Agony

1979 | United Kingdom

Hugely entertaining comedy series about a magazine agony aunt who also runs her own radio phone-in and who, like Dr Frazier Crane many years later, could solve everyone's problems except her own. Unlike Frazier Crane, Jane Lucas was level headed and angst free. It was the people around her that seemed to make life impossible. 

Between her suffocating, manipulative, widowed Jewish mother, Bea, to her estranged non-Jewish public schoolboy psychiatrist husband, Laurence, and between her obnoxious editor at People magazine, Jane, to her shallow colleague at Happening Radio 242, DJ Andy Evol, there were very few people that Jane could turn to in order to find a bit of sanity. Jane's best friends and confidantes were a gay couple, Rob and Michael who lived in the flat next door. It was the first time that a gay couple had been shown on British television without playing on sexual innuendos or 'camping it up', but given that the series was based on real-life Capitol Radio agony aunt Anna Raeburn, who was also co-writer and series advisor, the viewer would expect nothing less than have the partners presented in a sensitive, adult and non-condescending way. 

By all accounts the series was fraught with behind the scenes tension with as many arguments off screen as there were on. "Agony was very difficult to do," said producer Humphrey Barclay. "The idea came from an untried writer, a Californian, who had sent a script to LWT on spec, about a Jewish mother running a sex shop. "We can't use that," we said-but it was very good writing. So I asked the writer why he wrote it and he said, "Because my mother runs a sex shop!"" When Barclay asked the writer if he had any other ideas he offered the co-written script of an agony aunt.

That other creator and co-writer was Len Richmond, who had worked on the US sitcom Three's Company, itself a spin-off of another UK series, Man About The House. As a result Agony has been compared by many critics to American sitcoms in its use of witty one-liners and sharp retorts. This should probably have made for an easy transition for the 1985 CBS version The Lucie Arnaz Show, but that series, starring the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Aranaz, didn't make it beyond the first six episodes. Perhaps one of the reasons the US series didn't succeed was because it didn't have Maureen Lipman in the lead role. "It was a very long ride to get it onto the screen because it tackled very difficult subjects and talked grown-up language," said Humphrey Barclay. "Maureen Lipman was brilliantly fraught and funny as the career woman harassed at work by her husband, Laurence, played by Simon Williams and at home by her mother, Bea, played by Maria Charles." 

In 1995, fourteen years after the third and final series of Agony was seen on LWT, the series switched channels to BBC television and returned as Agony Again. By this time Jane Lucas had her own afternoon television chat-cum-debate show called 'Lucas Live'. Maria Charles returned as Jane's mother and Simon Williams guest starred as ex-husband Laurence, but the gay couple were absent as Michael had committed suicide in the last season of the original series. Instead, the men in Jane's life were her 'about to come-out' son, Michael, a homeless ex-company director, Richard and her love interest - social worker, Daniel. The writers for this series were different this time and the scripts never quite had the edge of the original. 








Published on November 27th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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