The first series, including the Christmas Special, was released on DVD by the BBC on 6 February 2006. The second series was released on 16 October 2006; a boxed set containing both series was released on the same date. There has been no news of a third series. In an interview for the BBC News website on 30 November 2006, the actor Robert Webb who plays Robin, said in passing, "...there is no more Smoking Room". Subsequent changes in the law have effectively made the prospect of a third series uncertain - a ban on smoking inside workplaces (which includes designated smoking rooms) was laid down in July 2007 in England. However, television sets are exempt from this.
The series was contemporaneously set, and at the time smoking was prohibited in the offices of most British companies by policy, but there was often a room somewhere in the building that smokers could use during work hours. As of July 1, 2007, smoking is prohibited by law in enclosed work areas throughout the UK, so smoking rooms no longer exist.
The series takes situation comedy to its extreme, since it is entirely set in the smoking room (Room B209). The room is in the basement of the offices of a fictitious company that employs all of the main characters and nearly all of the others.
Room B209 is an unusual L-shape and contains office-style tables and chairs. It also has a large hot drinks machine, which constantly outwits the characters when attempting to use it and Clint when attempting to fix it. The room is drably decorated and suffers from a vaguely yellow discolouration undoubtedly caused by the thousands of cigarettes that have been smoked there over time. Various company-related notices (e.g. fire procedures) are placed on the notice board and throughout the room. The room also appears to be used as a storeroom, since miscellaneous objects occupy small labelled cubbyholes affixed to the walls.
Occasional glimpses of the outside world's activities are seen through the room's misted glass, but there are very few extras and they can be viewed almost as moving props, simply adding context.
An unusual feature of Room B209 is that there are two doors that both appear to lead to the same corridor outside. Given the unusual shape of the room, it's possible that the room was previously two separate rooms, with a door serving each. Both doors are used in the series, with characters rushing in and out at various points. This feature (deliberately or otherwise) is reminiscent of 'Stage Left' and 'Stage Right' of a typical theatrical stage. It helps to give the series a stage-like feel, where the characters appear, give their performance, and disappear. Since the series is entirely set in one room, the feature is probably also used as a substitute for the cuts that would otherwise occur between scenes, but providing a more continuous feel.
Although each episode contains a distinct storyline, the series is fundamentally character- and dialogue-driven. In this respect, it is similar in nature to Seinfeld, the archaetypal 'show about nothing'. Since it is set in an office environment, there are superficial resemblances to The Office in terms of situation and set, although the two series are very different otherwise: for example, The Smoking Room has no central character and the comedy is often surreal.
Like most sitcoms, the episodes are generally self-contained in terms of storyline, the main exception being the gradual revelation of Robin's sexuality to the other characters and his relationship (or lack of) with Ben (from the Post Room).
The series contains ten main characters; however, not all are seen in each episode. Although there are significant exceptions, most of the characters are somewhat disaffected with their lives and/or jobs and see the smoking room as an oasis where they can relax, indulge and shut out the rest of the world. Due to a rule invented by Clint, 'shop talk' (discussing work-related matters) is forbidden in the smoking room, in the same way that smoking is forbidden in the rest of the building. This sometimes leads to discussions about whether a particular topic of conversation is 'shop talk' or not. The characters tend to take liberties with the length of time that they spend in the smoking room, with some being present for most or all of a thirty-minute episode. However, not all characters are actually smokers and these tend to spend less time in the room.
There is a general camaraderie between the main characters (especially the smokers), and other characters are sometimes treated with suspicion, disdain, or outright hostility.
Annie is 29 and works in the graphics department. She considers herself rather 'New Age' and sometimes talks about past-life experiences. She will accept theories from anywhere, including a souvenir mug with a picture of Vishnu on it, and a self help CD she listened to, but didn't buy, in the middle of HMV. She can be very over-emotional and attention-seeking and is always telling dramatic stories about herself which seem unlikely, although when in Episode Eleven Sally challenges her about her claim to have been trapped in a photo booth for three hours she is easily able to provide photographic evidence.
She is constantly looking for a boyfriend and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to retain one (including dressing as the male police officer who directed the Fred West case). She seems to have the busiest sex life of anyone in the room but hasn't managed to find love. Her choice of men is misguided. One married man she dated sent private photographs he took of her to a pornographic magazine. She had a liaison with Clint at Lucy Wu's party, which we learn about in Episode Three, and in Episode Five she buys him some chocolates for Valentine's Day but this appears to be a passing fancy. She flirts outrageously with Janet's nephew, Dominic, in Episode Ten.
Annie is always sponging cigarettes, change for the drinks machine and food from the other characters, occasionally using emotional blackmail to increase her chances of success. She is prepared to eat almost anything, including a half-eaten salad dusted with cigarette ash and a mauled unwrapped Toffo. Despite the fact that she smokes somebody's cigarettes in every episode, usually Sally's, she doesn't regard herself as a smoker.
She considers herself to be an artist and, although she says that she became a graphic designer because she likes designing posters, she finds her job unfulfilling. In Episode Ten she arrives with a collection of homemade ashtrays which she tries to sell to her colleagues, despite the fact that the paint is highly flammable.
Barry is divorced and approaching 40. He is neurotic and obsessive (to the point of hoarding used matches), suffering from many phobias some verging on the ridiculous, although he is oddly unfazed by a real crisis. He seems always to have been bumbling and insecure, until episode twelve, when we see a photograph of him as he was in the 1980s. He is fashionable for the time, smiling and confident. We learn that he joined the company as a graduate of Oxford Polytechnic and that Sharon was his secretary; they even had a tentative romance which foundered when Barry got the venue of a date wrong. It takes them twenty years to discuss the misunderstanding. Sharon and Barry remain barbed and confrontational with each other.
Although Barry blames circumstance and others for his lack of career progression, in reality there is much evidence to suggest that he is not very attentive to his job. He dislikes children - including his own nieces - and family life in general; he makes little attempt to hide this. He has nothing good to say about his first wife, Pamela, and whenever we hear of his attempts to seduce other women they are always failures.
Barry is usually seen attempting to solve the day's crossword, and although he considers himself something of a crossword expert, in reality Robin solves most of the (sometimes very easy) clues for him.
Clint is the clown of the series. He is 23 and the maintenance man, which means he is regarded by some of the characters as furthest down the pecking order. Although he genuinely loves his job, which he considers to be the most important one in the company, he spends most of his time thinking about other things, like whether or not dogs who have jobs get jealous of pets.
He has a very relaxed approached to life, even to the point of suspending his attempt to repair a lift full of people in order to smoke a roll-up. He doesn't seem to be much good at his job when he does get around to it. He has a tendency to lose ladders, one of which trips up and nearly kills someone in episode twelve and in episode ten we learn that his neglect of a loose floor tile in the smoking room has put one of his colleagues into a coma. He is constantly thwarted in his attempts to fix the drinks machine and has consequently become highly emotional in his dealings with it. On one occasion it is fixed easily by Monique by removing a squashed cup from the mechanism.
He is generally concerned for the other characters' well-being, often telling them to 'chill' or hugging them when something bad happens. He is the friendliest towards Sharon of all the smokers, even calling her 'Shaza'. He tends to see the good in everyone, to the extent that he was once sexually molested in a park and believed the man's story that he was using a strange method to tell his fortune.
Clint is very sexual. He slept with Annie once, sent Lucy Wu into spasms by kissing her in episode nine and his biggest ambition is to have a threesome before he is 25. We don't learn much about his home life, although he does seem to be going steady with Lucy Wu for most of the second series, possibly as a result of their kiss at Christmas. She has a pregnancy scare in episode fourteen, where it is revealed that Clint's father ran away when he was born, possibly even before. We don't know if Clint stays with Lucy after the scare.
Although a main character, Heidi does not actually appear until episode five, when she returns from maternity leave. She is 35, married to Keith (previously married and somewhat older at 58; she virtually worships him) and mother to baby Dane (about whom she obsesses).
Heidi is very 'mumsy' and constantly refers to her seemingly idyllic domestic situation, to the near-universal annoyance of the other characters. It is clear that her home life is not as perfect as she believes. She repeats highly critical comments Keith has made about her as though they were kindly although she occasionally seems doubtful about his more extreme political views. He hates foreigners, is homophobic, thinks the police should be armed with laser guns that can paralyze and believes Heidi is more than enough female influence for his son. He also encourages Heidi to act out his bizarre sexual fantasies to make their sex life more interesting for himself.
Heidi is a non-smoker and her visits to the smoking room are motivated by her desire to tell everyone about the latest developments in her life, yet she takes very little interest in anyone else's. She is desperate for friends and in episode ten we learn that her imaginary friend, Buttercup, was cruel to her and soon went off to be imaginary friends with another child. Heidi didn't have the imagination to invent another one. This early disappointment might explain why she is oblivious to the rudeness of others and why she is determined to have company at any cost.
In episode seventeen, she reveals that she is pregnant with her second child, to the slight annoyance of Janet (because it overshadowed her announcement of her engagement) and Sharon (because of her maternity rights).
Janet is 34 and the PA (personal assistant) to Sharon. She is very prudish, dresses old for her age, never swears and does not smoke. In Episode Four, she takes a drag of Robin's cigarette, only to immediately extinguish it in a cup of coffee, thereby depriving Robin and Clint of their only means of ignition. She is constantly put-on by Sharon and is terrified of her (although she occasionally tries to stand up for herself). She normally enters the smoking room on company-related matters such as to inform the occupants of Sharon's latest diktat.
She takes a very dim view of some of the other characters' slacking, herself being very diligent and obedient. However, she is not really interested in climbing the career ladder, her stated goal being, '...to find a nice man, and settle down.'
Little is mentioned of her love life; in episode six, she says that she has a date and is reluctant to go out into the driving rain and fetch Sharon's lunch in case it messes up her new hairdo. The date probably isn't a success because in episode fourteen she mentions having met a new man at church. This is probably later related to her sudden announcement of her engagement to her boyfriend Noel, in episode seventeen.
She is very fond of her family, who include an aunt who suffered from a cerebral aneurysm, a sister, Nicola, an epileptic brother, Stuart, and her nephew Dominic, whom we meet in episode ten. In the same episode, we learn that Janet was a 'late baby' whose mother always told her she was a 'mistake'. This may explain Janet's need to prove her worth at work.
Len is a security guard, is 59 and is widowed. He used to be in the armed forces, although it isn't specified which branch, and only took his current job because of the points on his driving license which meant he couldn't become a taxi driver. He has a cantankerous personality but is soft beneath the gruff exterior. He has a strange love for the works of Walt Disney, being overjoyed at the thought of holidaying in Disneyworld in episode seven, although he isn't keen on Minnie Mouse, whom he describes as 'that bitch'. He is also afraid of ducks, claiming he accidentally provoked one into "biting" him on the face.
He raised his two sons on his own following the early death of his beloved wife, Diana, and is very fond of his grandsons. He remains devoted to Diana's memory. He mentions her whenever he can and never shows any interest in other women. In episode twelve we learn that her death hit him so hard that the only thing which could cheer him up was to get a perm. He can be soft and caring to the others on occasion too. He is the one who hurries to comfort Annie when she is crying in episode two and is the only one who is concerned that Lilian should enjoy her birthday in episode eight. He and Lilian have a good friendship, having worked together for so long, but there is never any suggestion of romance between them.
Len swears constantly, even in the middle of words. The other smokers tolerate his quirks, not even batting an eye when he becomes high on glue and hallucinates in episode ten. Janet is the only one to comment on his constant swearing, which offends her prim nature - although on the one occasion when she's driven to strong language, in Episode Nine, he is quick to criticise her for it.
Len can be extremely gullible; for example, he fails to realise that his superior Ranjit is stealing from him and is happy to accept Ranjit's outrageous explanations of how his property keeps disappearing. On the other hand, he can be very incisive and worldly-wise, such as in Episode Two when he muses about the brevity of life. Age is becoming a source of concern for him. He is upset to see a picture of his younger self in episode twelve and complains that he is now falling apart.
Lilian is 53 and divorced. Her ex-husband, Greg, was an alcoholic and there are suggestions that their marriage was quite bleak. She thinks her terrible taste in men means she has a lot in common with Whitney Houston (with whom Lillian shares a birthday). In episode twelve we learn that she spent much of the eighties as a dowdy, overweight mum who put all her energy into her two daughters and forgot about herself. We know that she lives alone so her daughters must be grown up now - and since her divorce she is enjoying a new lease of life. When she agrees to appear in the firm's Christmas pantomime, she chooses to sing Cher's "Believe" and this could easily be her motto.
In some respects, she is the opposite of Janet these days: she dresses young and revealingly and is quite unreserved, fun-loving and outspoken. However, both share a desire to find a man. Lilian is becoming a little desperate in this respect and will seize on virtually any suitable target. She is always bubbly and happy on the surface but this seems to mask a real sadness which she sometimes let show, as in Episode Eleven where she admits that she doesn't like living alone. She's determined to look on the bright side at all times.
She is a confirmed smoker, which is illustrated by her attempt to obtain an un-stubbed-out cigarette from the street outside and her near-revulsion when she thinks that Barry is giving up. At the Cigzowt conference in episode fifteen, designed to help the smokers quit, she tells how cigarettes have supported her through all the highs and lows in her life and have been her only constant companion. Sadly, the fact that she smokes wrecks any chance of a new romance with the Cigzowt representative, Derek.
Robin is in his early thirties and is the closest to being the series' central character. He is present in the smoking room for almost the entirety of every episode, making him (by this method of reckoning) the laziest character. It is not clear what his job entails but we know he works in an office on his own, which he describes as 'solitary confinement' and that his tasks include filing old photographs for the company brochure. However, he likes to give the impression to Sharon that he is hard-working, invariably stubbing out his cigarette and making for the door whenever she enters. He is obviously intelligent although not particularly ambitious. He is generally cynical and a little melancholy; there are hints that he may even be clinically depressed. The happiest we usually see him is when he encounters or talks about Ben from the Post Room.
His sexuality and attitude towards Ben (from the Post Room) is the subject of much innuendo in the series. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Robin is gay, but no outright admission on his part until the end of the second series. Most of the characters are seemingly unaware of his homosexuality, but it is gradually revealed to them as the series progresses. Sally is the only one to address it with him but only indirectly and with, for Sally, unusual sensitivity. Robin doesn't seem to be at ease with his sexuality. He is very keen for everyone to know that Miranda was once his girlfriend, when she visits the company in Episode Seven. In episode nine we learn that a starring role in his school production of Grease left its mark on him as everyone called him a 'poof' for doing it and he has tried to keep a low profile ever since. When discussing alternative universes in episode twelve he postulates that there might be a version of himself somewhere who is 'getting it right' by having a family and children, which is met with a raised eyebrow from Sally. Dominic, a student who is shadowing Robin as part of a psychological study in Episode Ten, sums up Robin's attitude well when he says that he uses sarcasm and defensive humour to keep people at a distance because he is terrified of them learning his secret, an aspect of himself he hates. When that secret is finally revealed in episode seventeen we learn that it bothers Robin far more than the others who knew he was gay anyway and have no problem with the fact once it is out in the open. He misses out on a chance with Ben (from the Post Room) who it turns out is gay too but has found himself a new love by the time Robin comes out. As Janet cruelly points out, Robin has left it too late.
Sally is 27 and works in the graphics department with Annie. She claims to be Annie's best friend (and constantly beckons Annie with the phrase, "Come on, missus..."), although this statement may have been motivated by Annie having just won two tickets to 'DanceFest 2000'. Normally, her relationship with Annie is bitchy and competitive. She often gossips about Annie behind her back, but she will always reluctantly provide a shoulder for Annie to cry on. She seems to have the liveliest social life of all the smokers. She has a very bad hangover when we first meet her in Episode One and in Episode Eleven, when everyone is snowed in after work, is so determined to drink the bottle of vodka she has bought that she mixes it with the only thing available, a jar of pasta sauce. Despite her smoking and drinking, she is health conscious, being a vegetarian (why she could never eat human flesh) and a devotee of 'boxercise'.
She is one of the most intelligent characters and has no time for the nonsense the others talk, particularly Annie's new age interests. She can even see through Robin's stories about Ben (from the Post Room) and is the first to spot what is really going on with him.
Sally tends to speak her mind and isn't afraid of risking upsetting people. It seems she has always been this way as in episode nine she tells how, as a little girl, she punched the glove puppet, Spit The Dog, in the face at a Christmas pantomime, breaking Bob Carolgees' hand, just because he dared to ask her name. And in episode ten we learn that one man who criticised her had his tyres slashed, although she quickly backtracks and insists this was an accident. She also has a soft side, though; she goes to the pub with Janet in Episode Eight, even though they have nothing in common, rather than disappoint her.
Little is said about her romantic or domestic circumstances, although she may live with her mother, since in episode four she hangs up on her and then says that she will '...pay for that later.'
Sharon is the head of the branch, having worked her way up from being secretary, although she remains answerable to Head Office. Sharon is a cold, condescending, ladder-climbing career woman. She rates herself very highly and virtually everyone else as slacking, inadequate minions. Although a smoker, she spends much less time in the smoking room due to her attitude to work; the other characters feel nervous and intimidated whenever she enters. She constantly bullies Janet and relies on her for almost everything. She also appears to be unable to understand basic social behaviour, remarking once 'Why are there jokes? [Do they] make you feel happy and productive?'
Sharon has probably achieved her position more from her tenaciousness, forceful personality and compatibility with management culture than her actual ability. For example, in episode two, she makes some shocking assumptions about the poorly-written words in Martin's letter thanking the company for his retirement party, insisting the word 'party' is 'pasty'. She is obviously focused and ambitious. It is only when photographs from the company brochure of 1987 are found that we learn that she joined the firm as Barry's secretary. They were firm friends then, according to Barry, but Sharon insists it was only because the other workers all were freaks. They even went on what sounds like a date to Kew Gardens but Barry bungled the follow up, waiting at West Ham tube station while Sharon waited, correctly, at West Hampstead. It is suggested that, in those early days, there might have been a chance of romance for the pair but the misunderstanding was never broached and now there is only antagonism.
In episode nine we learn that most of her family are dead. Sharon now lives alone with a cat, which she hasn't bothered to name and to which she only speaks to tell it to get off the sofa. Her cold exterior melts only once, when she is passionately kissed by a kissogram who is taking a break in the smoking room after visiting the woman he is actually there to see. She disappears 'stage left' after him, with Janet remarking, 'That's not love - that's pure naked lust!'
Ben (from the Post Room) is a handsome young man who works in the post room and is the object of Robin's affections. Robin believes that Ben is gay and is either in self-denial or hiding the fact from his colleagues. When he announces his engagement, Robin is so annoyed that he describes the situation as, '...his cover story'. Ben finally appears, although largely unseen, at the end of Episode Eight when he arrives to talk to Robin who has been attempting to bump into him. In episode nine, Ben is taking part in the concert the staff are staging, as a 'Snowman In Space'. Although we still don't see what he looks like, because he's dressed from head to toe as a snowman, there seems to be some real affection between Ben and Robin. In Episode Thirteen we learn that Ben has split from his girlfriend, and it is revealed in the final episode that Ben is, in fact, gay. To Robin's distress, it is also revealed that he has a boyfriend.
Lois is seen in Episode Eight, along with Yvonne arranging birthday drinks for Lilian. She is a small woman with a very big temper.
Lucy is an unseen character, after whose party Clint and Annie had sex, as related in episode three. In episode six, Heidi wants to show a giant toy panda she has bought for her son to Lucy. In Episode Nine, we learn that she has a nut allergy and suffered anaphylactic shock after eating a Christmas pudding. Clint became attracted to her at this time, mistaking her spasms for dancing, and he goes off to kiss her under the mistletoe. In Episode Thirteen we hear that Clint has been for a drink with Lucy in the Nag's Head and that they had sex in the car park. We don't know if they have been together since Christmas or not.
Malcolm is an unseen character. Often referred to as 'Alky Malky', he is Barry's rival for promotion in episode one. Since Barry believes that he is his only rival, the promotion is 'in the bag'. However, Barry soon discovers that an external candidate, Monique, is also being considered.
In practical terms, Martin is an unseen character because only a photo of him is ever shown. He retires at some point before episode one and dies of a stroke in the freezer aisle of Asda between Episodes One and Two. Len is very upset at the short length of Martin's retired life (perhaps because he afraid that the same thing will happen to him), so much so that he calls God a 'bastard' several times. Martin's retirement leaves a vacancy for which Barry, Malcolm and Monique are considered.
Miranda appears in episode seven. She is Robin's ex-girlfriend, although it seems their relationship was brief and entirely chaste, and is mentioned when she comes to work as a temp and breaks the photocopier by photocopying herself. Both Barry and Clint find her attractive. Sally and Annie take an instant dislike to her.
Monique appears in episode one for a post-interview cigarette and is one of the few characters who does not work for the company (at least at the point of entry into the series). She is being considered (along with Barry and Malcolm) for a vacancy that was created by the recent retirement of Martin. She is similar in many respects to Sharon and is obviously considered by both Sharon and Janet as the best candidate. In her brief time in the smoking room, she manages to annoy most of the other characters in various ways. She returns in episode eight by which time she has settled in to her new role as Barry's immediate boss, making his life a misery as she patronises him all the time.
It is later revealed in episode seventeen that Monique has got a new high-flying job in New York.
Gordon first appears in episode six when he disturbs the smokers by sheltering from the rain in their haven. He is annoyingly cheerful and forces them to play games but his competitive nature hints at a dark side. He turns up again in episode eight, attending the wrong birthday party. He has taken up smoking once more because his marriage, to Collette, is falling apart. He falls off the wagon, gets very drunk and makes a pass at Lilian. He returns in episode twelve, still smoking, because he had crumpets with marmite for his breakfast and needs to take the taste away. He is in dispute with Len who has been rude and offensive to one of Gordon's clients but he soon forgets about this when he sees a picture of himself from the 1980s, which he uses to play another irritating game. Collette has filed for divorce and he believes the picture will help him in his current round of internet dating. When a stop smoking conference is held in episode fifteen, Gordon is the only smoker who is genuinely committed to quitting and he is annoyed when it ends in chaos, but by the next episode he has acquired a new girlfriend and is happy to smoke while he brags about her. He suffers some kind of seizure, probably a heart attack, and seems close to death. He is still talking and alive at the end of the episode but he doesn't reappear in episode seventeen and no mention is made of whether or not he survived.
Ranjit is an unseen character and is Len's manager. He is mentioned in Episode Four when Lilian explains that he is behind the mysterious disappearances of Len's property. Soon after, Len is seen leaving the smoking room intent on exacting revenge. In Episode Six we learn that Len and Ranjit like to gossip about the other workers. By Episode Ten Len and Ranjit have fallen out again and are only communicating via written notes. Ranjit also gets Len very wound up on April Fool's day by conning Len into believing the date is the fictional "No Swearing Day", thus obliging Len to pay Ranjit everytime he swears. As we know, Len loves to swear and so blows his top when he finds out it is all a joke.
Tess Pownall is another unseen character and would seem to be Lilian's best friend at the company. They have known each other since at least the 1980s. Tess is an unfortunate woman. She has lost her husband and, when she and Lilian holidayed in Greece, was severely beaten by fellow holidaymakers after an argument over a disputed villa. She seems to be quite violent and confrontational, having started that particular argument; when her neighbours took her to court for building an incredibly high fence she retaliated by smashing their windows and smearing dog excrement all over their doors. When she appears in the firm's pantomime she chooses to perform as a knife thrower.
Lilian often moans about Yvonne. She first mentions her in episode four when she is worried that Yvonne might upset some important Japanese clients. In episode five divorcee Lilian is upset that the happily married Yvonne is gloating about her Valentine gifts. In episode six we learn that Yvonne has accused Lilian of stealing from the office. Yvonne finally appears in Episode Eight to arrange birthday drinks for Lilian. She is a bossy, ambitious woman who seems to dislike Lilian as much as Lilian dislikes her. When the workers all are trapped inside the office building during a heavy snowfall and entertain themselves by singing songs from the war Yvonne's choice of song is Deutschland Deutschland Uber Alles.
Dominic is Janet's nephew and sits in the smoking room for the duration of Episode Ten. He is conducting a psychological study into workplace dynamics but, foolishly, has picked Robin as his subject. He becomes increasingly frustrated by the lack of activity in the room and annoyed that the smokers won't fit his preconceived ideas of how people behave at work. At one point he gives a painfully accurate description of Robin that touches on his repressed sexuality, an aspect of his personality everyone else usually politely ignores. Robin gets his revenge by fobbing him off with Heidi and swatting a bee against Dominic's neck, causing him to be stung.
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