag, which contains a newspaper clipping which, to Dolly's horror, says that the Rubber and Bondage scene in Mobberly is on the increase. Also in the bag is tens of thousands of pounds which Bren gives out to the rest of the gang.
There are a number of running jokes
in the series.
- Norman (the bread man) comments that "I'm agoraphobic - I fell off a diving board in Guernsey" in almost every episode.
- Twinkle refers to Tony's witticisms with a sarcastic "Ha Ha..." followed by one of a number of quips ("Ha ha, I'm nearly laughing", "Ha ha, Hale and Pace", "Ha ha, straight to video" among others).
- Stan invariably reacts to any provocation with "My dad was a Desert Rat", and names an everyday task that his father had been forced to perform in a highly improbable way using Army equipment (for example, "He made toast for 34 fighting men with a radiator grill and a flamethrower!")
- Whenever Tony escapes to the fire escape for a cigarette, the girls respond to the draught from the open fire door with a chorus of "Shut the door!" He often responds to uncomfortable situations (such as Twinkle revealing that she may be pregnant, or Anita commenting that, after the birth of her baby, she "got away with just one little haemorrhoid") by smiling (with glazed eyes) and stating "I'm just having a fag!"
- Petula frequently mentions some (usually far-fetched) event and asks if Bren remembers, before interjecting "Oh no, you weren't there". The only exception to this is when she comments that "I had a baby once, do you remember, Bren? Oh, yes, it was you!"
- In most episodes Dolly will mention some (occasionally relevant) piece of trivia, always explaining that "it was in the Daily Mail".
- Bren will occasionally try and think of a word, but confuse it with another (very loosely) related word: "It's a bit of a...um...not 'unicorn'...'dilemma'!" or "What are those things like cucumbers...suffragettes!"
- Jean frequently makes mistakes while reading, due to the fact that she refuses to wear her glasses, to comic effect - Jean: "£20 million cutlet centre to open. I didn't realise they were so popular." Bren (reading over Jean's shoulder): "OUTLET centre!"
- Dolly's dislike for then-prime minister Tony Blair is mentioned in most episodes. She usually will hear about a situation that is biased towards younger people, and will then blame it on Tony Blair, e.g. "If you want to dump a heap of scrap metal outside the library and call it "aggression", you can get funding for that, but if you are a heterosexual white woman trying to turn left, you're not catered for!", or "Tony Blair! I bet he thinks that if we all take an old person, we can close the day centres and turn them in to Cappuccino Bars!". Another was "Tony Blair! Stick two poems up in a bus shelter and call it a University!"
The show's theme music was composed by Victoria Wood. While it is usually played without lyrics, at the end of the episodes Minnellium and Toast vocals, also by Wood, were included:
Getting up, getting out, getting on, getting going,
Wears away at the dreams that you hold in your heart,
All the scared little choices you make without knowing,
Take away from the thing that you had at the start.
Day by day, drops of water wear the stone away,
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday...
All the dreams that you had when it all lay before you,
All the plans that you made, all the things you would do,
All the schemes that you knew time would bring to fruition,
Did they happen? Not so far, at least not to you.
(Chorus as for Minnellium)
Guest stars include:
Notes and references