When Britain’s Channel Four was established in 1982 it had a specific brief to cater for the needs of those populations not catered for by the other television channels. As far as the LGBT population was concerned, it tried to meet these in a variety of ways ranging from film (e.g. My Beautiful Laundrette) to ‘lifestyle’ (e.g. One in Five or Out on Tuesday). One attempt that failed particularly badly was the sit-com The Corner House.
It aimed to depict life in a socially-conscious/ ‘right-on’ gay-run cafe and it became apparent very early on in the series that there were very few laughs to be had from this scenario. Even one of the writers – Robert Llewellyn – remembers it as “a true disaster that wasn’t particularly funny”.
Indeed, even the television critic for Marxism Today struggled to find kind words for it:
“It is not a glossy product; beside its nearest stablemate Cheers it looks positively downmarket. But it does have an enthusiasm and commitment to tackling issues that TV usually ignores. That is a bit hard to adjust to when you’re used to re-digested pap – the shiny, high-finance moralistic paskages that require no chewing.
If the Corner House was on ITV it could be truly subversive. Since it is on Channel 4 it is a bit predictable, ‘just what one comes to expect from pinkos’. Blacks, gays, women plumbers…whatever next? Channel 4 is not known as a centre of excellence in home produced sitcom, but with this they have reinforced a flagging commitment to radical TV.”
I never got to see the Corner House as I was already living in Australia by then – but I get a strong sense that I didn’t miss much. Perhaps it was a bold attempt to address the flood of casual racism, sexism and homophobia that permeated so many other sitcoms. But it sounds like it tried a bit too hard.
The fact that it only ran for six episodes (and that there is so little information about it online) indicates that it’s never going to go down as a ‘comedy classic’. But at least they tried something that was very different, so all credit to them for that.