"That’s the Last Time I Play the Tart for You, Jerry!": Penelope Keith and British Television Situation Comedy

Mary Irwin

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Women’s historical role in British sitcom has been critically and popularly regarded as both limited and limiting, conforming to a predictable handful of well-worn stereotypes generally comprising dutiful supportive wives and mothers, dizzy dollybirds, and unappealing, ageing harridans. Yet, any exploration of the representation of women in British situation comedy over a sixty-year period reveals that, far from being deployed solely as comedy foils or long suffering partners, women have frequently been cast in leading roles very much at the heart of the comic action. In this article I will consider the work of one such actress, Penelope Keith, who played leading roles in a diverse range of popular television sitcoms spanning the 1970s to the 1990s, and who is a key figure in any consideration of women and television situation comedy. That Keith's rich dramatic career merits long overdue academic analysis points up the scholarly neglect of many other significant British television comedy actresses, and the need for ongoing new scholarship in this area. For it is in the exploration of the television comedy careers of women such as Keith that we can begin to reinsert and reposition women into critical and popular narratives of British television comedy and television more generally, developing and creating full, rich and authoritative histories which acknowledge both women’s contributions to historical British television and, most importantly, the significance of their contributions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-101
JournalCritical Studies in Television
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2015


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