Written by Rachel Fairburn

In The News

Thanks and farewell, Caroline Aherne

Award-winning and ground-breaking writer, actor and comedian Caroline Aherne has died. Fellow northern comedian Rachel Fairburn pays her respects to a rare talent.

Caroline Aherne, with her Royle Family co-stars Ralf Little, Craig Cash, Sue Johnston, Ricky Tomlinson and Liz Smith. Photograph: ITV.

Caroline Aherne, with her Royle Family co-stars Ralf Little, Craig Cash, Sue Johnston, Ricky Tomlinson and Liz Smith. Photograph: ITV.

As far as comedy inspirations go Caroline Aherne was a big one: a northern, working-class woman who created some of the most brilliant and original comedies of recent times.

Aherne had an ability to make the minutiae of normal, everyday life hilarious, memorable and poignant. Her characters were people you’d met. They were your parents, your mates, the girl who works in your local shop. How many of us have watched The Royle Family (her writing partnership with Craig Cash was the comedic equivalent of Lennon and McCartney) and given a laugh of recognition every time Jim says something your own Dad would say, or recognised a family matriarch in the sweetly unnerving forthrightness of Mrs Merton?

The Mrs Merton Show was the kind of TV that shouldn’t have worked: a young woman playing an elderly woman interviewing celebrities in front of an audience. Done badly it would have been a car crash, but Aherne’s well-observed, quick-witted creation became a national treasure. The guests laughed along with the audience and, to be honest, we didn’t really give a monkey’s who the famous guest was anyway – Mrs Merton was always the star. No wonder she bagged a Bafta for best talk show in 1997.

The most memorable Mrs Merton moment is undoubtedly a question posed to Debbie McGee with her trademark faux-naivety: “What first, Debbie, attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” A brilliant TV moment that became legendary; I hear that line repeated regularly to this day, and I love the idea of an entire country creasing in laughter when it was first broadcast.

“She’d have made a brilliant old lady and I imagine she’d have taken us all on the journey with her some way or another, making us laugh and cry all the way.”

Just look at her legacy: Mrs Merton, Mrs Merton and Malcolm, The Royle Family (its naturalistic approach and realistic characters changed the face of the British sitcom – and won best sitcom gongs at the Baftas in 2000 and 2007), Dossa and Joe and scene-stealing appearances on 1990s-defining sketch series The Fast Show. It’s a comedian’s dream to even think we might create something half as loved as one of these.

We all heard about the personal problems Aherne endured; they endeared her all the more to me. She struggled with depression, alcoholism and fought cancer three times. She did this privately with dignity, but then what else would you expect from someone so down to earth?

It’s sad that we no longer have her. She had so many more great characters in her. She’d have made a brilliant old lady and I imagine she’d have taken us all on the journey with her some way or another, making us laugh and cry all the way. It’s such a shame she won’t be able to do that.

@RachelFairburn

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Written by Rachel Fairburn

Rachel Fairburn is a stand-up comic, co-host of the All Killa No Filla podcast and lover of leopard print.