Still Loving Thy Neighbour?

Episodes

First
Broadcast
Comments
20160919

Mark Hodkinson revisits the controversial sitcom, forty years after it was last shown on TV.

Love Thy Neighbour ran for 54 episodes from 1972, dealing with the relatively new issue of the British mixing on home soil with people from elsewhere in the world. The UK's black population had grown from 20,000 in 1950 to nearly 1.5 million in the 1970s.

It was based on the premise of old-school socialist Eddie Booth becoming outraged to discover that his new neighbours, Bill and Barbie Reynolds, were black. The two men bickered, fell out, palled up and, in-between, used racist language which has barely been heard on television since.

The racially-motivated antagonism attracted audiences up to 20 million people - a third of the population - and led to a spin-off feature film in 1973. Often attacked for promoting racial stereotypes, its defenders claimed it had been written to reduce racial friction by showing bigotry at its most ridiculous.

Mark Hodkinson looks back at the series with Jack Smethurst, the actor who played Eddie Booth and who ponders on whether he was sacrificial to the cause of multi-racialism - he was seldom offered roles afterwards and worked for a while in a flower shop.

Mark, who was brought up in a northern working-class family, takes an enigmatic view of Eddie Booth, looking at the character as a class stereotype - why was it considered permissible to demonise and ridicule the indigenous working-class? This is discussed by Owen Jones of The Guardian and the writer on social class, Lynsey Hanley.

Lemn Sissay, who was brought up in an all-white neighbourhood, talks of coming home from school with "rivers of spit on the back of my duffel coat". He watches an episode of Love Thy Neighbour and considers how it plays on racial fears.

Producers: Kellie While and Mark Hodkinson

A Smooth Operations production for BBC Radio 4.